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Scripting sexual passivity: A gender role perspective

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In two studies, we demonstrate that attitudes toward traditional sexual roles are linked with increased sexual passivity for women but decreased passivity for men. For both genders, sexual passivity predicts poor sexual functioning and satisfaction. Study 1 showed that endorsement of traditional sexual roles of male dominance and female passivity relatesto greater sexual passivity among college-aged heterosexual women but less passivity for college-aged heterosexual men. For both young men and women, greater sexual passivity predicts less overall sexual satisfaction. The findings for Study 2 replicate Study 1 among sexually experienced adults recruited over the Internet. Autonomy mediated these relationships, which persisted when controlling for multiple potential confounds.
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Personal Relationships, 14 (2007), 269–290. Printed in the United States of America.
Copyright Ó 2007 IARR. 1350-4126=07
Scripting sexual passivity: A gender role perspective
aUniversity of California, San Francisco and bRutgers, the State University of New
In two studies, we demonstrate that attitudes toward traditional sexual roles are linked with increased sexual passiv-
ity for women but decreased passivity for men. For both genders, sexual passivity predicts poor sexual functioning
and satisfaction. Study 1 showed that endorsement of traditional sexual roles of male dominance and female passiv-
ity relates to greater sexual passivity among college-aged heterosexual women but less passivity for college-aged
heterosexual men. For both young men and women, greater sexual passivity predicts less overall sexual satisfaction.
The findings for Study 2 replicate Study 1 among sexually experienced adults recruited over the Internet. Autonomy
mediated these relationships, which persisted when controlling for multiple potential confounds.
Gender roles guide and constrain people’s
relationship satisfaction and longevity (see
behavior across a wide range of settings, in-
Sprecher & Cate, 2004, for a review), the
cluding intimate relationships. Much research
effects of gender-based sexual roles on sexual
has studied the influence of gender roles in
enjoyment have potentially broad implications
professional and academic settings; far less
for romantic relationships.
attention has been directed toward gender
In this paper, we contend that within the
roles’ influence within sexual relationships.
United States, gender role conformity indi-
Because little research has been conducted
rectly depresses sexual satisfaction for women
on sociocultural factors affecting sexual func-
but not men because traditional gender-based
tion (Baumeister, 2001) and because gender-
sexual roles dictate sexual passivity for women
based norms and roles likely exert a prominent
but sexual agency for men (e.g., Sanchez,
influence on intimate relationships, we find
Kiefer, & Ybarra, 2006; Tevlin & Leiblum,
this lack of attention unfortunate. Because inti-
1983). We propose that although gender roles
mate contexts make gender roles salient, men
should differentially affect men and women,
and women may feel compelled to conform
both should experience less sexual satisfaction
to gender roles during sexual encounters
to the extent that they are sexually passive. Spe-
(Coward, 1985; Rohlinger, 2002; Sanchez,
cifically, sexual passivity should increase sex-
Crocker, & Boike, 2005). Given the im-
ual problems and lower sexual satisfaction by
portance of sexual satisfaction for overall
undermining autonomy during sexual activities
(Kiefer, Sanchez, Kalinka, & Ybarra, 2006;
Amy K. Kiefer, Department of Psychology, University of
Sanchez et al., 2006). Past research has pro-
California, San Francisco; Diana T. Sanchez, Department of
vided preliminary support for this contention:
Psychology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
College-aged women who reported engaging in
A.K.K. and D.T.S. made equal contributions to this
research. Authorship was determined by a coin toss.
passive sexual behavior also reported less sex-
A.K.K. was supported by a National Institute of Mental
ual arousability, a relationship mediated by
Health postdoctoral fellowship during the preparation of
reduced autonomy (Sanchez et al., 2006). The
this manuscript. The authors wish to thank Denise Seka-
queptewa for her comments on earlier versions of this
present research extends these past studies by
addressing two important theoretical concerns.
Correspondence should be addressed to Amy K. Kiefer,
First, theorists have offered numerous explan-
University of California, Department of Health Psychology,
San Francisco, CA 94143-0848, e-mail:
ations for why women would engage in passive

A. K. Kiefer and D. T. Sanchez
sexual behavior and for why sexual passivity
(Safir, Peres, Lichtenstein, Hoch, & Shepher,
would be linked to reduced sexual satisfaction.
1982). Androgynous individuals tended to
To rule out alternative explanations for these
report higher levels of sexual self-esteem
relationships, we examined the extent to which
(Kimlicka, Cross, & Tarnai, 1983), more lib-
gender-based sexual roles, relative to other
eral sexual attitudes (Johnson, 1989), and
potential contributors (e.g., conservatism in
greater overall sexual satisfaction (Kimlicka
relationships, libido, and partners’ agency),
et al., 1983) than sex-typed or undifferentiated
contribute to women’s engagement in passive
individuals. In some of these studies, mascu-
sexual behavior. We also assess multiple alter-
line gender role self-perceptions seem to be the
native explanations for why sexual passivity
stronger correlate of sexual self-esteem and
might be associated with diminished enjoyment
sexual satisfaction than androgyny per se
of sexual activities.
(e.g., Kimlicka et al.; Willemsen, 1987).
Second, past research (e.g., Kiefer et al.,
Although this research provides evidence
2006; Sanchez et al., 2006) has focused exclu-
that stereotypical masculine and feminine
sively on how sexual passivity affects sexual
personality traits relate to sexual satisfaction,
arousal and ability to orgasm among women,
it fails to explain why androgyny positively
and hence does not address whether the
correlates with sexual satisfaction. Despite
hypothesized negative relationship between
androgyny—and gender role self-perceptions
sexual passivity and sexual satisfaction is
more generally—being conceptualized as global
unique to women. Baumeister (2000, 2004),
personality dimensions, the expression of
for example, has argued that women’s sexual
gender-based traits appears to vary consider-
behavior and experiences are more influenced
ably across different social contexts. Women’s
by social and contextual forces than are men’s,
gender role self-perceptions vary across
implying that sexual passivity should be linked
work, social, and sexual contexts in response
to women’s, but not men’s, sexual satisfaction.
to context-specific stereotypic cues and role
Nonetheless, if both men and women require
expectations (Rosenzweig & Dailey, 1991).
sexual agency and autonomy for sexual fulfill-
Men’s and women’s reports of their global
ment, then men’s sexual satisfaction should
gender-based traits are frequently at odds with
also correlate negatively with sexual passivity.
those they report exhibiting in heterosexual
Thus, we examine whether sexual passivity
sexual situations (Lawrance, Taylor, & Byers,
predicts diminished sexual satisfaction among
1996). Thus, perceptions of gender role–based
men as well as women.
expectancies that are specific to sexual con-
texts may be more important predictors of
sexual behavior and satisfaction than global
Gender roles and sexual satisfaction
personality traits.
For decades, researchers have theorized that
In sum, we found research on androgyny
gender-typed roles and behaviors adversely
and sexual satisfaction consistent with the con-
influence sexual functioning and satisfac-
tention that gender-based roles proscribing
tion (e.g., MacKinnon, 1982, 1989; Tevlin &
sexual agency might adversely affect women’s
Leiblum, 1983). During the late 1970s,
sexual satisfaction; however, past research has
researchers became interested in how psycho-
not directly tested this hypothesis. To extend
logical androgyny (Bem, 1974), or the pres-
this research, we examine whether gender-
ence of both masculine and feminine gender
typed roles relate to sexual satisfaction
role personality traits, influences sexual func-
because they dictate gender-specific levels of
tioning and satisfaction. Studies on psycholog-
agency in sexual contexts.
ical androgyny found numerous relationships
between androgyny, masculinity, and sexual
Gender roles and sexual agency
outcomes. For example, compared to couples
that sought treatment for sexual dysfunction,
Men and women receive different prescrip-
untreated couples had a greater likelihood of
tions regarding agentic behavior, with men’s
having one or more androgynous members
expression of agency favored and women’s

Gender roles and sexual pleasure
expression of agency restricted or met with
women interviewed reported this form of sex-
disapproval in settings ranging from the work-
ual compliance (O’Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998).
place to the bedroom (Fiske, 1993; Rudman,
At an early age, women’s sexual passivity
1998). Socialization encourages heterosexual
begins: In qualitative studies, adolescent girls
men to take on a sexually empowered, direc-
frequently describe their initial sexual experi-
tive, dominant, and assertive role, whereas
ences as ‘‘just happening to them’’ (Martin,
socialization encourages heterosexual women
1996; Tolman, 2002).
to take on a sexually disempowered, respon-
In addition to the idea that gender-based
sive rather than active role (Blumstein &
roles promote sexual passivity among women,
Schwarz, 1983; Schwartz & Rutter, 2000;
researchers have proposed several other ex-
Sprecher & McKinney, 1993). We expected
planations for women’s lack of sexual agency.
men to be more sexually experienced than
Most notably, Baumeister, Catanese, and Vohs
their partners and to initiate and direct sexual
(2001) have argued that men’s greater ten-
activities. In contrast, women learn to avoid
dency to initiate and direct sexual activities
the expression of sexual agency and to adopt
stems from men having innately higher levels
a submissive, passive sexual role (Gagnon &
of sexual desire than women, a difference
Smith, 1973; Schwartz & Rutter; Tevlin &
these authors believe is largely driven by sex
Leiblum, 1983).
differences in testosterone levels. Similarly,
A number of societal sources, most notably
Buss (1989) has proposed that within hetero-
the mass media, inculcate men and women
sexual couples, there are large discrepancies in
into gender-appropriate sexual roles. Maga-
sexual desire, with men typically exceeding
zines, television shows, and movies frequently
their female partners. Buss argues that these
depict female sexual submission to male sex-
discrepancies in desire lead women to become
ual agency and dominance (Baker, 2005;
upset by their male partners’ strategies to have
Dworkin, 1987; Jeffreys, 1990; Jhally, 1995,
more sex and men to become upset by their
2000; Kilbourne, 1999; Kitzinger, 1984;
female partners’ strategies to have less sex.
Lowry, Love, & Kirby, 1981; MacKinnon,
These gender-specific strategies could lead
1989). Magazines targeted to young women
men to assume the role of the sexual initiator,
promote passivity as a way to satisfy male
a relatively active role, and women to assume
partners (Kilbourne; Kim & Ward, 2004),
the role of the sexual recipient, a relatively
and advertisements in men and women’s mag-
passive role. Regardless of one’s gender,
azines frequently portray women as submis-
having a sexually assertive partner might lead
sive and dependent (Baker). Female sexual
to the adoption of a recipient, passive sexual
passivity and male sexual agency emerge as
role. To test these alternative explanations for
prominent themes not only in romance novels
why women might be more sexually passive
(Snitow, 1979) but also in mainstream litera-
than men, we assessed the relationships be-
ture (Millet, 1970; Zilbergeld, 1978).
tween men and women’s self-reported libido,
Inculcation of traditional sexual roles may
their perceptions of their discrepancies of
influence men and women’s sexual behavior
desire between themselves and their partners,
and enjoyment. Men’s and women’s reports of
and their perceptions of their partners’ sexual
their sexual behavior suggest a fair degree of
conformity to these culturally prescribed roles.
Sexual conservatism might also account for
For example, heterosexual men initiate sex
the hypothesized relationships between en-
more than their partners (see Impett & Peplau,
dorsement of traditional sexual roles and
2003) and more frequently report pressuring
passive sexual behavior. As noted above, pre-
their partners to have unwanted sex (i.e., they
vious studies on androgyny and sexual satis-
seek their partners’ submission to their per-
faction have failed to distinguish between
sonal sexual desires; Miller & Benson,
the effects of gender-typed behavior and the
1999). Correspondingly, many women report
effects of conservative sexual values. To deter-
willingly submitting to unwanted sexual
mine whether conservative sexual values
activities. In one recent survey, half of the
(as opposed to specific gender-based sexual

A. K. Kiefer and D. T. Sanchez
roles) predict women’s engagement in passive
In summary, we contend that adherence to
sexual behavior, we assessed participants’ be-
gender-based sexual roles within the United
liefs about gender differences in sexual desire
States may reduce women’s sexual function-
and traditional values concerning romantic
ing and satisfaction by promoting sexual pas-
relationships. Because traditional values and
sivity. Although women might engage in
beliefs about gender differences in sexual desire
passive sexual behavior for a variety of rea-
typically imply that men have greater sexual
sons, such as having a dominant partner or
desire than do women, we expected these
from a lack of sexual desire, we propose that
beliefs would have opposite effects on men
conformity to gender roles is a primary reason
and women’s sexual agency. We therefore also
for this behavior. Moreover, because research
tested for moderation of these effects by gender.
suggests that sexual autonomy promotes both
men’s and women’s sexual function and satis-
faction, we expected that passive behavior
Sexual passivity and sexual outcomes
would predict reduced sexual functioning and
Because sexual passivity may undermine
satisfaction for both men and women.
autonomy, it has potentially broad implica-
tions for intimate sexual relationships (San-
Study 1
chez et al., 2006). Sexual autonomy refers to
feeling that one’s actions in sexual contexts are
We hypothesized that the more women endorse
freely chosen, authentic expressions of the self
attitudes toward traditional sexual roles of male
(Deci & Ryan, 1995; Sanchez et al., 2005).
agency and female passivity, the more they
Men’s and women’s sexual pleasure may re-
would engage in passive sexual behavior. We
quire sexual autonomy (Weinberg, Swensson,
hypothesized the reverse for men. Furthermore,
we expected passive behavior to predict lower
research supports this assessment (Haavio-
sexual satisfaction for men and women.
Mannila & Kontula, 1997; Sanchez et al.,
To rule out alternative explanations for why
2005). The ability to communicate one’s
women adopt a passive sexual role, we con-
desires predicts sexual satisfaction for men
trolled for additional variables believed to con-
and women (Haavio-Mannila & Kontula).
tribute to sex differences in sexual behavior
Thus, we expected sexual passivity to be
(Baumeister et al., 2001; Impett & Peplau,
linked with less sexual satisfaction for both
2003), including libido, perceptions of part-
men and women and that this effect would
ners’ sexual agency, perceived disparities in
be mediated by reduced sexual autonomy.
desire between sexual partners, gender beliefs
As with the hypothesized link between gen-
about desire, and traditional values concerning
der-based sexual roles and sexual passivity,
romantic relationships. Finally, because evi-
numerous alternative explanations exist for
dence suggests that socially desirability con-
why sexual passivity might correlate with
cerns might influence men and women to
reduced sexual satisfaction. For example, indi-
respond to certain questions about their sexual
viduals who have low levels of sexual desire
behavior (e.g., Alexander & Fisher, 2003),
may be less sexually assertive. In addition, as
we also controlled for social desirability and
Buss (1989) suggested, women whose partners
for possible gender by social desirability
exceed them in the desire for sex may fre-
quently submit to undesired sexual activities
and therefore experience less enjoyment dur-
ing those activities. Hence, we controlled for
disparities in desire, gender beliefs about desire
(i.e., endorsement of the idea that women have
less sexual desire than men), traditional values,
Three hundred ten participants (174 men, 136
perceptions of partners’ sexual agency, and
women; 170 Whites, 15 Blacks, 19 Latinos, 17
libido when assessing the relationship between
multiracials, 86 Asian Americans, and 2
sexual passivity and sexual satisfaction.
Native Americans) completed the survey for

Gender roles and sexual pleasure
course credit in their introductory psychology
measure Sanchez et al. (2006) developed. Par-
class at Rutgers University, a large public
ticipants rated the following statements on
university in New Brunswick, NJ. This conve-
a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
nience sample provided an affordable prelim-
(strongly agree): ‘‘I tend to take on a submis-
inary test of these hypotheses. The mean age
sive role during sexual activity,’’ ‘‘I prefer to
was 18.79 years (SD ¼ 1.26). One hundred
take on the submissive role during sexual
activities,’’ ‘‘I tend to take on the passive role
involvement in a romantic relationship, 159
during sexual activities,’’ ‘‘I prefer to take on
indicated single as their relationship status,
the passive role during sexual activities,’’ ‘‘I
and 13 declined to answer this question. Two
tend to take on the more dominant role during
hundred eighty-five heterosexuals, 4 gay
sexual activity’’ (reverse coded), and ‘‘I prefer
males, 2 lesbians, 5 bisexuals, 10 who declined
to take on the more agentic or active role
to indicate their sexual orientation, and 5 who
during sexual activity’’ (reverse coded, a ¼
were unsure of their orientation completed the
.89). To examine the factor structure of our
survey. Of those, 204 participants had experi-
measure of passive sexual behavior, we factor
enced sexual intercourse, 79 had not, and 28
analyzed all items using principle axis fac-
declined to answer. Because gender roles may
toring with oblimin rotation (delta ¼ 0) to ob-
operate differently among same-gender sexual
tain a simple structure and to allow the items to
partners, we only included heterosexual partic-
be intercorrelated (Rennie, 1997). The factor
ipants in the analyses, resulting in a final sam-
analysis revealed a single factor with eigen-
ple of 285 (160 men, 124 women).
value greater than 1, which explained 64% of
the variance. All items in our scale loaded
highly on this factor (factor loadings . .70).
To measure libido, participants rated the
To measure traditional sexual attitudes, partic-
following statements on a scale from 1
ipants rated the following statements on a scale
(strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree): ‘‘I
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly
have a very strong sex drive,’’ ‘‘I am always
agree): ‘‘I believe that men should take on the
in the mood for sex,’’ ‘‘I think about sex almost
more agentic or active role during sexual activ-
every day,’’ ‘‘I am not a very sexual person’’
ity,’’ ‘‘I believe that women should take on the
(reverse coded), and ‘‘If it were up to me, I
more passive role during sexual activity,’’ ‘‘I
would have sex at least every day’’ (a ¼
believe that men should take on the more dom-
.86). To measure traditional relationship val-
inant role during sexual activities,’’ ‘‘I believe
ues, participants indicated their agreement
that men should prefer to take on the more
with the following statements on a scale from
agentic role during sexual activity,’’ and ‘‘I
1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree)
believe that women should prefer to take on
with nine items from Burt’s (1980) sex-role
the more passive role during sexual activity.’’
stereotyping subscale that assesses conserva-
The Cronbach’s alpha was relatively high, indi-
tive relationship beliefs (e.g., ‘‘A girl should
cating that the measure had internal reliability
be a virgin when she marries,’’ a ¼ .65). To
(a ¼ .89). We factor analyzed the items for our
measure gender beliefs about desire, partici-
measure of attitudes toward traditional sexual
pants indicated their agreement on a scale
roles using principle axis factoring with oblimin
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly
(nonorthogonal) rotation (delta ¼ 0) to obtain
agree) with the following statements: ‘‘Men
a simple structure and to allow the items to be
are more sexual than women,’’ ‘‘Men have
intercorrelated (Rennie, 1997). The factor anal-
consistently stronger sexual appetites than
ysis revealed a single factor with eigenvalue
women,’’ ‘‘Women want to have sex more
greater than 1, which explained 64% of the var-
often than men’’ (reverse coded), ‘‘Women
iance. All items in the scale loaded highly on
think about sex more often than men’’ (reverse
this factor (factor loadings . .70).
coded), and ‘‘Men are always in the mood for
To measure passive sexual behavior, we
sex’’ (a ¼ .70). To measure disparities in
assessed passive sexual behavior using the
desire, participants indicated their agreement

A. K. Kiefer and D. T. Sanchez
on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
variables retained for the hierarchical regres-
(strongly agree) with the following statements:
sion. We report standardized regression coef-
‘‘I often feel like I am more sexual than my
ficients as beta (b).
sexual partners,’’ ‘‘I often feel like I am con-
These analyses revealed a main effect of
vincing my partners to have sex or engage in
social desirability, with greater social desir-
sexual activities,’’ ‘‘I often feel that my part-
ability predicting less reported passive sexual
ner(s) does or do not really want to have sex or
behavior (b ¼ 2.11, p , .03). Greater libido
engage in sexual activities with me,’’ and ‘‘I
predicted less passive sexual behavior (b ¼
often feel that I need to get my partner(s) in the
2.32, p , .001). As hypothesized, women
mood so that we can have sex’’ (a ¼ .75). To
reported more passive sexual behavior than
measure partners’ sexual agency, participants
men (b ¼ .39, p , .001). We found a nonsig-
answered the following questions on a scale
nificant main effect for traditional gender roles
from 1 (never) to 7 (always): ‘‘Does your cur-
(b ¼ 2.02, p . .7); however, we found the
rent or most recent sexual partner indicate
predicted interaction between gender and atti-
their preferences during sexual activities?’’
tudes toward traditional sexual roles (b ¼ .23,
‘‘Does your current or most recent sexual part-
p , .001). Neither relationships status nor sex-
ner tell you what she (he) wants during sexual
ual experience moderated the predicted inter-
activities?’’ (a ¼ .78). To measure sexual sat-
action of Gender Roles  Gender on Passive
isfaction, participants answered the question,
Sexual Behavior.
‘‘How satisfied are you with your sex life?’’ on
We conducted simple slopes analyses to
a scale anchored at 1 (not at all satisfied) and 7
interpret the interaction, controlling for all sig-
(completely satisfied). To measure sexual
nificant control variables. The more women
experience, we asked participants one ques-
endorsed attitudes toward traditional sexual
tion regarding whether or not they had pre-
roles, the more likely they were to engage in
viously engaged in sexual intercourse. To
passive sexual behavior (b ¼ .22, p , .01),
measure social desirability, we assessed social
whereas the more men endorsed these roles,
desirability responding using the Crowne-
the less likely they were to engage in passive
Marlowe (1960) social desirability scale.
behavior (b ¼ 2.20, p , .05). Unexpectedly,
we found a significant interaction of gender
and perceived partner disparities in desire
(b ¼ 2.13, p , .05). Simple slopes testing
revealed that the more men felt that they had
Passive sexual behavior
more sexual desire than their partners, the
See Table 1 for separate zero-order correla-
more they engaged in passive sexual behavior
tions for women and men and Table 2 for
(b ¼ .17, p , .05), whereas for women, we did
sex differences for the measured variables.
not find a relationship between perceived dis-
We analyzed the data using hierarchical linear
parities in desire and passive behavior (b ¼
regressions. At Step 1, we entered all main
.09, p . .1).
effects including the control variables: gender,
social desirability, partner agency, libido, per-
Sexual satisfaction
ceived partner disparities in desire, gender
beliefs about desire, traditional relationship
At Step 1, we entered all main effects including
values, sexual experience, and attitudes toward
the control variables: gender, social desirabil-
traditional sexual roles. At Step 2, we entered
ity, partner agency, libido, perceived partner
the two-way interaction terms of partner
disparities in desire, gender beliefs about de-
agency, libido, perceived partner disparities
sire, traditional relationship values, sexual ex-
in desire, traditional relationship values, and
perience, and passive sexual behavior. At Step
traditional sexual scripts with gender. We
2, we entered the two-way interaction term of
found several nonsignificant main effects and
gender and passive sexual behavior. As in the
interactions, which we trimmed from the
previous analysis, we trimmed the nonsignifi-
regression analyses. Table 3 shows all of the
cant effects (see Table 4). Participants who

Gender roles and sexual pleasure

















A. K. Kiefer and D. T. Sanchez
Table 2. Gender differences in gender roles and sexual attitudes in Study 1
M (SD)
M (SD)
Difference t
Cohen’s d
Traditional sexual roles
3.96 (0.93)
3.90 (1.12)
0.52, ns
Passive behavior
3.04 (0.94)
4.20 (0.99)
4.43 (0.77)
3.68 (0.89)
Traditional relationship values
3.53 (0.90)
3.03 (0.96)
Gender beliefs about desire
4.65 (1.07)
4.56 (1.03)
0.75, ns
Disparities in desire
3.33 (1.08)
2.23 (0.83)
Partner sexual agency
2.92 (0.79)
3.27 (0.86)
Social desirability
3.36 (0.19)
3.34 (0.21)
0.74, ns
Sexual experience
1.21 (0.41)
1.34 (0.48)
Sexual satisfaction
4.36 (1.80)
4.71 (1.93)
0.43, ns
Note. ‘‘Disparities in desire’’ refers to participants’ perceptions that their sexual partners have less sexual desire than they
do. ‘‘Gender beliefs about desire’’ refers to the tendency to believe that men have greater sexual desire than women.
‘‘Sexual experience’’ refers to whether or not the participant has engaged in sexual intercourse. Sexual experience was
coded as 1 ¼ experienced sexual intercourse, 2 ¼ not having experienced sexual intercourse.
reported having had sexual intercourse indicated
overall sexual satisfaction (b ¼ 2.16, p ,
more satisfaction than were those who reported
.05). The interaction of gender and passive
not having had sexual intercourse (b ¼
behavior was not significant (b ¼ 2.05, p .
2.25, p , .001). Participants who perceived
.4), suggesting that passive behavior relates to
less disparities in desire between themselves
lower sexual satisfaction for both men and
and their partners also reported greater sexual
women. Neither relationship status nor sexual
satisfaction (b ¼ 2.25, p , .001). As hypoth-
experience moderated the predicted relation-
esized, passive sexual behavior predicted less
ship between passivity and sexual satisfaction.
Table 3. Statistics from regression analyses
Table 4. Statistics from regression analyses
predicting passive behavior in Study 1
predicting sexual satisfaction in Study 1
Standardized betas
Standardized betas
Step 1
Step 2
Step 1
Step 2
2.33** 2.32***
Disparities in desire
2.24** 2.25**
Disparities in desire
Sexual experience
2.24*** 2.25***
Social desirability
Passive behavior
Traditional sexual attitudes
Gender  Passive Behavior
Gender  Disparities
Step 1 R2 ¼ .146, F(3, 206) ¼ 8.79, p , .001
Gender  Traditional
Step 2 DR2 ¼ .003, DF(5, 205) ¼ 0.62, p ,.43,
Sexual Attitudes
Step 1 R2 ¼ .36, F(5, 255) ¼ 29.13, p , .001
Step 2 DR2 ¼ .06, DF(7, 255) ¼ 12.86, p ,
Note. All nonsignificant effects were trimmed from the
initial regression analyses. The results of the final analyses
are depicted here. ‘‘Sexual experience’’ refers to whether
or not the participant has engaged in sexual intercourse.
Note. All nonsignificant effects were trimmed from the
Sexual experience was coded as 1 ¼ experienced sexual
analyses. The results of the trimmed analyses are depicted
intercourse, 2 ¼ not having experienced sexual inter-
*p , .05. **p , .01. ***p , .001.
*p , .05. **p , .01. ***p , .001.

Gender roles and sexual pleasure
ual desire than they did reported relatively
greater sexual dissatisfaction.
This study confirmed our hypothesis that en-
We propose that men and women who are
dorsement of gender-based sexual roles en-
sexually passive may be less sexually satisfied
hances women’s sexual passivity but reduces
because passivity impairs sexual arousability
men’s sexual passivity. To our knowledge, this
and the ability to reach orgasm by undermining
is the first study to demonstrate that endorse-
sexual autonomy. In past research, women’s
ment of gender-based sexual roles is linked
passive sexual behavior correlated with less
with men’s sexual agency. Contrary to predic-
reported sexual arousability, an effect mediated
tions, we did not find a link between traditional
by reduced sexual autonomy (Sanchez et al.,
sexual attitudes and sexual satisfaction. To
2006). Because the ability to orgasm relies on
determine whether we lacked sufficient statis-
sexual arousal (Geer & Janssen, 2000; Masters
tical power to detect the effects of traditional
& Johnson, 1966), a key component of sexual
sexual attitudes on sexual satisfaction, Study 2
enjoyment (Laumann, Paik, & Rosen, 1999),
employed a larger sample.
we hypothesized that passive sexual behavior
This study also tested several competing
would predict less sexual arousability, less abil-
explanations for why women tend to be more
ity to reach orgasm, and less sexual satisfaction
sexually passive than men. As predicted, gen-
for men and women in a community-based
der role endorsement correlated with more
sample. We expected sexual autonomy to medi-
passive behavior for women, but less passive
ate these relationships.
behavior for men. Providing evidence of the
Furthermore, because the control variables
robust nature of the link between gender role
tested in Study 1 failed to explain the relation-
endorsement and passive behavior, this rela-
ships between gender role endorsement and
tionship persisted when controlling for po-
passive sexual behavior and between passive
tential alternative explanations for gender
behavior and sexual satisfaction, we examined
differences in sexual agency.
one additional alternative explanation in Study
In addition to the effects of gender role
2. Men and women who find their partners
endorsement, libido predicted less sexual pas-
unattractive may desire sex less and therefore
sivity for both men and women. People with
be less sexually assertive. We therefore tested
strong libidos may engage in sexually dominant
whether perceived attractiveness of sexual
behavior to satisfy their greater desire for sex.
partners would explain the hypothesized rela-
We also found a significant interaction effect of
tionships between sexual passivity and sexual
gender and perceptions of disparities in sexual
problems. Study 1 employed a college-based
desire on sexual passivity. Men who perceived
convenience sample, which was presumably
their partners to be less sexually desirous indi-
limited in terms of age, ethnicity, and social
cated greater sexual passivity. Men may feel
class. Study 2 employed a community-based
uncomfortable initiating sexual activities with
convenience sample, which allowed us to con-
partners they perceive to be unwilling.
trol for age, ethnicity, and income.
This study uniquely shows that passive
behavior is linked to diminished sexual satisfac-
tion for men as well as women. These results
Study 2
suggest that both men and women may need to
We performed confirmatory structural equa-
experience sexual agency for sexual fulfillment.
tion modeling using EQS software on survey
This relationship between sexual passivity and
data collected via the Internet. We tested the
sexual satisfaction persisted when controlling
model described below for heterosexual, sex-
for multiple third variables that could explain
ually experienced men and women and then
the relationship between sexual passivity and
tested it separately for men and women. The
sexual satisfaction and that were linked to sex-
following hypotheses constituted our struc-
ual satisfaction. For example, disparities in
tural model: (a) Endorsement of traditional
desire predicted sexual satisfaction; both men
roles will predict greater engagement in
and women who felt their partners had less sex-
passive sexual behavior for women but less

A. K. Kiefer and D. T. Sanchez
engagement for men; (b) passive sexual behav-
Internet survey before answering the critical
ior will predict reduced sexual arousability,
questions from analyses. We conducted anal-
ability to achieve orgasm, and sexual satisfac-
yses on sexually experienced heterosexual par-
tion for men and women; and (c) reduced sex-
ticipants only. After excluding participants
ual autonomy will mediate the effects of
younger than 18 years and those who had not
passive sexual behavior on sexual outcomes.
a sexual orientation other than heterosexual,
or failed to answer these questions, we
retained a total of 398 participants for data
analyses. Participants (314 Whites, 31 Blacks,
Participants and procedure
18 multiracials, 17 Latinos, 9 Asian Ameri-
The Internal Review Board at Rutgers Univer-
cans, 6 Native Americans, and 3 missing)
sity, a large public university in the United
ranged in age from 18 to 71 years (M ¼
States, approved the survey instrument and
28.97, SD ¼ 11.51). Participants’ indicated
recruitment procedures. We recruited parti-
a mean reported personal income between
cipants over the Internet via postings on mes-
sage boards for 150 different Yahoo and MSN
ranged in marital status with 51% unmarried,
groups (see the Appendix for the full text of
28% married, 11% divorced, 8% engaged,
the recruitment message). Volunteers who
1% widowed, and 1% failing to provide their
were interested in participating accessed the
marital statuses.
survey through an online survey Web site the
university maintains. We kept the survey open
to all visitors and used unique computer iden-
tifiers, called cookies, to discourage individ-
To measure traditional sexual attitudes, we
uals from completing the survey multiple
measured attitudes toward traditional sexual
times. The Web program read and set the cookie
roles as we did in Study 1. We found the mea-
at the opening page of the survey (i.e., the
sure reliable for men (a ¼ .86), women (a ¼
informed consent page). We used a secure
.86), and the overall sample (a ¼ .86). To
socket layer for data encryption. As in Study
measure passive sexual behavior, we used
1, this convenience sample provided an afford-
the same passive sexual behavior measure as
able, preliminary means to test our hypotheses.
Study 1. This measure was reliable for men
Participants received the questionnaire in
(a ¼ .78), women (a ¼ .77), and the overall
two random orders, in which sexual behavior
sample (a ¼ .81).
questions either preceded or followed sexual
To measure sexual autonomy, participants
functioning and satisfaction items. Because
rated two items based on the autonomy scale
order did not affect the results, we report
La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, and Deci
results collapsing across order. We presented
(2000) used and Sanchez and her colleagues
questions on 11 different pages with the num-
(Sanchez et al., 2005; 2006) adapted to the
ber of questions on each page ranging from 3
sexual context. They rated the following state-
to 20 items. We allowed participants to change
ments on a scale anchored at 1 (not at all true)
any responses prior to submitting their surveys.
and 7 (very true): ‘‘When I am having sex or
Following survey submission, the program
engaging in sexual activities with someone, I
led participants to a debriefing page, which
feel free to be who I am’’ and ‘‘When I am
thanked them, briefly described the purpose
having sex or engaging in sexual activities
of the study, and provided contact information.
with someone, I have a say in what happens,
Five hundred fifty-three participants (189
and I can voice my opinion.’’ We found the
males, 364 females, and 1 participant who
scale reliable for men (a ¼ .73), women (a ¼
failed to specify his or her gender) completed
.71), and the overall sample (a ¼ .72). The two
our survey on the Internet during a 9-month
items served as our indicators.
period (December 2004 to August 2005). We
To measure sexual arousability, we used 14
excluded 17 participants who terminated the
items from the sexual arousability index (SAI)

Scripting sexual passivity: A gender role perspective



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