The Sex-Script Hypothesis:
Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Sexuality

by James Park

    Each of the following 11 pages
is a synopsis of a chapter from the book-in-process.
The full outline of the book (four pages) will be found here:
A very short version (one paragraph for each chapter) will be found here:
The only printed version of the sex-script hypothesis
is a chapter of another book by James Park, New Ways of Loving:
How Authenticity Transforms Relationships: Chapter 7
 "Loving Beyond Sex: Transcending Our Imprinted Sex-Scripts".


     How shall we understand our sexuality?
We experience within ourselves urges we do not fully understand.
We do not know why certain things 'turn us on'
and why other things have no sexual impact on us.
We also notice that sexual responses vary greatly from person to person.
Why should there be so much variety in something so basic?

     This chapter introduces a brand-new theory of human sexuality.
The sex-script hypothesis conjectures that we have all been imprinted
with particular sets of fantasies, stories, scenarios, and sex-objects
that we carry around with us in our heads.
These stories cause sexual interest, arousal, and orgasm in us.

     We did not inherit our sex-scripts from the other animals.
Thus we cannot fully understand human sexuality by studying animals.
Nor are these sex-scripts learned the way we learn to drive a car.
After we have been imprinted with our sex-scripts
(a mysterious process which seems to take place
at critical periods during our first two decades of life),
we do learn how we are supposed to behave sexually.
But such learning does not account for our sexual responses themselves.
Thus the various social theories of human sexuality are not complete.

     The sex-script hypothesis may explain our 'sex-drives'.
These mysterious urges and impulses may be quite strong in our minds.
Some people find their 'sex-drives' overwhelming and uncontrollable.
And sometimes our 'sex-drives' seem out of character for us.
We do not understand our sexual interests and responses.
From the more mature perspective of our adult selves,
we are sometimes puzzled or even dismayed by our sexual preoccupations,
surprised by some of the things that cause sexual arousal in us,
and intrigued by what passes thru our minds when we have orgasms.
Sometimes lust and reason pull in a different directions.

     We did not choose our particular set of sexual responses.
So somehow we must become acquainted with our 'sex-drives'.
Even tho we did not create these fantasies and urges,
and even tho our arousal may seem overwhelming,
ultimately we are always responsible for our sexual behavior.

     The sex-script hypothesis is a new model for human sexuality.
This new theory will have to be tested and revised
over the next 50 or 100 years.
Such is the task of further creative speculation
and scientific research in sexology.


     We human beings have descended from other sexy animals.
But our sexuality is no longer controlled by genes and hormones,
as is the case with all the other animals.
Altho we still have the same impetus for sex that all animals share,
we are aroused by abstract images, stories, and objects
in contrast to the genetically-given sexual responses of other animals.

     Animal sexual behavior is often quite complex,
but it is stereotyped for each species.
The same pattern of competition, 'courtship', and mating
is found in that species thru-out the world.
The scientific study of animal sex can provide valuable information
about the sexual anatomy and hormones we share with other animals,
but human sexual behavior has now moved beyond
the genetically-given patterns of sex found in the animal kingdom.

     We have inherited the fact of sex-files from our animal forebears.
But none of the content of ape sex-files was passed down to us.
Animal sexual responses are 'hard-wired' into them from birth.
(And their hormones control just when these responses become active.)
In contrast, our human sex-files are empty at birth;
and they will be filled by sexual imprinting
at special times during our first two decades of life.

     Animals do not have sex-scripts as we have
because they do not speak and have developed no abstract languages.
But human sex-scripts are completely dominated by abstract symbols,
even if some of our sex-scripts imitate animal sexuality.

     We human beings are the narrative animals.
Our behavior is largely organized around the stories we try to fulfill.
And our sex-lives are also dominated by our sex-scripts
—imprinted images, symbols, and scenarios that 'turn us on'
and the sexual experiences we dream of having.

     Our early human ancestors probably had rather simple sex-scripts.
Their imprinted fantasies came from their everyday experience.
But we modern human beings find ourselves imprinted
with many fantasies that could only emerge in advanced cultures.
And because our culture is more secretive and repressed
about sexuality than most primitive cultures were,
our imprinted sex-scripts adopt little from the natural world
and incorporate more images and ideas from human culture.

     The sexual imprinting we received before we turned 20 years of age
stays with us for the rest of our lives because biological evolution
had no reason to develop 'mature' sexuality for later life.
Thus whatever sex-scripts we had at age 20
probably will influence our sexual behavior thru-out our adult lives.


     We discover ourselves possessed by involuntary sexual responses
—sexual interests, sexual arousal, and sexual orgasms—
that we did not choose for ourselves.
The sex-script hypothesis conjectures that these responses
were imprinted in our brains during the first two decades of our lives.
But there does not seem to be any uniform period
in which such sexual imprinting takes place in each life.
Puberty seems the most likely time when we get our sex-scripts,
but some evidence suggests that there are other critical periods
that may be just as important in some lives.

     Perhaps the human mind has a built-in 'sex-file'
—the 'place' where sexual input is received and kept.
The other animals have full sex-files;
their sexual responses are given entirely by their genes and hormones.
But we human beings seem to be born with empty sex-files.
This means that our young minds have a deep interest in things sexual,
but we do not have any specific instructions about how to have sex, etc.
And at first we do not know which things are sexual and which are not.
So we may end up with strange items in our sex-files,
objects and events that are not really sexual,
but which become sexual for us when they are inserted into our sex-files.

     At 'puberty' in animals, the genetic instructions in their DNA
switches on the hormones that control their sexual behavior.
When they get to this stage in their automatic development,
they 'naturally know' everything they need to know about sex.
They can have sex with other members of their species
without having observed any sexual behavior at all.

     But human puberty does not bring any built-in sex-instructions.
Teen-agers just become intensely interested in everything sexual.
But the specific sexual responses they will have as adults
have not yet been imprinted, at least not in some of them.

     For some human beings, there may have been earlier periods
in their psycho-sexual development
when something caused them to be particularly open for sexual input.
Some children seem to be imprinted even before they learn to speak.
When such early sexual imprinting takes place, it must be non-verbal.
But the insertion of items into the sex-file of children who can speak
often takes the form of abstract symbols, such as words, images,
and familiar objects that become sexual objects for them.

     Somehow our minds are compelled to organize the random things
inserted into our sex-files into coherent sex-scripts
—connected stories or fantasies that remain for the rest of our lives.


     Our imprinted sex-scripts may be divided into three related levels:

     1.  Our sexual-interest scripts:
These stories, images, and ideas catch our interest on a sexual level.
When we find the sexual part of our minds responding involuntarily
to specific objects that tantalize us or to events that stir us,
this may disclose the contents of our sexual-interest scripts.

     2.  Our sexual-arousal scripts:
When certain ideas pass thru our minds, they arouse our bodies sexually.
For instance, when we are reading a sexy passage in a book,
we may find our bodies getting 'turned on' involuntarily.

     3. Our sexual-orgasm scripts:
In humans, sexual orgasm is usually accompanied by some mental content.
The special images and fantasies that consistently cause orgasms
make up our sexual-orgasm scripts.
Or we may experience it the other way round:
When we have orgasms, certain images or stories flash thru our minds.

     Female breasts frequently appear in male sex-scripts on all levels:
Men find women's breasts of intense sexual interest.
Some men become sexually aroused when viewing or thinking about breasts.
And breasts may appear as a strong fantasy object in some men's orgasms.

     Because our sex-scripts are abstract mental images,
they work best with strangers
—people who fit well into our scripts as imprinted
but whom we do not know in others ways
that might disrupt our 'pure' sexual response.
Put another way, we can project our fantasies more easily on strangers,
as long as they trigger our sexual interest, arousal, and orgasms.

     Instant sexual attraction
is almost always an expression of our imprinted sex-scripts.
If we get to know the person deeply, the "chemistry" may disappear,
because it was "all in our heads" to begin with.
And if we find other reasons to continue the relationship,
we may be able to look back on the first encounter
and sort out how much was a manifestation of our sex-scripts
and how much was something more meaningful we noticed about each other.

     When sex-scripts are the main dynamic of a relationship,
it may be short-lived.
And if we find that we have a series of intense sexual relationships
that last only a few weeks,
perhaps we should re-examine the basis of our relationships.
Finding someone who 'really turns us on' can be a wonderful experience,
but if we want more enduring relationships,
we need some basis beyond our imprinted sex-scripts.


     Human sex-scripts come in endless varieties.
Sexual imprinting seems able to put almost anything into a sex-script.
The most unusual sex-scripts are the ones that get attention first.
But when we understand the origins and dynamics of strange fantasies,
we will advance our understanding of all sex-scripts.

     Heterosexual/homosexual is the most basic division of sex-scripts,
a division based on the sex of one's fantasy sex-partner.
Sometimes famous people get imprinted in one's sex-script
—movie stars, rock stars, politicians, and other charismatic persons.
Some sex-scripts call for ever-new partners,
which is one reason some people's sex-lives become promiscuous:
Old, familiar sex-partners do not 'turn them on' as much as strangers.
Others find themselves imprinted on family members
or persons who resemble a father, mother, sister, or brother.

     Usually the race of one's fantasy sex-partner is one's own race.
But sometimes the script casts members of another race or ethnic group
as particularly attractive or arousing.

     Like stage furniture and imaginary locations,
some sex-scripts call for particular objects to be present
or for the action to take place in a specific 'stage setting',
with special clothes, gestures, and words.

     When punishment or humiliation is part of the stage action,
we can sometimes trace the imprinting back to childhood trauma.
What was originally a painful experience for the child
became an erotic experience when it entered the child's sex-file.

     Some people discover that their sex-scripts contain magical words.
When these are spoken, something special happens in their bodies.
"Paraphilias" refer to unusual sex-scripts:
odd objects, settings, or words, that draw one's sexual interest,
cause sexual arousal, and trigger sexual orgasm.

     Some sex-scripts call for behavior outlawed by most societies,
for instance, fantasies that call for children as sex-partners
and scenarios in which the sex-partners are killed.
Rape, however, is the most common criminal sex-script.

     But as we understand criminal sex-scripts better,
we will be able to devise more enlightened responses to such problems.
Criminal sexual behavior probably cannot be changed by the normal means
used in prisons for attempting to reform ordinary criminals
because the impetus behind sex offenses
differs from the reasons for all other forms of crime.

     One possible treatment for sex-offenders is 'chemical castration'
—using sex-hormones to return the offender to a pre-pubertal state.
Some will agree to be 'de-sexed' so that they lose all interest in sex
rather than spend the rest of their lives behind bars.


     Because our sex-scripts are usually deeply hidden in our psyches,
it may often be difficult to discover what our 'sex-files' contain
and how these responses might have been imprinted.
First we must wish to uncover our own sex-scripts.
Our 'sex-files' may not be well organized to start with.
They may be a chaos of images, feelings, experiences, and fantasies.
And there is no direct way to sit down and read this 'file'.
Some of the contents of our 'sex-files'
were inserted before we could understand and use language.
Such contents exist only in non-verbal forms.

     Once we have decided to examine our 'sex-files',
we may have to contend with a censoring 'file-clerk' who guards the file.
A part of our minds denies us access to our own basement storage rooms.

     But here are a few ways to get past the 'file-clerk':
We can try free word-association
to see what comes up in response to certain trigger words.
We may be surprised by some of the connections discovered inside our minds.

Or we can analyze our involuntary over-reactions to various events,
which may suggest a background in sexual imprinting.

     Also we can pay close attention to our dreams,
especially those with obvious sexual content.
At night, the 'file-clerk' seems to be asleep.
Our sex-scripts play their fantasies more freely thru sleeping minds.
Who are the other people in our erotic dreams?
What kinds of sexual adventures do we have in dreamland?

     Sexy advertising may involuntarily grab our attention.
These images catch us unawares, when the 'file-clerk' is off duty.
And we respond spontaneously to whatever attracts our sexual interest.

     We can review pornography to see which kinds 'turn us on'.
If commercially-produced pornography depicts our private fantasies,
we know we are not the only ones who have those responses.
Our sexual imprinting probably preceded our exposure to pornography.
Thus our spontaneous responses to pornographic images and events
disclose the sex-scripts that already exist deep in our minds.

     If we remind ourselves ahead of time
that we did not create our own sexual imprinting,
we can be more open-minded and less moralistic about our sex-scripts.
A scientific approach to our sex-scripts should help us make explicit
the sexual dynamics that have been operating for most of our lives.
We can uncover the images, stories, fantasies, and objects
that our minds have put together to form our sex-scripts.


     Historically homosexual sex-scripts have been treated
as if they were fundamentally different from heterosexual sex-scripts,
but sex-script theory suggests that all sex-scripts originate
in sexual imprinting in the first two decades of life.

     People who find that they have homosexual sex-scripts
(who find themselves responding to members of the same sex)
are often surprised by this discovery.
And many of them try to change their sexual responses.
But very few have found ways to modify their sex-scripts.

     What they thought was a change of sex-script may easily have been:
(1) putting greater emphasis on other imprinted sex-scripts;
(2) controlling sexual behavior while the sexual orientation remains;
(3) making merely verbal or mental changes, moral reformation;
(4) transcending sex-scripts to create specific sexual bonding.

     As we understanding all forms of sex-scripts better,
and as society acknowledges greater variety in sexual life-styles,
there will be less effort to change sex-scripts.
And everyone will learn to live with whatever imprinting they have.

     The lives of juvenile male prostitutes, who sell sex to older men,
offers an opportunity to ask some interesting questions
about how and when sex-scripts are imprinted.
If the boys began to sell sex before their sex-scripts were imprinted,
did the practice of prostitution create their sex-scripts?
Some male prostitutes are heterosexual in their personal relationships.
How do they manage mentally to have one kind of sex for cash
and another kind of sex for pleasure?

     Preliminary observations of homosexual households
show that homosexual sex-scripts are not 'caught' or learned.
Sex-scripts do not reflect surrounding patterns of sexual behavior.

     If homosexual sex-scripts are more promiscuous,
this may be because society does not support homosexual monogamy
or because some homosexual sex-scripts call for ever-new partners.
When homosexual partnership is as accepted as heterosexual coupling,
these two kinds of relationships may become more similar.

     People who find themselves with homosexual sex-scripts
may ask themselves a lot of questions about this discovery, such as:
How did this sex-script get imprinted in my mind?
Would I like to change my given sexual fantasies?
Can I reconciled myself to my sexual responses?
And heterosexuals can ask themselves the same questions.


     If our imprinted sexual fantasies shape our responses,
this is certain to have some impact on our sexual relationships.
We probably began our adult relationships for other reasons than sex,
for instance, because we experienced good personal interaction.
We have matured in many ways to become the adults we are,
but our sex-scripts have not matured along with us.
Therefore, we may discover 'immature' sexual responses
disrupting our otherwise adult loving relationships.
When we have sex with the person we know and love,
one or both may seem to revert to an earlier phase of life.

     If our sex-scripts are particularly strong,
our 'sex-drives' may seem to overwhelm us at times.
We might seem to be possessed by alien forces taking over our bodies.
And our sex-scripts may urge us to engage in sexual behavior
that is distasteful to our sex-partners--or even to ourselves.
Put another way, we may experience a struggle between lust and love.
As the adults we have become, we want good loving relationships.
But when we open the sexual phase of the relationships,
our 'adolescent' sexual responses may overwhelm
the adult personalities we have become thru years of personal growth.

     Because our sex-scripts come from an earlier part of our lives,
we often do not want to share them with our sex-partners.
But if we are entering a long-term sexual relationships with someone,
perhaps that person should know our sexual dynamics,
even if we feel silly or ashamed about our imprinted responses.

     Many men seem to have Playboy sex-scripts,
which means that they respond to conventionally-sexy women.
This may work fine as long as 'their women' like to play bunny.
But women who resist being generic Playboy bunnies
may have problems relating to men with such sex-scripts.

     Likewise women sometimes have sex-scripts that depict macho men,
which may be difficult for real men to emulate.
The kind of man who 'really turns her on'
may not be the person she wants to love.
Once again we have the tension between lust and love.
The woman may be torn between her imprinted response to movie heroes
and her response to a gem of a man who could never become a sex-idol.
Or perhaps the woman gets 'turned on' by a fantasy of sexual submission.
But in her real relationships with men, she is not masochistic.

     It should be possible for rational people to admit to each other
that they have possibly-troublesome sex-scripts.
But once they have discussed their (unchangeable) sexual imprinting,
they may be able to create a relationship on a better foundation.


     As permanent as our sex-scripts will probably remain,
there may be a possibility of living and loving beyond them.

     Such transcending of our imprinted sex-scripts
seems to occur only within on-going, committed, loving relationships.
The specialness of the encounter between two persons becomes so powerful
that their imprinted sex-scripts fade into the background.

     If and when our sex-scripts fade behind our specific relationships,
this shift shows itself by the loss of our generic sexual responses
to bodies, objects, situations, or personalities
that used to create sexual interest, arousal, and orgasm.

     When unique sexual bonding in particular relationships
replaces responding to our imprinted sex-scripts,
we find that our sexual interest, arousal, and orgasms
are focused on particular persons.

     Put another way, we find that I-Thou sex replaces I-It sex.
When we had I-It sexuality, we responded to sexy strangers
because something about them activated our imprinted sex-scripts.
They had generic sex-appeal, which would have 'turned on'
anyone who had a sex-script for the type of man or woman.

     But I-Thou sex arises only in specific relationships
in which sexual bonding has already been experienced.
If we are fully present in our sexual celebration,
sex is an encounter of I and Thou on the level of persons,
rather than generic responses arising from our imprinting.

We began our sex-lives in role sexuality,
responding to other personalities and bodies
because of the sexual imprinting we received early in life.
We experienced role sexuality as happening to us
because our endocrine systems (guided by our specific imprinting)
were providing the main dynamics of our sexual experiences.

     But this role sexuality can be replaced by real sexuality
when we discover how to respond to specific other persons
because of who they are in their uniqueness
rather than how well they awaken our pre-existing sex-scripts.
Sexual bonding, which could not have been expected beforehand,
arises in particular encounters with real persons.

     Whatever experiences we had during the years
in which our sex-lives were controlled by our sex-scripts,
we may discover how to transcend that way of being sexual
and how to open ourselves to the possibility of unique sexual bonding.


     The sex-script hypothesis itself is a program for future research.
We have only informal observations supporting sex-script theory.
But researchers and others inspired by this new model of sex
may organize their thinking, experience, recollections, and research
so as to confirm, refute, or modify the sex-script hypothesis.

     The basic research will consist of collecting and analyzing
thousands of sex-scripts as understood by the people who have them.

     And we should avoid several possibly-distorting influences
that could affect the conclusions of such research,
such as the sex-scripts and the political agendas of the researchers
and the dogmatism of established schools of sexology.

     Open-minded research will explore all plausible hypotheses.
Genetics offers one especially serious challenge to sex-script theory:
If sex-scripts are transmitted from generation to generation
the way the sexual behavior of animals is passed on—thru DNA—
then the hypothesis of sexual imprinting will be disconfirmed.

     As strange as it may seem, prostitutes may be a good source
for information about the sex-scripts of man—at least their customers.
And popular books about sexual fantasies have already collected raw data
that may prove valuable for understanding human sexuality.

     Childhood seems to be the usual time for sexual imprinting.
What opens a child's sex-file?  What closes it?
Why does sexual imprinting seem to come to an end after age 20?
Even tho we cannot do sexual experiments with children,
we can record incidents that might have imprinted a child's sex-file.
Or we—in our adult years—can try to remember childhood sexual events.

     Sex-script theory provides a new approach for rape research.
Why are some men inclined to rape, whereas others are not?

     Pornography may also be a useful avenue for sex-script research.
We may find that certain types of pornography correlate well
with the prevalence of those sex-scripts in the population.

     Sex-script theory may help untangle multiple personalities.
Perhaps each personality is formed around an imprinted sex-script.

     When adults impose sexual experiences on children,
such events may be sexually-imprinting events for the children.
And adults' urges to have sex with children may have arisen
because they also were sexually abused when they were children.

     Hundreds of questions about human sexuality remain unanswered.
And as some clarity emerges, new questions will arise.
Sexology has made a good start; the horizon is beginning to open up.


     If the sex-script hypothesis is substantially upheld
by the next few decades of research in human sexuality,
this new model will begin to have an impact in the 21st century.

     Mounting population pressures will require all organized societies
to be more careful about the number of children born in each generation.
Birth planning will become almost universal in advanced societies.
And reliable forms of contraception
(backed up by safe abortions achieved by drugs rather than surgery)
will permit sex to be almost complete separated from reproduction.
This will profoundly affect sexual behavior in the 21st century.
And such changes may even affect the imprinting of sex-scripts.

     Research into sex-scripts will become cross-cultural,
which should provide interesting clues about the process of imprinting.

     Sex between adults and children is likely to increase,
but greater openness about such behavior can help us to understand
both the sex-scripts of the adults who initiate such sexual encounters
and the sexual imprinting it probably leaves in the children.

     Greater openness about sex will clarify unusual sex-scripts,
which in the past were mostly hidden and denied.
If the sex-script hypothesis removes the stigma attached to paraphilias,
further research in this area will cast more light on sexual imprinting.

     But along with scientific advances in sexology,
there will also be more bizarre fringe-theories and cults.
But even such phenomena can help us to understand sex-scripts better.

     As a result of greater openness about all things sexual,
some unfortunate forms of sexual imprinting may disappear.
For instance, sex-positive imprinting may replace at least some
of the sex-negative imprinting common in former centuries.

    If sexual imprinting is permanent,
then it should be taken into account in selecting an occupation.
People should select occupations compatible with their sex-scripts.
For instance, necrophiliacs should stay away from the funeral industry.
People sexually attracted to children should avoid working with them.
And man aroused by touching women should not become gynecologists.

     Along with these many other changes,
we can expect a decline in traditional marriage.
People will have sex without getting married.
More flexible and open sexual relationships may largely replace
the traditional patterns of marriage and the nuclear family.


    As mentioned at the beginning,
the above 11 pages are synopses of the chapters of a book-in-process
to be called The Sex-Script Hypothesis:
Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Sexuality.
Comments and questions should be sent to James Park by e-mail:


    If you would like to read other books on of the sex-script hypothesis, click:

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