Is Gender Inequality Getting in the Way of Your Pleasure?

By Amber Kanuckel

Inequality—it’s something that is just about everywhere in life. There’s the gender gap in pay scales, and women still face more harassment and other difficulties than their male counterparts. Inequality exists in the bedroom, too.

Historically speaking, women have been more likely to take a submissive role during sex with a man. In research, we find that not only does this still hold true, but that it can be harmful to both men and women alike.

Rutgers Research into Sexual Inequality

One study that really underscores this came out in March 2012. Researchers from Rutgers University looked at the adherence of gender roles within intimate relationships. After that, they determined the consequences and pitfalls of these roles.

One belief was that traditional gender roles influence sexual behavior, and during mental development, those gender roles carry over into intimacy in later parts of life. As part of the Rutgers paper, researchers looked at previous studies in which adolescents were interviewed, both of which found that most adolescent girls described their first sexual encounter as something that just “happened to them” rather than something in which they took part.

Boys, on the other hand, didn’t exhibit such an attitude, instead discussing strategies they’d used to have sex. The differences were clear: girls were more likely to be reactive while the boys were mainly the proactive ones in these encounters, rendering girls more likely to act submissive.

The Sexual Script Theory

All of this leads to the “sexual script” theory — a theory that suggests that the majority of heterosexual relationships follow a script that is pushed onto us by cultural norms. Essentially it goes like this: Men tend to take a more dominant role in society while women are still fighting for true equality.

This cultural and societal norm translates as much to the bedroom as it does to the office or how work is divided within a household. Men are more likely to initiate sex, and they’re more likely to be the ones to determine the pace or style of sexual encounters.

Another interesting thing about the sexual script theory is that it doesn’t just guide behaviors between genders during sexual encounters, but it may also have a strong effect at different stages of the relationship.

The most prominent example is in the early stages of the relationship — culture may dictate that women take on a subservient or submissive role during the attraction phase and the initial phases of the relationship. On the other hand, in a mature relationship, this often relaxes as couples begin to explore each other’s particular tastes and needs. The familiarity of an established relationship allows couples to feel more comfortable acting outside of traditional norms.

What are the Consequences of Female Submission and Male Dominance?

According to the Rutgers paper, there is lots of evidence to support the idea that we tend to follow cultural scripts in the bedroom, with women tending to be more passive and describing sex as an act in which they don't take an active role, while men, in general, take on a more proactive and assertive stance.

The biggest question, then, is what effect does this have on our sex lives?

One of the biggest takeaways from this research is that these cultural scripts in which men are seen as more dominant while women are more submissive actually tend to eroticize the idea of inequality. And because of that, research suggests that women experience much less freedom to express themselves sexually.

In other words, rather than suggesting new things or trying something experimental, women are more likely to refrain from saying anything at all, hindering their ability to communicate effectively. This leads to reduced arousal and fewer orgasms — overall, a whole lot less fun.

Gender norms prove harmful for men, too. Following a script removes spontaneity from sex and puts an added pressure on men to "perform" and measure up to masculine standards surrounding sex drive. Overall, when following these gender normalized scripts, there is less communication and improvisation where sexual needs, emotions, and mutual feelings are concerned.

Another thing that this research uncovered was that women with more feminist or egalitarian attitudes tended not to follow these traditional scripts as much — and they reported greater sexual satisfaction, too. Women who were more comfortable asserting themselves and communicating their needs found it easier to keep things fresh and create excitement between themselves and their partners.

Despite the negative outcomes of sexual scripts, both sexes appear to follow it with strict adherence. The reason? They fear social backlash if they don’t. People are willing to misrepresent their sexual experiences and tastes in order to avoid being ostracized. That doesn’t just affect mutual satisfaction for couples, but it also replaces fulfillment with embarrassment for sexual activities like masturbation.

Sexual inequality remains prevalent in our society despite more individualistic practices or viewpoints. The root cause could very well be these sexual scripts that dictate norms in the bedroom. These scripts promote an environment of male dominance and female submission — a dynamic that tends to be eroticized to the detriment of both men and women.



When not attempting to conquer the world, Amber can usually be found at her desk, typing away. Health, wellness and fitness number among her top areas of interest--and that includes emotional and mental wellbeing as well as physical health.