Scripting Adolescent Romance

Adolescents Talk about Romantic Relationships and Media’s Sexual Scripts

by Stacey J.T. Hust (Author) Kathleen Boyce Rodgers (Author)
©2018 Textbook XIV, 246 Pages
Series: Mediated Youth, Volume 24


Adolescents and emerging adults today spend an estimated seven hours daily attending to media. The media teens attend to commonly present relationships between men and women as a "game" or "competition" in which women seduce through their physical appearance and the masculinity of men is defined through sexual conquest. A growing body of research suggests that viewing this sexualized media may contribute to adolescents’ and emerging adults’ understanding of and behaviors around romantic and sexual relationships. Using social cognitive theory of gender development, scripting theory, and heterosexual script theory as a framework, Scripting Adolescent Romance presents methods and analyses of data from in-depth interviews with 16 high school and young college students, and focus groups with over 100 individuals in this age group. Findings provide a rarely seen view inside youths’ private spaces—their bedrooms and their social media spaces. In often highly-personal conversations, youth provide in-depth information about how they understand and navigate virginity, romantic relationships, sexual situations, and interpersonal violence. Their discussions of "Netflix and chill," Facebook stalking, and the scorecard script illuminate aspects of romance and sex that may be uniquely characteristic of today’s young people. This book is a must-read for parents of adolescents, and promises to be an enjoyable, insightful text for classes about media effects, adolescent development, gender roles, and sexual health.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Scripting Adolescent Romance
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables and Figures
  • Tables
  • Figures
  • Centerfold
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction and Background
  • Adolescent and Emerging Adult Media Use
  • Theoretical Frameworks
  • Romantic Relationships among Adolescents
  • Sexual Behaviors of Adolescents and Emerging Adults
  • Contraception
  • Sexual Harassment and Violence in Relationships
  • Prevalent Themes Related to Romance and Sex in Mass Media
  • Making Sense of Sexual Scripts
  • Overview of Methodology
  • Focus Groups
  • In-depth Interviews and Bedroom and Social Media Tours
  • Data Analysis
  • Sample for In-depth Interviews
  • Conventions Used in This Book
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Youths’ Personal Spaces
  • Collecting Data from Youths’ Personal Spaces
  • Participants’ Personal Room Tours
  • Cultural Artifacts in Youths’ Rooms
  • Artifacts Reflecting Family and Faith
  • Artifacts Reflecting Ethnicity and Culture
  • Artifacts Related to Personal Responsibility
  • Media Tools in Participants’ Personal Spaces
  • Reproduction of Mass Media Design Elements
  • Advertisements for Consumer Products in Personal Spaces
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Gender, Femininity and Masculinity
  • Participants’ Perceptions of Femininity
  • Personal Artifacts Related to Femininity
  • Participants’ Perceptions of Masculinity
  • Personal Artifacts Related to Masculinity
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Virginity: Abstinence and Urgency
  • Defining Virginity Loss
  • Virginity Status
  • Virginity Scripts
  • Abstinence Script
  • Urgency Script
  • Virginity Loss: Abstinence and Urgency Collide
  • Making Sense of Alternative Media Scripts
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Romantic Relationships: Navigation and Expectation
  • Realism of Media Relationships
  • The Media’s Influence on Conceptualizations of the Ideal Partner
  • Previous Sexual Partners
  • Sex Is Expected in Relationships
  • Relationships and Power
  • Disclosure, Sex, and Love
  • Commitment, Weddings and Marriage
  • Avoiding Relationships
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Sexual Activity, the Sexual Double Standard, and the Scorecard Script
  • The Normalization of Sex in Media
  • Spontaneous Sex “In the Moment”
  • Learning about Sex from the Media
  • Scripting Sexual Activity
  • Netflix and Chill
  • Engaging in Sexual Activity
  • What’s Love Got to Do with It?
  • The Sexual Debut Experience
  • Hooking Up and Friends with Benefits
  • Regrettable Sex
  • Contraception
  • Who Is Responsible for Contraception?
  • Consequences of Sex
  • The Sexual Double Standard
  • The Scorecard Script
  • Subverting the Scorecard Script
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Rape Myths, Sexual Coercion, and Dating Violence
  • Blaming the Victim: She’s Dressed for It
  • Identifying the Perpetrator: The Monstrous Rapist
  • Making Sense of Media Portrayals of Sexual Harassment
  • On-line and In-person Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Consent Negotiation
  • Sexual Aggression and Coercion
  • Women’s Refusal to Unwanted Sexual Activity
  • Alcohol and Drug Facilitated Sexual Aggression and Assault
  • Women’s Reactions to Sexual Aggression
  • Teen and Young Adult Dating Violence
  • Cyber Stalking
  • Discussion and Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 8: Discussion and Implications of Findings
  • Youth’s Personal Spaces
  • Masculinity and Femininity
  • Virginity
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Sexual Activity
  • Rape Myths, Sexual Coercion, and Dating Violence
  • Media as a Sexual Super Peer
  • Media Literacy
  • Heteronormativity
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Discussion Questions
  • Appendix A: Participant Biographies
  • Female Participants
  • Willow
  • Chelsea
  • Tiffany
  • Rachel
  • Clarissa
  • Grace
  • Karly
  • Farah
  • Male Participants
  • Zane
  • Trent
  • Grant
  • Keith
  • Roy
  • Scott
  • Phillip
  • Braden
  • Appendix B: Mediography
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →



Table 1.1: Descriptions of Media Clips Used in the Focus Groups.14–16

Table 1.2: List of Participants.19–20


Figure 2.1: Tiffany’s religious mementos.

Figure 2.2: Rachel’s curtains were based on those she saw on a favorite television program.

Figure 2.3: Clarissa’s shopping bags that advertised the stores and objectified men’s bodies.

Figure 3.1: Keith’s sports trophies and baseball memorabilia.

Figure 3.2: Zane’s trophies.

Figure 3.3: Roy displayed this Bruce Lee poster in his room.

Figure 3.4: An Area of Refuge sign that Phillip kept in his room.

Figure 3.5: Some of the writing on Braden’s wall.

Figure 5.1: Tiffany displayed mementos from high school dances in her room. ← ix | x →

Figure 6.1: Scott’s shelf contained a box of condoms and a stuffed animal.


Figure 1: Clarissa’s cosmetic and hygiene products are displayed on top of her dresser.

Figure 2: Grace’s relationship mementos.

Figure 3: One of the posters in Karly’s room that emphasized male objectification.

Figure 4: Keith’s room was decorated around a baseball theme.

Figure 5: Rachel’s antique wrought iron bed frame decorated with white lights.

Figure 6: Willow framed a picture of London’s Big Ben with white lights.

| xi →


A project like this one never is accomplished by just two people. Data collection and analysis for this book spanned three years, and a number of individuals helped us along the way. Our heartfelt thanks to Jason Wheeler, who served as the lead research assistant for this project and who was unwavering in his support and dedication. We were fortunate that six additional graduate students assisted us with focus group moderation, transcription, and data analysis: Whitney Stefani, Jiayu Li, Stephanie Ebreo, Nicole O’Donnell, Nicole Cameron, and Cristina McAllister. Four undergraduate students also helped significantly: Ariana Garcia, Kaylene Tyndall, Thomas Pankau, and Guadalupe Garnica.

We thank the participants and their parents who welcomed us into their homes and gave us their time. We are especially appreciative for their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences. We also thank our community collaborators with Washington State University Extension who were instrumental in helping us recruit participants.

We appreciate the funding, resources and other support for this project provided by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and the department of human development at WSU. We also received the 2014 Mary Ann Yodelis Smith Award from the Commission on the Status of Women ← xi | xii → of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which also helped to support this research.

Along the way, we had several mentors who provided guidance and support. We would like to thank a few individuals whose support of our work exceeded our expectations, including Lawrence Pintak, Bruce Pinkleton, Prabu David, Jessica Willoughby, Roberta Kelly, and Laura Hill.

We were inspired by Jane Brown, professor emerita of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jane’s early research and exploration of teens’ personal spaces provided a foundation from which our research grew.

Stacey J. T. Hust—In addition, I would like to thank a number of individuals who helped me reach this goal while still managing daily life. My parents, Brandon and Pat Taylor, have always encouraged my curiosity and provided daily motivation to finish this project. My in-laws, Marri and Bill Hust, often helped with day-to-day activities when this project took me far from home and away from the girls. My sister, Shandra Lee, and her family always were supportive. My children, Zach, Prairie and Azalea, made my days brighter even when the work was tiresome. Most importantly, I thank my rock, my best friend, and my husband Joshua M. Hust, whose support cannot be quantified and without whom my portion of this project would not have been completed.

Kathleen Boyce Rodgers—I also thank my husband Tom for his love, patience and support of my scholarship, for helping me to laugh when I most needed to, and for keeping the home fires burning during the long days of data collection and writing.

| 1 →

· 1 ·


“I guess people made it up to be like sex is a casual thing, you can do it whenever,” said Willow, age 15. “I mean (on) TV shows every other episode, somebody’s making out or having sex with somebody in a closet.” Willow, like most other teens, spent a lot of her time with the media, and much of what she attended to contains sexual or romantic content. Although she didn’t own a personal smart phone, she frequently logged onto Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, and she was an avid fan of YouTube star Miranda Sings. Willow even recorded and uploaded some YouTube videos by herself. During the summer after her freshmen year of high school, Willow had spent her time babysitting, surfing YouTube, and watching teen movies that were popular in the 1980s. Willow said she and her friends enjoyed watching other teenagers in the media, especially in television programs and movies. She said they like to watch, “Teenagers experimenting (with) things that we might want to do, but aren’t like, don’t want to face the consequences.” For example, she recently had watched a movie about a young high school girl who became pregnant. “It was like really entertaining for me,” Willow said. “I guess not entertaining, but like interesting for me to watch … I don’t know why that was interesting, but it was.” Willow was an astute observer of her peers and quite reflective for someone so young. As she pointed out, teens often turn to ← 1 | 2 → the media to learn how to navigate through romantic and sexual relationships (Bleakley, Hennessy, Fishbein, & Jordan, 2008).

Adolescent and Emerging Adult Media Use

Adolescents and emerging adults today spend an estimated seven hours daily attending to media (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). They check social media networks daily, and some youth report being on social media almost all the time (Lenhart, 2015). The social media landscape is dynamic, and it is difficult to predict if what is popular now will still be popular in a few months. The Pew Research Center’s 2015 survey of teens and social media found Facebook was the most popular social networking site among teens, and one-half of U.S. teens used Instagram and Snapchat (Lenhart, 2015). In addition to social media, adolescents spent almost four hours a day watching television, two and a half hours listening to music, and another hour and a half on computers (Rideout et al., 2010). Youth also spent time playing video games, reading print media, and watching movies (Rideout et al., 2010).

The media teens attend to commonly present relationships between men and women as a “game” or “competition” where women seduce through their physical appearance, and the masculinity of men is defined through sexual conquest (Ward, 2003). Sexual harassment and the depiction of women as sex objects is also prevalent in today’s media (Ward, 2003, 2016), and the objectification of men is on the rise (Reichert, Lambiase, Morgan, Carstarphen, & Zavoina, 1999). In addition to sexual imagery, sexual violence has become more prevalent in popular primetime television dramas (Cuklanz & Moorti, 2006) and mainstream music media (Hust, Rodgers, & Ran, 2015).

Concern about U.S. youths’ exposure to negative media messages has been noted by several professional organizations. Since 1996, the American Academy of Pediatrics consistently has called for increased awareness and research on the effects of media content on adolescent mental and physical health (Channels & Commercials, 1996; Committee on Public Education, 1999, 2001a, 2001b; Council on Communications and Media, 2009). The American Psychological Association asked for increased public awareness about the sexualization of girls in an effort to offset cultural messages that idealize unhealthy body images and devalue girls’ worth (American Psychological Association, 2007).

A growing body of research demonstrates media play a role in the social construction of virginity (Kelly, 2010), objectification of women (Hust & Lei, ← 2 | 3 → 2008; Peter & Valkenburg, 2009; Ward, 2016), gender stereotypes, (Ward, 2002, 2003; Ward & Friedman, 2006), the sexual double standard (Kreager & Staff, 2009), sexual consent negotiation (Hust et al., 2013a, 2013b), and violence in dating (Kaestle, Halpern, & Brown, 2007). This research suggests sexualized media may contribute to adolescents’ and emerging adults’ understanding of and behaviors around romantic and sexual relationships.

Yet to be examined in this body of literature are what messages adolescents perceive in media, and how these perceptions relate to meanings they ascribe to romantic and sexual relationships. In response to the APA Task Force report, Lerum and Dworkin (2009) argued that missing from the dialogue about media effects on girls are the voices of girls themselves about gender and sexually-scripted messages. We believe the voices of girls and boys and emerging adult women and men are needed to understand fully how adolescents interpret and make sense of media that are highly gender stereotyped and increasingly violent and sexual in nature.

To begin to understand this, we asked adolescents and emerging adults to tell us about their experiences with media, dating, romance and sexual relationships. Our guiding questions for this project were:

Theoretical Frameworks

We used social cognitive theory of gender development (Bussey & Bandura, 1999), scripting theory (Simon & Gagnon, 1986), and heterosexual script theory (Byers, 1996; Kim et al., 2007; Tolman, Kim, Schooler, & Sorsoli, 2007) as frameworks to understand how perceived messages in media inform adolescent and emerging adults’ understanding of gender and sexual stereotypes. The social cognitive theory of gender development (Bussey & Bandura, 1999) suggests the interaction of cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors will determine the effect of media on adolescents’ behaviors and sense of gendered self in relation to others. Accordingly, higher exposure to media that is perceived as realistic, that teens can identify with, or that they desire ← 3 | 4 → to be like, predicts they will model what is observed (Bandura, 2002). Higher exposure to media messages also influences the degree to which adolescents will “adopt the value or engage in the behavior” that is observed (Brown, 2002, p. 16).

The degree to which individuals perceive media to be a realistic depiction of life also can influence the effect of media messages on viewers (Bandura, 2001). For example, adolescents can more easily relate to media that is realistic, and in doing so may be more likely to pay attention to such media and accept it as modeling real-life interactions between men and women or boys and girls (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Media with romantic or sexual content that is perceived to be realistic is one avenue through which adolescents and young adults can learn sexual scripts and ways of relating within a romantic or sexual situation (Brown, Halpern, & L’Engle, 2005; Ward, 2002). When such media content is entertaining, it can have a stronger influence on gender attitudes because of the attention it garners from viewers (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Ward & Friedman, 2006). Furthermore, when adolescent and emerging adult viewers identify with the experiences of celebrities or television characters, these media experiences can feel quite personal, as if the viewer is a close friend. According to social cognitive theory, these feelings of attachment with celebrity and media characters increases the likelihood viewers will perceive behaviors as normative and acceptable. Thus, from this theoretical perspective, adolescents may learn social norms, gender-role scripts, and expectancies regarding romantic relationships through the media to which they attend (Brown et al., 2005).

Scripting theory is also useful for understanding how male and female adolescents and emerging adults develop expectations for behaviors within dating, romantic or sexual situations (Simon & Gagnon, 1986). Scripting theory presumes that one’s sexual behaviors are guided by the ways in which male and female roles in intimate and sexual relationships are constructed by society (Simon & Gagnon, 2003). From early childhood, individuals observe and replicate sexual scripts that are culturally determined and ever present in their social environment and internalize these scripts so that they become part of one’s sexual identity (Simon & Gagnon, 1986). Sexual scripting theory suggests these internalized sexual scripts guide our behavior when we are presented with sexual and romantic situations (Simon & Gagnon, 1986). The sexual scripts continue to be refined with age and experience with sexual situations. For less experienced persons, such as adolescents, sexual scripts they have observed and internalized will be particularly salient as they encounter ← 4 | 5 → new romantic and sexual opportunities (Simon & Gagnon, 1986). Within a heterosexual relationship, male and female adolescents will respond to cues from the social situation, as well as from each other as they “play the role” or enact a sexual script they have internalized. Perhaps not surprisingly, research has found that college students are very aware of gender-stereotypic sexual scripts for men and women. For example, among male and female college students, men and women expressed beliefs that men are sex driven, won’t say “no” to sex unless they are gay, and initiate sexual encounters; women were believed to be more emotionally attached through sex than are men, to suppress sexual desires, and to be the gatekeepers to sexual advances to protect their reputations (Sakaluk, Todd, Milhausen, Lachowsky, & URGIS, 2014). These beliefs are similarly observed among adolescents as well (Furman, Ho, & Low, 2007) and reflect the cultural settings within which adolescents and young adults observe and encounter romantic or sexual behaviors.


XIV, 246
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 246 pp., 9 b/w ill., 7 col. ill., 2 tbl.

Biographical notes

Stacey J.T. Hust (Author) Kathleen Boyce Rodgers (Author)

Stacey J.T. Hust (Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is an associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. Kathleen Boyce Rodgers (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin–Madison) is an associate professor in the Department of Human Development at Washington State University. Hust and Rodgers were the 2014 recipients of the Mary Ann Yodelis Smith Award for Feminist Research from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. They also earned one of two National Council on Family Relations Innovation Grants in 2014.


Title: Scripting Adolescent Romance
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