Let’s talk during sex, baby: Gender/sex differences in sexual communication

By Kathleen Nesbitt-Daly

This blog is a summary of our published article: Merwin, K. E., Bergeron, S., Jodouin, J. F., Mackinnon, S. P., & Rosen, N. O. (2022). Few differences in sexual talk by gender/sex and dyad type: A retrospective and daily diary study with couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior51(8), 3715-3733. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02363-y

Communicating during sex is an important part of relationships in order to improve relational well-being.[1] Sexual talk is communication that occurs exclusively during sex and is specific to the sexual activity happening in the moment. Previous research on sexual communication has focused on communication that happens outside of sex, such as discussing sexual wants, rather than the ways couples communicate during sex. There are two main types of sexual talk: individualistic and mutualistic. Individualistic talk focuses on dominance and sexual fantasy (“show me your pussy/cock” while mutualistic talk includes exclamations of pleasure, compliments, and statements of intimacy (“you taste so good”).

Sexual script theory suggests men and women think about sex differently, based on the messages they are given from society. Traditional sexual script theory establishes men as the ones who initiate sex and women as more concerned with emotional intimacy, rather than pleasure. [2,3]


Prior research on sexual communication has found there are gendered differences in the type of sexual communication and the amount used, but has failed to account for queer couples, including individuals who are gender/sex diverse (GSD). [4]

We wanted to know the difference between the type (i.e., individualistic and mutualistic) and frequency of sexual talk used between men and women, between different dyad types, and to explore the type of frequency GSD individuals engaged in.

What did we want to know?

Whether there were gender/sex or dyad differences in type and frequency of sexual talk within GSD individuals and women or men.

What did we expect?

Based on sexual script theory and previous research, we hypothesized that:
  1. Men would report using more individualistic talk than women, both retrospectively and at an average daily level
  2. There would be no gender/sex differences for mutualistic talk in general or at a daily level

We had no hypotheses regarding GSD individuals because there was no prior research using a sample of GSD individuals at the time of the study.

What did we do?

We conducted a two-part study:

In part 1, participants completed a self-report measure about their past use of sexual talk in their current relationship. This had two subscales to gather information on the type of sexual talk used (individualistic or mutual) and how frequently they used sexual talk.

In part 2, participants reported daily whether they had sexual activity with their partner. On days when they did have sex, we asked how often they had sexual talk with their partner in the past 24-hours.

What did we find?

For the retrospective portion of the study, we found, in binary couples, women engage in more mutualistic sexual talk than their male counterparts and that women partnered with women used even more mutualistic sexual talk. However, these effects were not present in the daily diary portion of the study, where we found there was no difference in the amount of frequency of individualistic or mutualistic sexual talk between gender/sexes.

In couples with a GSD member, there was no effect in mutualistic talk between dyads; however, we did find a significant, small effect suggesting participants who were partnered with a GSD partner engaged in more mutualistic sexual talk than those partnered with a man or woman.

What does this mean?

Despite finding no significant differences in gender/sex, or dyad type in the daily diary portion of the study, we did find women reported using more mutualistic talk compared to men when considering their relationship overall. This may be because women are more likely to remember sexual talk focusing on intimacy and information that is consistent with gendered roles in sexual script. [5]

Our findings were contrary to previous research. However, these participants in these studies were on average older and in longer relationships than our participants. Some research suggests differences in age may account for younger individuals diverging from the sexual script, but when we accounted for age, we found there was no difference. [6] This may indicate that something else accounts for this difference.

It may be beneficial for future research to look at what other factors may be affected by sexual talk, such as sexual-wellbeing and whether there are differences between dyad type or gender/sex. Further, it is important for future studies to include GSD couples in their sample to conduct a more robust analysis of potential difference in sexual talk amongst couples.


[1] Byers, E.S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self-disclosure within dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 36(2), 180-189.

[2] Gagnon, J.H. (1990). The explicit and implicit use of scripting perspective in sex research. Annual Review of Sex Research, 1(1), 1-43. https://doi.org/10.1080/19532528.1990.10559854

[3] Masters, N.T., Casey, E., Welles, E.A., Morrison, D.M. (2013). Sexual scripts among young heterosexually active men and women: Continuing and change. Journal of Sex Research, ,50(5), 409-420. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.661102

[4] Blair, K. L., & Goldberg, A. E. (2016). Ethical research with sexual and gender minorities. In The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies. SAGE. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483371283.n139

[5] Masters, N. T., Casey, E., Wells, E. A., & Morrison, D. M. (2013). Sexual scripts among young heterosexually active men and women: Continuity and change. Journal of Sex Research, 50(5), 409–420. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2012.661102

[6] Passuth Lynott, P., & McCandless, N. J. (2000). The impact of age vs. life experience on the gender role attitudes of women in different cohorts. Journal of Women & Aging, 12(1–2), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1300/J074v12n01_02