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Actual and desired duration of foreplay and intercourse: Discordance and misperceptions within heterosexual couples

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One hundred and fifty-two heterosexual couples reported their actual and ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse, as well as their perceptions of their partners' desired duration of foreplay and intercourse. Further, participants reported the duration of foreplay and intercourse that they felt most men and most women wanted. Ideal length of foreplay did not differ for men and women. However, men reported a significantly longer ideal duration of intercourse than did their partners. The ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse were significantly longer than the actual duration for both genders. The women, but not the men, significantly underestimated their partners' desired duration of foreplay and intercourse. Further, both genders exhibited faulty stereotypes concerning men's but not women's ideal scripts. Men were seen as desiring a significantly shorter duration of foreplay and intercourse than the ideal reported by the men in the study. Both men's and women's perceptions of their partners' ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse were found to be more strongly related to their own sexual stereotypes than to their partners' self-reported sexual desires, suggesting that people rely on sexual stereotypes when estimating their partners' ideal sexual scripts. Men's and women's ideal scripts and men's and women's sexual stereotypes concerning the opposite gender's ideal duration of foreplay were found to uniquely predict the foreplay performance script. For intercourse, men's and women's ideal scripts and men's stereotypes concerning the duration of intercourse that women want uniquely predicated the performance script. We present potential reasons for the discrepancy in individuals' performance and ideal scripts.
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Actual and Desired Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse: Discordance and
Misperceptions Within Heterosexual Couples
S. Andrea Miller and E. Sandra Byers
University of New Brunswick
One
hundred
and
fifty-two
heterosexual couples reported their actual
and
ideal duration
of foreplay and
intercourse,
as well
as their perceptions of their partners'
desired duration
of foreplay and
intercourse.
Further,
participants
reported
the duration
of foreplay and
intercourse
that they felt most men and most women
wanted.
Ideal
length
of foreplay did not differ for men and
women.
However,
men
reported
a
significantly
longer ideal
duration
of
intercourse
than did their partners. The ideal duration
of foreplay and
intercourse
were
significantly
longer than the actual duration for both
genders.
The
women,
but not the men,
significantly underestimated
their partners'
desired duration
of foreplay and
intercourse.
Further,
both
genders
exhibited faulty
stereotypes concerning
men's but not women's
ideal
scripts.
Men
were
seen as
desiring
a
significantly shorter duration
of fore-
play
arid intercourse
than the ideal
reported
by the men in the
study.
Both men's and women's
perceptions
of their partners'
ideal
duration
of foreplay and
intercourse
were found to be more
strongly related
to their own sexual
stereotypes
than to their
partners'
self-reported
sexual
desires,
suggesting that people rely on sexual
stereotypes
when estimating their partners'
ideal
sexual
scripts.
Men's and women's ideal scripts and men's and women's sexual
stereotypes
concerning the opposite gender's
ideal
duration
of foreplay were found to
uniquely
predict the foreplay performance
script.
For
intercourse,
men's and women's
ideal scripts
arid
men's stereotypes concerning the duration of
intercourse
that women want
uniquely
predicated the perfor-
mance
script.
We
present
potential
reasons for the
discrepancy
in individuals' performance and ideal scripts
A mutually satisfying sexual relationship is complex. It
involves the pairing of two individuals, each with his or her
own idiosyncratic set of likes and dislikes. Each, in the lan-
guage of Simon and Gagnon (1968), with a unique ideal sex-
ual script. A couple's sexual performance script—that is,
what actually occurs during the couples' sexual encounter
may be quite incongruent with one or hoth partners' ideal
script with respect to desired duration of sexual activities.
Past research has attempted to determine heterosexual
couples' actual and desired duration of both foreplay' and
intercourse. For example, early research by Kinsey and his
colleagues (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey,
Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953) found that women and
men reported an average foreplay duration of approximately
12 minutes. Three quarters of the men reported an inter-
course duration of under two minutes. Hunt (1974) found
that reports of the duration of both foreplay and intercourse
had increased over the intervening 2 decades. Laumann,
Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels (1994) also investigated per-
formance scripts. However, they chose to study "duration
' We used the term foreplay because it is easily understood by participants
and has been used in other research.
This research was cotnpleted as part of the doctoral requirements in psychol-
ogy by the first author under the supervision of the second author. We would like
to thank Guy Grenier, who had the forethought to include a measure that exam-
ined individuals' sexual scripts in his larger study on men's ejaculatory behaviour.
We also appreciate the insightful suggestions provided by members of the
University of New Brunswick's Sexuality Research Group, including Shannon
Archibald, Jacqueline Cohen, Hilary Randall, and Angela
Weaver.
Finally, we are
extremely grateful to the couples who participated in this research.
Address correspondence to Dr. Sandra Byers, University of New Brunswick,
Psychology Department, Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 6E4; e-mail:
byers@unb.ca.
of last sexual event" rather than the duration of foreplay and
intercourse separately. Further, none of these studies inves-
tigated participants' ideal duration of either foreplay or
intercourse.
Denney, Field, and Quadagno (1984) studied both actu-
al and ideal duration of foreplay, but not intercourse, using
a multiple-choice format ranging from less than 5 minutes
to more than 30 minutes. They found that both the report-
ed performance and ideal sexual scripts involved between
5 and more than 30 minutes of foreplay. However, given
their methodology, it is impossible to directly compare
precise performance and ideal script duration. Thus, it is
not known whether these individuals perceived themselves
to be experiencing their desired duration of foreplay and
intercourse. Further, as past research has been based on
reports from only one member of a sexual couple,
researchers have not compared male and female partners'
reports of the duration of their performance or ideal sexu-
al scripts for foreplay and intercourse.
Having both partners provide information allows for the
examination of understanding or misperceptions within
the couple. First, comparing perceptions of a partner's
ideal duration of both foreplay and intercourse to the other
partner's self-reported ideal duration provides an estimate
of the extent to which partners understand one another's
ideal sexual script. In a study of interpersonal communica-
tion and sexual adjustment, Pumine and Carey (1997)
investigated understanding of partners' sexual likes and
dislikes. They found that participants did not fully under-
stand how pleasurable their partners found various sexual
activities. However, they did not investigate partner under-
standing of the ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse.
The Journal of Sex Research Volume 41, Number 3, August 2004: pp. 301-309
301
302
Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse
There are a number of factors that may contribute to
misperceptions about ideal duration of foreplay and inter-
course. First, sexual misperceptions may be due to a lack
of sexual communication (Purnine & Carey, 1997).
Certainly there is evidence that many couples do not fully
disclose their sexual likes and dislikes (MacNeil & Byers,
1997).
Further, couples entering sex therapy frequently
demonstrate poor sexual communication (Russell, 1990).
Alternatively, such sexual misperceptions may be a conse-
quence of commonly held stereotypes about differences in
men's and women's desired duration of foreplay and inter-
course. Barbach (1984) called these forms of stereotypes
the cultural role script. An individual's notions of the cul-
tural role script may influence judgments concerning a
partner's sexual desires. For instance, consistent with the
pervasive stereotype that men desire less foreplay than
women do, women may inaccurately assume that men
desire little or no foreplay (Basow, 1992; Zilbergeld,
1999).
Men may believe one of two stereotypes related to
women's enjoyment of intercourse. They may assume that
women only enjoy foreplay and not intercourse. Thus, it
may seem preferable to get intercourse over with quickly
(Fink, 1974; Wolfe, 1981; Zilbergeld, 1999). Alternately,
they may believe that women desire very lengthy inter-
course to feel sexually satisfied (Fink, 1974; Wolfe, 1981).
Thus,
it is unclear what the common stereotypes concern-
ing gender differences in desired intercourse duration are.
Couples who have been romantically involved longer may
be more likely to have shared their ideal sexual scripts and
thus have a better understanding of each other's ideal dura-
tion of foreplay and intercourse and be less influenced by
gender stereotypes.
We investigated the following eight research questions
(RQ) regarding duration of foreplay and intercourse in het-
erosexual couples:
RQl. Are there significant gender differences in the desired dura-
tion of foreplay and intercourse?
RQ2. Are there differences between the performance and ideal
sexual scripts for one or both genders?
RQ3.
To what extent do men and women exhibit misperceptions
concerning their partner's desired duration of foreplay and inter-
course?
RQ4. Do couples in long-term relationships have fewer sexual
misperceptions than newer couples?
RQ5.
Does the cultural role script for men and women differ for
either foreplay or intercourse?
RQ6. Are the cultural role scripts accurate representations of
men's and women's ideal durations of foreplay and intercourse?
RQ7. To what extent are perceptions of the cultural role script
associated with estimations of the partner's desired duration of
foreplay and intercourse?
RQ8.
Is perception of the partner's ideal sexual script more close-
ly associated with perceptions of the cultural role script or with
partner's self-reported ideal script?
PREDICTING THE PERFORMANCE SCRIPT
A couple's sexual performance script is likely affected by
a host of factors, including each member's ideal sexual
script, understanding of the partner's ideal sexual script,
and perceptions of the cultural role scripts. If the male
partner is instrumental in determining the duration of fore-
play and intercourse, as many researchers believe
(Baumeister, 2000; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983;
Grauerholz & Serpe, 1985; Lawrance, Taylor, & Byers,
1996),
his ideal script, his view of his partner's ideal script,
and his perception of the cultural role script for women
would be related to the couple's performance script. In
contrast, if the female partner is pivotal in creating the per-
formance script, her ideal script, her views concerning her
partner's ideal, and her perceptions of the cultural role
script for men would be associated with the duration of
foreplay and intercourse that occurs. Finally, if the perfor-
mance script is negotiated, both partners' ideal scripts, per-
ceptions of their partner's ideal script, and perceptions of
the cultural role scripts would be associated with the per-
formance script. In addition, the duration of other elements
of the performance script may influence the amount of
time spent on a specific sexual activity. Thus, the length of
foreplay may influence the duration of intercourse and
vice versa. Finally, the performance script may be shorter
for couples in long-term relationships as sex becomes
more routine and sexual desire decreases (Klusmann,
2002).
Therefore, we examined the extent to which the
ideal sexual scripts of both partners, perceptions of each
other's ideal scripts, perceptions of
the
cultural role scripts,
duration of the other elements of the performance script,
and the length of the couple's relationship are associated
with the duration of foreplay and intercourse (RQ9).
SEXUAL SATISFACTION AND SEXUAL MISPERCEPTIONS
To develop a mutually pleasing sexual script, individuals
need to be aware of their partners' sexual expectations and
desires (Cupach & Metts, 1991; Purnine & Carey, 1998).
In particular, couples who have misperceptions regarding
each other's ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse may
report decreased sexual satisfaction if these mispercep-
tions have led to a performance script that diverges too
much from one or both partners' ideal script.
Past research suggests that gender may determine the
extent to which misperceptions influence sexual satisfac-
tion. For example, Purnine and Carey (1997) found that
men's understanding of their partner's preferences was
positively associated with the sexual satisfaction of both
partners, whereas women's understanding was not signifi-
cantly related to the sexual satisfaction of either partner.
MacNeil and Byers' (1997) fmding that women's sexual
self-disclosure but not men's was linked with both part-
ners'
sexual satisfaction also supports the importance of
Miller
and
Byers
303
men's understanding of their partners' ideal scripts to sex-
ual satisfaction.
There are two compatible hypotheses regarding why
men's sexual misperceptions may be more detrimental to
the sexual satisfaction of both partners than women's sexu-
al misperceptions. First, men play a more instrumental role
in determining the sexual performance script (Baumeister,
2000;
Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Grauerholz & Serpe,
1985;
Lawrance et al., 1996). Thus, men are able to direct
the sexual interaction in such a way as to fulfill their own
sexual desires. However, sexual activity may not fulfill their
partners' sexual desires if the men misperceive what these
desires are. Second, men may feel pressure to "perform
well" and may measure their performance by whether their
partners reach orgasm and feel sexually satisfied (Basow,
1992;
Masters & Johnson, 1976), Thus, correctly perceiving
a woman's ideal script and thereby "providing" her with
sexual satisfaction may be an important element of a man's
sexual experience. Therefore, we examined the relationship
between sexual misperceptions and sexual satisfaction
(RQIO), We hypothesised that misperceptions by men
would be more strongly associated with sexual satisfaction
than would misperceptions by women.
METHOD
Participants
Participants were 152 couples who completed and returned
a questionnaire mailed to 1,989 male university alumni as
part of a larger study on men's ejaculatory behaviour. The
response rate is difficult to determine because not all men
who received questionnaires were in long-term relation-
ships and thus had partners who were eligible to participate.
We therefore determined that we had a minimum response
rate of
7.6%.
Male respondents ranged in age from 23 to 76
years (M -
40.5,
SD = 11,4). Female respondents ranged in
age from
21
to 77 years (M = 38.9, SD
=
10,8). Couples had
been in their relationships between 6 months and 50 years
(M = 14,17, SD = 11,16). Most (80,9%) of the couples
reported that they were married and approximately half
(55%) had children living at home. The sample was highly
educated, with 100% of the male respondents and 75.7% of
the female respondents having completed a tninimum of an
undergraduate degree. Further, 70% of the couples had a
household income of more than $50,000 Canadian, Almost
all of the respondents (98%) had grown up in Canada and
rated their overall health as good. Although ethnicity was
not assessed, in keeping with the ethnic composition of
both the province and the university, it is highly likely that
the sample was primarily White.
Measures
Only the components of the questionnaire that were used in
the present study are described here (see Byers & Grenier,
2003;
Grenier & Byers, 2001, for a more complete descrip-
tion).
A background questionnaire assessed age, relation-
ship status, and education level. Additional background
questions such as relationship length were placed at appro-
priate points throughout the questionnaire booklet.
The Perceptions of Sexual Behaviour Questionnaire
was designed for this study to assess participants' ideal and
performance scripts, perceptions concerning their part-
ners'
ideal scripts, and understanding of the ideal cultural
role scripts for each gender. Participants provided the fol-
lowing information in minutes: (a) how long they thought
most men and most women would like foreplay and inter-
course to last (cultural role script); (b) how long they
would like foreplay and intercourse to last (ideal script);
(c) how long they thought their partners would like fore-
play and intercourse to last (perceptions of partner's ideal
script);
and (d) the average duration of foreplay and inter-
course with their present partner (performance script).
We calculated sexual misperception scores by determin-
ing the difference between perceptions of partner's ideal
script and the partner's self-reported ideal script for fore-
play and intercourse separately. We used the absolute val-
ues of the resulting scores for analysis.
We used the Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction
(GMSEX; Lawrance & Byers, 1998) to measure satisfac-
tion with the sexual relationship. Participants responded to
the following question: "In general, how would you
describe your sexual relationship with your partner?"
Respondents then rated their level of sexual satisfaction on
five 7-point bipolar scales: very good to very bad, very
pleasant to very unpleasant,
very
positive to very negative,
very satisfying to very unsatisfying, and very valuable to
worthless. Scores on the GMSEX can range from 5 to 35,
with lower scores indicating less sexual satisfaction,
Lawrance and Byers (1995, 1998) provided evidence that
the GMSEX is significantly correlated with other mea-
sures of sexual satisfaction and has a high 3-month test-
retest reliability. The internal consistency for the present
sample was high (a = ,96 for men, a = .95 for women).
Procedure
We sent two questionnaires (a male and a female version)
as well as background materials to 1,989 male university
alumni from all faculties at a mid-sized Canadian universi-
ty. We included a cover letter that encouraged male partic-
ipants to have their female partner participate in the
research. Ten days after the questionnaires were mailed, a
reminder letter was sent to these same alumni. Those inter-
ested in participating in the study completed the question-
naires and returned them via prepaid post.
Data Analysis
As the double entry method (Kenny, 2001) revealed that
our sample was interdependent, we used repeated-mea-
sures t tests, MANOVAs, and ANOVAs to accommodate
for the correlation between partners' reports.
RESULTS
To address RQl and RQ2, we conducted a 2 (Gender) X
2 (Script: performance or ideal) repeated measures
304
Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse
MANOVA with duration of foreplay and intercourse as
the dependent variables. As recommended by Cohen,
Cohen, West, and Aiken (2003), we used mean substitu-
tion for this and all following analyses. Five substitutions
were needed for women's perceptions of the male cultur-
al role script for intercourse; three or fewer substitutions
were made for all other variables. We found a significant
effect for both gender and script, F(2,150) = 6.65, p < .01,
y]^=
.08 and F(2,150) = 138.27,p <
.001,
rf= .65, respec-
tively. The interaction was also significant, F(2, 150) =
13.47,
p<.001,
Ti2
= .15.
Follow-up ANOVAs revealed that for foreplay, only the
main effect for script was significant and was qualified by
a significant interaction, F(l, 151) = 122.55, p <
.001,
ri^
= .45 and F(l, 151) = 8.40, p <
.01,
r]^=
.05, respectively.
The means and standard deviations for the interaction are
reported in Table 1. We conducted mean comparisons
using repeated measures t tests and using a Bonferroni
correction to control alpha (p < .01). Both men's and
women's reports of their ideal scripts for foreplay were
significantly longer than their reports of their performance
scripts; the discrepancy for women was larger than the
discrepancy for men. However, the men reported a longer
foreplay performance script than the women did. The men
and women did not differ in the duration of their ideal
scripts for foreplay.
For intercourse, the follow-up ANOVA indicated main
effects for both script and gender, F(l,151) = 254.24, p <
.001,
ri^ = .63 and F(l, 151) = 13.35, p < .001,
y]^
= .08,
as well as a significant interaction, F{1, 151) = 11.50, p <
.01,
ri^ = .07. As we found for foreplay, both men's and
women's reports of their ideal scripts for intercourse were
significantly longer than their reports of their performance
scripts; in this case the discrepancy was larger for men
than women. The men and women did not differ in their
reports of the performance script. However, male partici-
pants'
ideal scripts were longer than those of female par-
ticipants.
These results indicate that there are gender differences
in the desired duration of intercourse but not foreplay
(RQl),
with the men desiring a longer duration of inter-
course than the women. However, the gender difference
was small to moderate (Cohen et al., 2003). In contrast,
participants reported significantly longer ideal scripts than
Table 1. Men's and Women's Actual and Ideal Duration of
Foreplay and Intercourse
Script
Foreplay
Performance script
Ideal script
Intercourse
Performance script
Ideal script
Mean (SD)
Females
11.25 "•''(7.43)
18.93"
(13.32)
7.03= (6.13)
14.34"
=
(11.08)
in minutes
Males
13.35 "•'^(9.26)
18.10
=
(11.42)
7.86 f (6.29)
18.45"'f (12.19)
Note. N
=
152. Means that share the same superscript differ at p < .01
using repeated measures t tests.
performance scripts for both foreplay and intercourse
(RQ2) and these differences were very large.
Sexual Misperceptions
To determine the extent to which men and women are
aware of their partners' ideal scripts (RQ3), we compared
the male partner's ideal script with his female partner's
perception of partner's ideal script and vice versa using a
priori repeated-measures t tests. For foreplay, men's per-
ceptions of partner's ideal scripts were positively correlat-
ed with their female partners' self-reported ideal scripts, r
= .44, p < .001. Further, the difference between the men's
perceptions of partners' ideal scripts and their partners'
ideal scripts for foreplay was not significant, f(151) =
1.47, p > .05 (M = 17.38 and
18.93,
respectively).
Women's perceptions of partners' ideal scripts were also
positively correlated with their partners' self-reported
ideal scripts for foreplay, r = .43, p < .001. However, the
women significantly underestimated the desired duration
of foreplay that their partners wished to engage in by
almost 5 minutes, /(151) = 5.28, p < .001, Ti^ = .16 (M =
13.27 vs. 18.10).
We found the same pattern for intercourse. Men's per-
ceptions of partners' ideal scripts were significantly corre-
lated with their partners' self-reported ideal scripts, r
=
.33,
p
<
.001,
but did not significandy differ from them, t(l5l)
=
-.435,
p > .05 (M = 14.78 and 14.34, respectively).
Women's estimates were positively correlated with their
partners' self-reported ideal scripts, r = .37, p < .001, but
again, women significandy underestimated the duration of
intercourse involved in their partners' ideal scripts by more
than 3 minutes, t(l5l)
=
3.00,p <
.01,
ri^ = .06 (M = 15.36
and 18.45). Thus, whereas the men appeared to have an
accurate understanding of their partners' ideal scripts, the
women underestimated the duration of both foreplay and
intercourse in their partners' ideal scripts.
We used zero-order correlations to examine the rela-
tionships between sexual misperceptions and the length of
a couple's relationship (RQ4). Relationship length was not
associated with women's or men's sexual misperceptions
about their partners' ideal scripts for foreplay or with
women's misperceptions about their partners' ideal scripts
for intercourse , r = .03 to -.12, p > .05. However, length
of relationship was negatively related to men's mispercep-
tions concerning their partners' ideal scripts for inter-
course, r =
-.18,
p < .05, but accounted for only 3% of the
variance in the extent of misperception. Thus, it appears
that relationship length has little impact on sexual misper-
ceptions concerning a partner's ideal duration of foreplay
and intercourse.
We also used zero-order correlations to examine the
relationship between sexual misperceptions and sexual sat-
isfaction (RQIO). Neither own nor partner's sexual mis-
perceptions were related to the sexual satisfaction of men
or women,
/-
= -.14 to .12,p > .05. Due in part to this unex-
pected finding, and also because of the discrepancies
between the performance scripts and the ideal scripts, we
Miller and Byers 305
examined whether the extent of discordance between an
individual's performance and ideal scripts for foreplay and
intercourse was related to sexual satisfaction. The extent of
the discrepancy between the performance and ideal scripts
was not related to either own or partner's sexual satisfac-
tion, r = -.ll to
.04,
p> .05.
Perceptions of the Cultural Role Script
To investigate gender differences in perceptions of the cul-
tural role script (RQ5), we conducted a 2 (Gender of
Actor) X 2 (Gender of Respondent) repeated-measures
MANOVA with duration of foreplay and intercourse as the
dependent variables. The main effects for both gender of
actor and gender of respondent were significant, F(2, 150)
= 99.79, p <
.001,
^^ = .57 and F(2, 150) = 4.57, p < .05,
yf = .06, respectively. The interaction was not significant,
F{2,
150) =
.38,
p > .05.
Follow-up ANOVAs revealed that for foreplay, the
main effects for both gender of actor and gender of
respondent were significant, F(l,151) = 160.76, p
<
.001,
Ti^
= .52 and F(l, 151) = 9.17, p < .01, Ti^ = .06, respec-
tively. Participants perceived the foreplay cultural role
script for women as longer than the foreplay cultural role
script for men (M = 18.53 and 10.82, respectively).
Further, male participants perceived that there was a
longer cultural role script than did female participants (M
= 15.91 and 13.49, respectively). For intercourse, neither
the main effect for gender of actor nor the main effect for
gender of respondent were significant, F(l, 151) =
.138,
p
> .05 (M = 15.39 and 15.15) and F(l, 151) = 1.72, p
>
.05
(M = 14.67 and 15.87). Thus, both gender of actor and
gender of respondent affected perceptions of the cultural
role script for foreplay but not for intercourse. For exam-
ple,
whereas men and women were seen as typically desir-
ing a similar duration of intercourse, women were seen as
desiring a longer duration of foreplay than were men.
Similarly, although the men and women had similar
beliefs about the desired length of intercourse, the women
estimated a shorter desired duration of foreplay than the
men. However, whereas the effect for gender of actor was
very large, the effect for gender of respondent was small
to moderate.
We next used a priori repeated-measures t tests to deter-
mine whether the reported cultural role scripts were accu-
rate (RQ6). To do this, we compared, for foreplay and
intercourse separately, perceptions of the cultural role
scripts for men and women to the ideal scripts reported by
male and female participants. For foreplay, the differences
between the men's estimates of the cultural role script for
women and female participants' reported ideal scripts was
not significant, r(151) =
-.58,
p > .05 (M= 19.66 and
18.93,
respectively). However, the women's estimates of the cul-
tural role script for women was significantly shorter than
female participants' self-reported ideal script, f(151) =
2.67,
p <
.01,
ri^ = .04 (M= 17.41 and 18.93). Estimates of
the cultural role script for men by both male and female
participants were significantly shorter than the average
male participant's self-reported ideal script for foreplay,
t{l5l)
=
S.63,p<
.001,
ri^ = .33 (M = 12.17 and 18.10) and
f(151) = 9.39, p < .001, ri^ = .37 (M = 9.46 and 18.10),
respectively.
For intercourse, the differences between men's and
women's estimates of the cultural role script for women
and women's self-reported ideal scripts were not signifi-
cant, f(151) =
-1.21,
p > .05 (M = 15.57 and 14.34) and
/(151) = -.979, p
>
.05 (M = 14.74 and 14.34), respective-
ly. Again, however, both men's and women's estimates of
the cultural role script for men were significantly shorter
than male participants' self-reported ideal scripts, f(151) =
3.74, p <
.001,
Ti^
= .08 (M = 16.18 and 18.45) and t(\5l)
= 3.77, p < .001, Ti^ = .09 (M
=
14.60 and 18.45), respec-
tively. Thus, whereas both genders' estimates of the fore-
play and intercourse cultural role script for women were
relatively accurate, both genders underestimated men's
desired duration for foreplay and intercourse. Particularly
large effect sizes were seen for estimates of men's desired
duration of foreplay.
Cultural Role Scripts and Partners' Perceptions
Next we investigated whether perceptions of partners'
ideal scripts were related to perceptions of the relevant
gender's cultural role script (RQ7). Further, we examined
whether perceptions of partner's ideal script were more
closely associated with perceptions of the relevant gen-
der's cultural role script or with the partner's self-reported
ideal script (RQ8). Male participants' estimates of the
duration of the foreplay cultural role script for women
were positively associated with their estimates of their
partners' ideal scripts, r = .78, p < .001. The same rela-
tionship was found between women's perceptions of the
cultural role script for men and women's perceptions of
partner's ideal script, r
=
.70,
p <
.001.
Perceptions of part-
ner's ideal script were also positively related to the part-
ner's self-reported ideal script, r = .44 and .43, p < .001.
However, for both male and female participants the corre-
lation between perceptions of partner's ideal script and the
cultural role script was significantly greater than the corre-
lation between perception of partner's ideal script and the
partner's actual ideal script, r(149) = 5.45, p < .01 and
f(149) = 4.07, p <
.01,
respectively.
Similarly, for both men and women, perceptions of part-
ner's ideal script for intercourse were related to both the
relevant gender's cultural role script (r = .84 and .69, p <
.001) and to the partner's ideal script (r = .33 and .37, p <
.001).
However, there was a stronger relationship between
perceptions of partner's ideal script for intercourse and
perceptions of the relevant gender's cultural role script
than between perceptions of partner's ideal script for inter-
course and partner's reported ideal script for intercourse:
r(149) = 10.95, p < .01 for the men; f(149) =
4.91,
p
<
.01
for the women. That is, not only were perceptions of part-
ner's ideal script related to perceptions of the relevant gen-
der's cultural role script, but both men's and women's
beliefs about their partners' desired duration of foreplay
306
Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse
and intercourse were also more strongly associated with
their stereotypes than with their partners' actual desires.
Predictors of the Performance Script
We used two separate multiple regression analyses to pre-
dict the performance scripts for foreplay and intercourse
(RQ9).
We used the average of the partners' reports of the
performance scripts as the dependent variable. We hypoth-
esized that the following 10 variables would be important
predictors of the foreplay performance script: men's and
women's ideal scripts for foreplay, perceptions of partner's
ideal scripts for foreplay, perceptions of men and women's
cultural role scripts for foreplay, length of relationship, and
performance scripts for intercourse. However, an examina-
tion of the correlations among these measures revealed
multicoUinearity (see Table 2; Cohen et al., 2003). Men's
and women's cultural role scripts for foreplay for their
own gender were highly related to their own ideal scripts
for foreplay. In addition, men's and women's perceptions
of partner's ideal script for foreplay were highly correlat-
ed with the cultural role script for foreplay for the other
gender. Thus, we removed the following four variables
from the analyses: men's perceptions of men's cultural role
script for foreplay, women's perceptions of women's cul-
tural role script for foreplay, and men's and women's per-
ceptions of partner's ideal script for foreplay.
The remaining six predictors were significantly associat-
ed with the foreplay performance script, accounting for 62%
of
the
variance, F(6,145) =
38.81,
p<.001 (see Table
3).
All
variables, with the exception of length of relationship and
the intercourse performance script, were uniquely related to
the performance script for foreplay. Thus, engaging in
lengthier foreplay was associated witii both partners having
longer ideal foreplay scripts as well as with perceptions that
the other gender desires lengthier foreplay.
We found the same pattern of multicoUinearity for the
variables used to predict the intercourse performance script
(see Table 2). Thus, men's perceptions of men's cultural
role script for intercourse, women's perceptions of
women's cultural role script for intercourse, and men's and
women's perceptions of partner's ideal script for inter-
course were dropped from the analysis. We used the per-
formance script for foreplay in place of the performance
script for intercourse. The set of predictors was significant-
ly associated with the performance script for intercourse
and accounted for 52% of the variance, F(6, 145) = 26.69,
p
<
.001 (see Table 3). All variables, with the exception of
the foreplay performance script, were significantly related
to the performance script for intercourse on a bivariate
basis.
Men's ideal script for intercourse, women's ideal
script for intercourse, and men's perceptions of the female
cultural role script for intercourse were uniquely associated
with the duration of
intercourse.
Thus, lengthier intercourse
was associated with both partners having longer ideal sex-
ual scripts for intercourse and with the male partner per-
ceiving women to want lengthier intercourse.
DISCUSSION
The present study compared the actual and desired duration
of foreplay and intercourse of heterosexual men and
women in long-term relationships with each other. We
found that men's and women's estimates of the duration of
intercourse they were experiencing were similar, but that
the men's estimates of
the
foreplay performance script were
2 minutes longer than women's. Both men and women
reported that their performance scripts were significantly
briefer than were their ideal scripts, indicating that they
would like to engage in lengthier foreplay and intercourse
than they were experiencing. This finding extends past
research that has not examined concordance either between
men's and women's performance and ideal scripts (that is,
the degree to which men and women perceive themselves
to be experiencing their ideal duration of foreplay and inter-
course) or between partners (Denney et al., 1984;
Table 2. Intercorrelations Among the Script Variables for Foreplay and Intercourse
Scripts 2
1. Men's ideal script .28*
2.
Women's ideal script
3.
Men's perceptions of partner's
ideal script
4 Women's perceptions of partner's
ideal script
5.
Men's perceptions of male cultural
role script
6. Men's perceptions of female
cultural role script
7. Women's perceptions of male
cultural role script
8. Women's perceptions of female
cultural role script
3
.68*
.44*
4
.43*
.54*
.38*
Foreplay
5
.68*
.15
.44*
.34*
6
.70*
.24*
.78*
.29*
.53*
7
.33*
.38*
.28*
.70*
.29*
.22*
8
.31*
.86*
.44*
.62*
.15
.25*
.48*
2
.32*
3
.69*
.33*
4
.37*
.72*
.34*
Intercourse
5
.79*
.15
.51*
.24*
6
.66*
.29*
.84*
.33*
.55*
7
.38*
.62*
.29*
.69*
.26*
.21*
8
.35*
.90*
.36*
.71*
.14*
.33*
.66*
Note.N= 152.
*p<m.
Miller and Byers
307
Table 3. Predictors of the Duration of Couples' Performance Scripts for Foreplay and Intercourse
Predictors
Men's ideal script
Women's ideal script
Women's perceptions of male cultural role script
Men's perceptions of female cultural role script
Length of relationship
Foreplay performance script
Intercourse performance script
R
.67**
,49**
.53**
.57**
.00
NA
.11
Foreplay
B
.39**
.23**
.27**
.18*
.00
NA
-.01
sr
26**
.21**
.24**
.12*
.00
NA
-.01
r
.56**
.54**
.49**
.55**
.29**
.11
NA
Intercourse
B
22*
.30**
.14
.28**
.05
.01
NA
sr
.15*
.23**
.10
20**
.04
-.00
NA
Note. N=152. For foreplay, R^ = .62, F(6,145) =
38.81,
p <
.001;
for intercourse,
*p<.Q5.**p<.0\.
= .52, F(6, 145) = 26.69, p < .001.
Hunt, 1974; Kinsey et al., 1948; Kinsey et al., 1953). Our
examination of sexual misperceptions, stereotypes, and
predictors of the performance script provides insight into
why couples are not experiencing their desired duration of
foreplay and intercourse.
Sexual Misperceptions and Stereotypes
Men's perceptions of their partners' desired duration of
foreplay and intercourse tended to be relatively accurate,
as was their understanding of the cultural role script for
women. In contrast, women significantly underestimated
their partners' ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse.
They also adhered to a cultural role script that was an
underestimation of the duration of foreplay and inter-
course desired by the average man. It may be that men are
more accurate than women are in estimating their partners'
ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse because women
are more open about their sexual likes and dislikes than
men are, at least in dating relationships (Byers &
Demmons, 1999; MacNeil & Byers, 1999). Thus, it may
be that women's greater sexual self-disclosure provides
men with more information upon which to base their per-
ceptions of their partners' sexual desires. However, as we
did not assess the extent of sexual self-disclosure, it may
be that the men and women in these long-term relation-
ships did not differ in the extent of their sexual self-disclo-
sure.
Further, Ross, Clifford, and Eisenman (1987) found
that women have a better understanding of their partners'
sexual behavior preferences than men do, suggesting that
in terms of sexual preferences, men may self-disclose
more than women. However, Ross and colleagues also did
not assess self-disclosure directly. Thus, it may be that
men self-disclose more about sexual preferences while
women self-disclose more about their desired duration of
sexual activity. It may also be that fewer misperceptions
are not the result of greater sexual self-disclosure.
Consistent with this view and previous research, misper-
ceptions were not for the most part related to the length of
the couple's relationship (Ross et al., 1987), even though
self-disclosure between partners is thought to increase in
depth and decrease in breadth as intimacy increases
(Altman & Taylor, 1973).
Alternatively, men's greater accuracy may stem from
their understanding of the cultural role script for women.
Men's estimates of their partners' ideal durations of fore-
play and intercourse were significantly more similar to
their estimates of the average woman's ideal duration of
foreplay and intercourse than to the actual preferences
stated by their partners. Similarly, women's estimates of
their partners' ideal duration of foreplay and intercourse
were much more similar to their estimates of the cultural
role script for men than to their partners' ideals. This sug-
gests that people use stereotypes to guide their under-
standing of their partners' preferences more than they use
the explicit or implicit information provided to them by
their partner. Using stereotypes in this way may not be a
problem insofar as the partner's ideal script matches the
cultural role script. Our results suggest that many
women's preferences regarding duration of foreplay and
intercourse do match the cultural role script for women.
Thus,
men may be accurate in their perceptions of their
partners' ideal durations of foreplay and intercourse even
when they are unaware of their partner's idiosyncratic
desires because their understanding of the cultural role
script for women is accurate. However, if an individual's
ideal script does not conform to the gender script, use of
the cultural role script to estimate the partner's desires is
likely to lead to misperceptions regarding the partner's
preferences. We found that women underestimated the
average man's desired duration of foreplay and inter-
course. Thus, women are likely to be inaccurate in their
estimates of their partners' ideal duration of foreplay and
intercourse if they rely on their perceptions of the cultur-
al role script for men to make these estimates.
We found that men and women shared a view of the
cultural role script for men that did not match the actual
desires of the men in this study. As did the women, the
male participants underestimated the average man's
desired duration of foreplay and intercourse. Further, in
keeping with predictions based on cultural stereotypes,
both genders believed that women desire a longer dura-
tion of foreplay than do men (Basow, 1992; Zilbergeld,
1999).
They also believed that men and women do not dif-
fer in their desired duration of intercourse. Our results
show otherwise; the men and women desired an equal
duration of foreplay and the men desired a longer duration
of intercourse than the women did. Thus, although there
are differences in the ideal scripts of men and women.
308
Duration of Foreplay and Intercourse
these are not accurately captured by men's and women's
understanding of the cultural role scripts. Inaccurately
perceiving the gender differences in ideal duration of
foreplay and intercourse may hinder a couple's attempts at
forming a mutually enjoyable sexual script. For instance,
if a woman holds these inaccurate stereotypes, she may
unnecessarily attempt to shorten the duration of foreplay
she engages in. She may assume it is unavoidable as a
woman to experience less foreplay than desired due to her
perceptions of men's shorter ideal duration.
Interestingly, neither participants' misperceptions nor
the degree of discordance between their actual and desired
durations of foreplay and intercourse were associated with
either their own or their partners' sexual satisfaction. In
contrast, Pumine and Carey (1997) found that men's mis-
perceptions regarding their partners' sexual preferences
were related to both their own and their partners' sexual
satisfaction. It may be that certain sexual activities are
instrumental in a couple's sexual enjoyment, whereas the
duration of these activities is more flexible. Put simply, our
results suggest that even though the quality of a sexual
activity may be important to sexual satisfaction, the quan-
tity of time spent in that activity may not be.
Predicting the Performance Script
We examined the extent to which aspects of men's and
women's sexual scripts were associated with the couples'
performance scripts. Our results suggest that both the fore-
play and intercourse performance scripts are negotiated, or
at least that both partners' sexual preferences influence
these scripts. Both partners' ideal scripts and cultural role
scripts for foreplay were associated with the performance
script for foreplay. Similarly, both partners' ideal scripts
and cultural role scripts for intercourse were associated
with the performance script for intercourse.
The unique predictors of the foreplay and intercourse
performance scripts differed somewhat, however. For fore-
play, we found that both men's and women's ideal scripts
and their sexual stereotypes about the opposite gender
uniquely accounted for the duration of foreplay experi-
enced. This suggests, unlike past research and theory that
have suggested men are more instrumental than women in
sexual situations (Baumeister, 2000; Blumstein &
Schwartz, 1983; Grauerholz & Serpe, 1985; Lawrance et
al.,
1996), that both genders are involved in determining
the foreplay performance script. Further, it appears that
both genders attempt not only to satisfy themselves but
also to satisfy their partners, since, as noted above, cultur-
al stereotypes seem to be used as a guide for ascertaining
partner preferences. For intercourse, men's and women's
sexual desires and men's sexual stereotypes of what
women desire, but not women's stereotypes about the male
script, uniquely predicted the performance script. This
suggests that men put more emphasis on satisfying their
partners than do women. This is consistent with the belief
that "performing well" is an important element of men's
sexual experience (Basow, 1992).
In short, our results suggest that couples try to take each
other's wishes into account in determining the duration of
their performance scripts. However, they are basing their
estimates of their partners' desires on potentially faulty
perceptions—that is, the cultural role script—rather than
on an understanding of their partners' actual desires. This
may help explain why there were such large discrepancies
between the performance and ideal scripts.
Conclusions
These findings need to be considered in light of the limita-
tions of this study. First, as with many sexuality surveys,
we experienced a low response rate. Thus, the individuals
who chose to complete our questionnaire may not be rep-
resentative of the general population in that they are likely
more comfortable with sexuality. However, our findings
concerning the average couple's performance script for
foreplay and intercourse are comparable to the findings of
larger studies (Huey, Kline-Graber, & Graber, 1981; Hunt,
1974;
Laumann et al., 1994). Further, such self-selection
bias may actually make our findings more notable because
it is likely that more sex-positive individuals would rely
less on sexual stereotypes and hold fewer misperceptions
about their partners than would the general public. A sec-
ond limitation of this study is that participants were pri-
marily university educated, had high family incomes, had
been raised in Canada, and were highly sexually satisfied.
Research is needed with individuals from more diverse
backgrounds as well as with individuals in same-sex rela-
tionships and those who are experiencing relationship
and/or sexual distress. Third, people have been shown to
overestimate duration of intercourse (Levitt, 1983),
although it is not known whether they overestimate or
underestimate foreplay duration. However, the fact that
partners in our study provided relatively similar estimates
of the duration of foreplay and intercourse performance
scripts provides some evidence for the reliability of these
data. Further, overestimates of the duration of foreplay
and/or intercourse would not likely affect the relationships
among the variables.
Despite these limitations, our results illustrate that men
and women are not experiencin