A Model of the Scripting of Consumer Lovemaps: the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence

ABSTRACT - In order to more systematically explore the relationship of sexuality and consumption as linked in consumer lovemaps, this paper considers the issue of how such lovemaps are scripted. In so doing, it adapts a model developed in the field of sex research, the Sexual Behavior Sequence (Fisher 1986), and develops the "Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence." The stages of the model are outlined in terms of various forms of sexually-related consumer behavior, and finally implications for a research agenda are discussed.


Stephen J. Gould (1992) ,"A Model of the Scripting of Consumer Lovemaps: the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 304-310.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 304-310


Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


In order to more systematically explore the relationship of sexuality and consumption as linked in consumer lovemaps, this paper considers the issue of how such lovemaps are scripted. In so doing, it adapts a model developed in the field of sex research, the Sexual Behavior Sequence (Fisher 1986), and develops the "Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence." The stages of the model are outlined in terms of various forms of sexually-related consumer behavior, and finally implications for a research agenda are discussed.

Now after a girl ...has manifested her love to him by the various outward signs..., the man should make every effort to gain her over. When the intentions of the girl are known..., the man should begin to make use of her money, an interchange of clothes, rings, and flowers should be made...And finally at the time of giving her some betel nut, or receiving the same form her, or at the time of making an exchange of flowers, he should touch and press her private parts, thus bringing his efforts to a satisfactory conclusion (The Kama Sutra 1966, p.160).

Much as the above quote illustrates, not only is it apparent that "Our everyday world abounds with symbols of affection," as Ernest Dichter (1964, p.155) once observed, but also that the whole lovemaking process is pervaded by acts of consumption. In fact Dichter's name is often associated with sexuality in relation to his practice of "motivation research" in which he studied the basic underlying and often hidden motivations of consumers, including the sexual among others. For example, he noted the 'earning' virility of men who give more expensive furs to women (1960) and explored the sexual implications of various forms of fashion for both men and women (1989). Moreover, as long ago as the 1930's, the sociologist, Paul Lazerfeld, had noted in similar fashion the erotic impact of female shoe salespeople upon male buyers (Fullerton 1990). Yet, although sexuality seems to have implications of mythic proportions for informing both consumer research and behavior, relatively little academic research has explored the sexual-consumption relationship in a systematic or theoretical manner (Gould 1991). This paper aims to remedy the problem by first exploring and formulating the theoretical links between sexuality and consumer behavior and then to set a research agenda for empirically investigating these links.


The central theoretical construct of the sexuality and consumption relationship is the consumer lovemap (Gould 1991), derived from the more general construct of sexual lovemaps. A lovemap has been defined by Money (1986a, p.290) as:

A developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexuoerotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover.

In general, a consumer lovemap of whatever type may be defined to include as a subset those aspects of the more general lovemap (Gould 1991) which involve the imaging, purchase and use of product-objects directly used in engaging in lovemaking or attracting a sexual partner (e.g. sexual toys, sexy clothes), forming a loving relationship, engaging in person service sexual exchange (e.g. prostitution), or consuming sexual ideas (e.g. reading sex manuals or watching videotapes to learn new sexual practices). However, much of sex research deals with pathological or paraphilic lovemaps (Money 1986a). In contrast to paraphilia, normophilia represents erotosexuality in conformity with a society's standards (Money 1986a). However, we should not think of paraphilia-normophilia as merely categorical opposites but rather as composing the poles of a continuum. In this regard, Simon (1989) notes that one of the greatest although neglected contributions of Freud was his emphasis on the continuities between what is viewed as normal and abnormal. In summary, the lovemap view leads us to consider two things in the present context: (1) consumption objects can become part of one's lovemap in that one desires and seeks them in engaging in the lovemaking process, and (2) insight regarding the paraphilic use of goods may spill over regarding normophilic use and vice versa. Thus, while much of our focus here will be on normophilic behavior, consumer behavior can be seen to be inclusive of pathological paraphilia as well as normophilia, although as consumer researchers we need not be rigidly restricted to these normative views.


The macrolevel forces of evolution and sociocultural patterning may be seen as the larger forces underlying an individual's sexual behavior and lovemaps (Fisher 1986). Such behavior may be viewed in terms of both unconditioned motivation, largely determined by biological evolution, and conditioned (acquired) motivation, largely determined by sociocultural factors (Fisher 1986). In this context, much of consumer behavior may involve the conditioned and scripted use of products (e.g. attractive clothing; erotica) to obtain and/or enhance what we might call the 'relatively' unconditioned erotic stimulation provided by sexual arousal and intercourse, i.e. goods play into and help shape the ways our biological desires come to manifest and express themselves. Moreover, classical conditioning which pairs an object with an unconditioned erotic stimulus can make that object into a conditioned erotic object (Fisher 1986). Sexual scripts involving these pairings develop in terms of sexual involvement rooted in the psychological magnification of intense sexual experiences and come to comprise automatic rules of perception and behavior (Mosher 1988). Thus the consumer is led to consider a sexual stimulus, such as an erotic movie or type of clothing, in terms of a goodness-of-fit between it and his or her script. Thus, products which fit a script through conditioning or suggest aspects of one are more likely to be used than are others, particularly where sexuality is salient. Mosher using the example of pornography notes that these scripts become very specific so that market-signals conveying specific pornographic products are used to reach consumers (e.g. "water sports," "AC/DC") and some scripts are also sex-negative in leading to avoidance behavior. However, as Mosher further notes, scripts are incomplete and conditional and thus are subject to change. In this regard, marketing may be seen to influence sexual scripts, especially to the extent that it persuades consumers to inject marketed products into the lovemap. For example, advertising which has classical conditioning properties (Gorn 1982) may be especially effective in this regard and thus should be viewed as creating conditioned erotic objects or fetishes when it pairs 'relatively' unconditioned sexy spokespeople with products.


This section takes a basic model, the Sexual Behavior Sequence, which has been used in Western social psychology and sex research and develops it into a model for sexually-related consumer behavior. In general, sexual interaction has been viewed in various approaches as occurring in stages or steps which compose a basic sexual script and each stage of which may be seen to possess its own script. The most basic approach involves three stages: (1) proceptivity as the interplay between male and female in preparation for the sex act, (2) acceptivity as the actual process in which two individuals accept each other in the sex act, and (3) conception which may or may not occur and represents both a sequel to lovemaking as well as a component (Money 1986b). Relatedly and more complexly, the Sexual Behavior Sequence models sexual behavior in terms of erotic stimuli which lead to arousal, affective, cognitive and imaginative response dispositions, which in turn lead to evaluative and expectational processes, preparatory sexual behavior, eventual sexual behavior and outcomes as feedback (Fisher 1986). This model also may be viewed as capturing the dynamics of any single sex act as well as defining the parameters of an individual's sexual development over time. Eroticism aroused in the marketplace, such as through sexy ads or movies, may be seen as informing the whole behavior sequence, especially in terms of imaginative and expectational processes, as well as standing as distinct 'sexual events', themselves.

The Sexual Behavior Sequence model will be used as the basis for a model shown in the Figure of what can be called the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence. The model also reflects the stages of the sexual act outlined by Money (1986b) as well as the three proceptive steps noted by Freund and Blanchard (1986), i.e. (1) location of a sexual partner, (2) pretactile interaction (e.g. looking) and (3) tactile interaction. The proceptive stage should also be viewed as including an even more preliminary step, prior to locating a partner, i.e. setting the stage and preparing oneself for a potential partner in terms of such things as selecting methods of birth control and making oneself sexually attractive (Fisher 1986).

Erotic Stimuli

As noted above there are two types of erotic stimuli: unconditioned and conditioned. According to Fisher (1986), unconditioned erotic stimuli cues lead to unlearned sexual physiological responses. These stimuli involve tactile stimulation of erogenous zones and also possibly the effects of pheromones, chemical secretions which act as sexual attractants. Conditioned erotic stimuli seemingly can involve just about anything which gets paired with unconditioned stimuli (Fisher 1986). Consumer activity serves both as a major erotic conditioning force and paired conditioned stimulus in peoples' lives. For example, if one sees a sexy commercial for a product and becomes sexually aroused, it is likely that the advertised product will become marked with sensual feelings, perhaps as a function of the number of times it is seen. Advertising along with film, books, and other representations of sexual behavior and/or sexual-like behavior, including pornography, may also be seen as providing vicarious sexual experiences (Kelley, Dawson and Musialowski 1989) which may stand by themselves as erotic experiences or lead to various erotic experiences later on. This culturally produced sexual conditioning is experienced in our postmodern era "as a marketplace of expectations" in which different versions of the sexual are encountered by different versions of the self (Simon 1989).

Response Dispositions

The Sexual Behavior Sequence model suggests that certain response dispositions mediate the effects of sexual stimulation on sexual behavior (Fisher 1986; Fisher et al. 1988). As discussed in the following sections, these include physiological sexual arousal, affective, and informational (beliefs and expectancies)/fantasy or imaginal responses.

Physiological Sexual Arousal. Physiological sexual arousal occurs in response to both conditioned and unconditioned stimuli (Fisher 1986). Consumer behavior activities can be seen to produce and/or interact with physiological sexual arousal in terms of the following: (1) consumer terms: intentional (e.g. the use of pornography in which consumers deliberately seek to manipulate their own sexual arousal) or unintentionally and/or incidentally where individuals become aroused in the course of consumer activity (e.g. being aroused by a salesperson where the customer lacked any motivating thought prior to the sales encounter of seeking to be aroused), (2) marketer activity: deliberately induced (e.g. 'relatively' unconditioned attractive models in an ad are paired with conditioned product stimuli to produce both arousal and desire for the product) or unintentionally induced (e.g. a consumer uses a product in the context of a sexually arousing encounter and the product enters his or her lovemap as a conditioned arousal stimulus without any intention or motivation at all on the part of the marketer).



Affective-Evaluative Responses. In the Sexual Behavior Sequence, positive or negative affect mediate evaluative approach/avoidance responses to preparatory sexual behavior. Here we will consider two normophilic traits or styles related to affect: (1) erotophilia-erotophobia and (2) lovestyles.

(1) Erotophobia-Erotophilia. Fisher (1986) focused on the trait of erotophilia-erotophobia as being particularly important in affective-evaluative responses to potential sex acts. As the terms suggest, erotophobia represents an aversive view of sexual behavior and erotophilia represents a positive view. This trait has been operationalized as the "Sexual Opinion Survey," (e.g. "Erotica (sexually explicit books, movies etc.) is obviously filthy and people should not try to describe it as anything else") (Fisher et al. 1988). Research assessing erotophobia-erotophilia has found among other findings that erotophobic individuals were less likely to learn contraceptive information, to engage in breast self-examination, to engage in preventive behaviors with respect to sexually transmitted diseases, to use contraceptives regularly, to respond positively to erotic films, and to anticipate sexual behavior (Fisher et al. 1988).

(2) Lovestyle. Lovemap research has traditionally taken place within the field of clinical sexual research with a heavy though not exclusive emphasis on biological factors (e.g. Money 1986 a,b). However, love, as studied in social psychology especially as expressed in terms of lovestyles or approaches to love and based on individual differences (Lee 1973), is related to sexuality and thus should be recognized as an aspect of lovemaps. Perhaps, the most well-researched and compelling theory of love centers on Lee's (1973) typology of six types of love. Within Lee's typology, Eros represents romantic, passionate love. The other types of love styles are: Ludus (game playing love with diverse partners), Storge (friendship love), Mania (possessive, dependent love), Pragma (pragmatic, or shopping list love - love shopping) and Agape (nondemanding, selfless love). In terms of implications for consumer behavior, Woll (1989, p. 499) reports that the erotic lover (as indicated by a high score on the Eros dimension of the Love Attitudes Questionnaire) was likely to agree with the statement, "I like the idea of having the same kinds of clothes, hats, plants, bicycles, cars, etc., as my lover does." This clearly has implications for consumer behavior in terms of lovers' lovemap congruence, product portfolios and self-concepts, although according to Woll it is not clear whether this characteristic of the erotic lover is central to or incidental to this love style. As another example, the Pragma lover was cited by Hendrick and Hendrick (1986) as being the one who uses criteria matching and who is likely to be a "computer mating" person. Thus, the Bernard and Adelman's (1990) consumer research study of an introduction service probably largely involved Pragma consumers although they did not frame their study in this way.

Information-Imaginative-Expectancy Response Effects. The Sexual Behavior Sequence model suggests that people learn cognitive processing responses to erotic stimuli which take the form of information, imagination and expectations (Fisher 1986). One may acquire information about sexuality from a variety of sources such as sex education, sex manuals, pornography, and direct experience. Sexual fantasy in the form of internal sexual imagery is thought to possess motivating properties and is linked directly to preparatory sexual behavior, according to Fisher. Both also lead to the formation of expectations about sexual activity which govern how one conceives the sex act and prepares for it.

Preparatory Sexual Behavior (Proception)

Preparatory sexual behavior involves actions which prepare and set the stage for the actual sex act, including such things as pretactile and tactile behavior, using birth control devices, establishing the setting for the sexual act, and attracting, seeking or maintaining relations with a sexual partner in terms of the stages outlined above (Fisher 1986). Often these behaviors may involve aspects of consumption such as choosing, purchasing and using a form of birth control; purchasing furniture, lights, art, music or even a home etc. for the proper setting for lovemaking; going to a bar, dating service, or other less overt partner-seeking place (e.g. activity groups such as running clubs) to find a sexual partner; exploring and defining a sexual/love relationship through gift giving (Belk and Coon 1991); and if one already has a partner, sharing in and evolving a daily consumption pattern of mutual benefit. For example, dancing may be seen in some cases as moving beyond the attraction phase to 'test-driving' the dance partner as a potential sex partner in that it allows for a trial intimacy which approximates the sex act but without all its final attendant consequences. In fact, it has become for many a proxy act for the total physical intimacy due to AIDS. For ongoing relationships, dancing serves as foreplay for the ensuing sex act as well as embodying it in a different form.

It is important here to make a distinction between what is directly tied into one's lovemap and what is more indirectly tied. For instance, one person may think of the purchase of a piece of furniture as directly tied into attracting a sexual partner or sustaining a sexual relationship while another might only see a connection if it is pointed out to him or her. Yet another person might not consciously ascribe a sexual or love motive to such a purchase but might feel one unconsciously. Still another person might neither see such a connection nor even 'experience' one unconsciously. The degree of connection between consumption objects and one's sexuality is likely to depend in large part on the degree of erotophilia the individual experiences. The erotophilic individual is likely to view more various acts of consumption in terms of sexuality than the erotophobic one. This may be framed as an example of category width (Pettigrew 1956) with the erotophilic individual being seen as a broad categorizer with respect to the sexuality present in their consumption and the erotophobic individual being seen as a narrow categorizer. Another frame is one's lovestyle - individuals are likely to view consumer goods in terms of their own sexual/lovestyle.

Actual Behavior Involved in the Sex Act (Acception)

Sexual expression in the form of actual or acceptive sexual behavior is likely to parallel proceptive-preparatory sexual behavior in that the attitudes and values reflected in various erotic versus non-erotic-orientations are likely to carry over and determine one's sexual behavior with respect to goods use in similar ways although the goods used will differ. Therefore, consumers perform many consumption acts related to lovemaking (including fore and after play) which involve products and/or ideas concerning sexual methods and ideologies which they are consuming. Thus, for example, the use of sexual toys, music, incense, certain types of bedsheets, beds, couches and hot tubs as locations for the sex act, or the proverbial smoking of a cigarette after sex, etc. are forms of consumption which pervade the actual sex act. Some of them such as various sexual toys may be used as substitutes for sex with another person (Morris 1971). Moreover, the very act of intercourse, itself, has been compared to a form or act of possession (Dworkin 1987, p. 63).

Outcomes (Conceptive and Other)

The final part of the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence involves the outcomes of the sexual act carried out (Fisher 1986). These outcomes may take the form of conception, relationship maintenance and dissolution, sexual experience and feedback to the future performance of the sex act, as well as its various antecedents, and sexual satisfaction. Conceptive outcomes are marked by a 'love child' and much sexual energy may as result of this outcome be sublimated and/or manifest in consumption related to that child. Other outcomes which are more overtly sexual in nature are dependent on expectations and fantasy which to some degree are fueled by consumer activities, such as the reading of sexual magazines or watching pornography. However, paradoxically these may often lead to dissatisfaction as one fails to meet one's own expectations or those of others, or one feels that others may be experiencing more sexual satisfaction than oneself (Fisher 1986).

Sexual outcomes also have a great bearing on interpersonal relationships in terms of their (dis)continuance and nature. A key element is the fact that as relationships continue, sexual habituation and also loss of libido are key elements which lovers must confront. To this end, lover-consumers may seek to engage in various processes of variety-novelty seeking within the relationship in order to refresh or restimulate its sexual as well other aspects. We argue here that one prime motivating force driving much of adult consumer behavior is this need to reinvigorate one's sexual-love relationship and that much of this is commodified and tangibilized in the form of consumption activities (cf. Belk and Wallendorf 1990). Consumers take stock of their sexual outcomes and the status of their relationships and often look to external activities and objects for help as props in staging these processes - everything from vacation getaways to new lingerie to couples' renting of pornographic movies to fat-reducing diets may be seen in terms of rejuvenating one's relationship as well as oneself. Thus consumers in engaging in the responses described above through the course of a relationship constantly rescript and reritualize their sexual lives. As Davidson (1990, p. 16) observes:

If your romantic script is as predictable as a summer-rerun maybe it's time to get a new script. The elements of a romantic script are time, place and manner. A new time for a romance (maybe the afternoon), or a new place (a resort hotel weekend) can turn just another tryst into a memorable and romantic rendezvous. But for my husband and me,... we have found that we can create an exotic experience at home... with... adult games... The target audience: couples who have been together long enough to be set in their romantic ways...Adult games make it easy to change your routine and alter the style of your evening.


The magnitude of consumption's role in consumers' sexual scripts and the degree to which it can effect the outcome of a sexual encounter, as well as the degree to which it itself is altered by the encounter, are crucial matters for researchers to explore in terms of understanding the relationship of sexuality and consumption. The following points should be addressed:

1. The Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence model suggests that sexually-related products should be considered in light of the various stages of the developing and changing sexual relationship since their role differs both qualitatively and quantitatively throughout. Thus future research needs to focus on how product use might vary across the stages of the model (i.e. products used to attract a lover may not necessarily play a similar role in maintaining a relationship), and also to compare and relate this model to other consumer behavior models.

2. The presence of individual differences, such as those based on biological sex, stage of the lifecycle, and personality traits (e.g. erotophilia-erotophobia), as well as cultural differences, indicate that researchers need to investigate how consumption may take different forms, play different roles, embody different meanings, and allow different behavioral enactments or sexual roles for various individuals through the stages of the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence.

3. Mosher (1988) suggests that certain sexual experiences are psychologically magnified so that for a product to be used in conjunction with a lovemap there must be a specific goodness-of-fit between the product and the script. We need to investigate how these goodnesses-of-fits are produced, how they operate and how they influence consumer choice and product use at various stages of the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence.

4. Consumer and marketing exchange processes should be considered for the their sexual content, especially in terms of sexual relationships. We have no knowledge, for instance as to how couples develop joint preferences for sexual-related products during the development of their relationship as it follows the stages of the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence, although it has been suggested that affection and intimacy play important roles in family decision making in general (Park, Tansuhaj and Koloe 1991). Thus, exploration of relationships in terms of intimate feelings and love styles would be useful in understanding sexual influence vis-a-vis other personal influence variables (e.g. need for companionship).

5. The consumer's economy of desire plays itself out in self and others' demands of consumption, sexuality, work, leisure, and various relationships. Future research should investigate how consumers distribute their resources of personal energy, effort, and vitality, time, money, relationship capital etc. to meet their sexual and other needs and desires. Moreover, since this distribution of personal resources may vary in focus across various stages of the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence, we need to investigate these phenomena as likely changing dynamically as one's relationships and sexual life unfold.


This paper has shown how sexuality's purportedly pervasive effect on consumer behavior has a potentially powerful theoretical base which is rooted in previously ignored developments in the field of sex research and related areas. Indeed, it would appear that exploring the Consumer Sexual Behavior Sequence has the possibility of engaging consumer researchers of all methodological stripes.


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Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19 | 1992

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