Best-Selling Author Ian Kerner Wants You To Forget Everything You *Think* You Know About Sex

Photo: Grand Central Publishing
Cover of So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex in triptych

Ian Kerner, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical therapist specializing in sexual health and a regular contributor to CNN Health — and he wants to ask you a very personal question.

The New York Times bestselling author of “She Comes First" wants to know the nitty-gritty details of the last time you had sex with your partner.

But don't worry, there's a good reason why.

Kerner is widely recognized as an expert in the field of sex therapy, with membership in both the Society for Sex Therapy and Research and the American Family Therapy Academy. At one time he sat on the board of directors at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. 

Kerner’s new book, “So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex,” is so titled because it’s the first question he poses to new clients. It’s a part of his “solutions-oriented” philosophy of taking on problems in the bedroom. 

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He does this by analyzing a couple’s “sex script,” which he proposes can be laid out much like a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

How did a couple decide to have sex? Who initiated? When and where did the event occur? How did they generate sexual excitement—with their bodies? Their minds? How did they amplify and intensify the arousal? What behaviors did they engage in? What behaviors didn’t they engage in? And so on...

What is a sex script? 

Sexual script theory was coined in the 1970s by two sociologists, John H. Gagnon and William Simon. It’s based on social constructionism, or the idea that human behavior is determined by shared beliefs belonging to particular social groups. Sexual scripts are most commonly thought of as larger social constructs that govern appropriate behavior between partners. 

There are several interdisciplinary influences on the concept, including feminism, symbolic interactionism, and social psychology. Scripts often consist of learned behavior that’s environmentally induced, and play an active role in the sex lives of partners within a particular circle. 

Kerner’s idea of a sex script is a bit different. He’s been described as “a Sherlock Holmes of the bedroom.”

It’s his goal to individualize the sex script down to the participants in the relationship. His sex scripts are about people, not groups. 

He says that in order to experience the healthiest and most fulfilling sex life possible, that partners have to disregard the prevalent structural sex script in favor of rewriting their own unique scripts for their own needs. 

“Most couples have sex scripts that are reduced to sequences of behavior,” he says. “Ultimately those sex scripts are dehydrated of erotic life and sense of experience.”

Kerner goes on to suggest that cultural scripts are harmful to couples because everyone experiences sex in different ways. Men and women, nonbinary couples, lgbt couples, everyone responds to their own individual needs. 

“Heteronormative sex scripts creates a lot of problems because a lot of women don’t orgasm from intercourse and men sometimes have problems with erectile dysfunction,” he says. “It comes down to two people and what their turn ons and turn offs are, and their health and emotional states.” 

For example, Kerner says that 90% of heterosexual couples either had intercourse or attempted intercourse during their last sexual encounter. In direct contrast, only 35% of gay couples did the same.

For Kerner, the difference between how heterosexual and homosexual couples have sex exemplifies two major points. 

The first is that hetero couples follow cultural sex scripts even when it makes them unhappy. The second is that gay couples aren’t similarly beholden to the idea that penetration equates to sex, and therefore are more free in the activities they engage in. 

“One takeaway is that hetero couples should move out of the intercourse script into more original scripts that work for you,” Kerner says. 

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How do you develop your own sex script that works for you? 

Kerner’s approach to dealing with sexual mismatches is psychoeducation. Using the evidence to discuss and openly determine your own needs, the needs of your partner, and what each of you can do to establish a unique sex script is vital to a healthy sex life

It’s possible to make this work even when partners have differing libidos or seemingly incompatible divides. “Are you a spontaneous desire framework person? Maybe your framework doesn’t match up with your partner. This is a piece of psychoeducation that’s really important.

“Tuning your sex script so that you understand the phases. Are there things that you can do to get that phase more aligned? Yeah, absolutely. It can come down to syncing your breath together. Kissing to lull yourself into a state of absorption. Mutual masturbation to feel what it feels like to be in that arousal state together. Getting into an intercourse position that isn’t interested in novelty, but actually going to positions that work and that you and your partner know how to do.”

Hope for a better sex life

“So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex” is full of useful advice.

Divided into five parts, there are chapters on the sex script in reference to specific cutlural and personal objects like trauma, porn, and pain. There’s an introduction to cultivating arousal, as well as a discussion of self-expression. 

Part V: Problems, Solutions, And Useful Exercises, is just that. It’s like the troubleshooting section at the end of a product manual.

“Have you tried turning it off and on again,” isn’t just a meme-able joke in this case, because Kerner writes in Part III about “turning off,” which he describes as entering the plateau state where women experience a kind of blissful energy through repetitive action. 

The book is filled with helpful, constructive suggestions like that, and it's likely every couple can benefit from giving it a read.

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“So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex” was released on April 20th from Grand Central Publishing

Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.