Renowned sex therapist Ian Kerner shares the unique and indispensable methodology he uses to help thousands of couples get unstuck and into sexual sync.

Dr. Ian Kerner is a Sherlock Holmes of the bedroom—a sexual detective helping individuals and couples solve the mystery of their sexual distress. His secret weapon? Anaylzing your “sex script.”

Kerner takes a magnifying glass to a recent sexual event, examining the entire sequence of interactions—beginning, middle, and end—from multiple angles. In those details—the what, where, when, and why of the last time you had sex—all the clues of what went wrong are revealed and the mystery of how to create mutual pleasure can be solved. When our sex scripts work, we lose ourselves in mutual pleasure; but when they fail, it’s all we can do not to ruminate over the details. What can be learned by looking at your sex life in action?

With wit and warmth, the nationally recognized sex therapist and author of the smash hit She Comes First shows readers how to tap into their erotic personalities and realize their sexual potential. Dr. Kerner provides the tools and techniques you need to assess, fix, and expand your sex scripts, as well as discuss many common sexual problems that get in the way of happy endings. With the help of decades of clinical insight, the latest sexual science and research, valuable homework assignments, case studies, and more, this insightful and original book strips away discomfort and offers couples not just the ability to talk about sex, but the ability to actually do something about it.

What's Inside

The Poetics of Sex


Sherlock Holmes walks into a room in which a crime has recently been committed. As he scans for clues, what is unseen by others becomes visible to him. Almost immediately an image of what has transpired takes shape in his mind’s eye.

And the game’s afoot.

Sometimes I like to think of myself as a Sherlock Holmes of the bedroom—a sexual detective helping individuals and couples solve the mystery of their sexual distress: low libido, the inability to perform, sexual anxieties, erotic conflicts, a secret desire they’re keeping from a partner (or even themselves). Propelled by the spirit of inquiry, one of the first things I like to do is return to “the scene of the crime.”

During a first session with a new patient or couple, I always ask: “So, tell me about the last time you had sex . . .”

Every sexual event tells a story and leaves its own unique fingerprint: an impression of what happened and what didn’t happen; what was said or left unsaid; of pleasure taken and pleasure neglected. A single sexual event is rich with clues, and over the years, I’ve refined the art of the “sex-script analysis”—a way of looking at sex in action. Prompted by my questions, patients will describe a recent sexual event to me in step-by-step detail.

How did they 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? What was off-limits and why? Who had orgasms? Who didn’t? What was the emotional and psychological impact of the experience? Did the sex leave them motivated to have more? If not, at what point did things get stalled? In the end, did the sex script work? Was it a success? Or was it a bust?

To a fly on the wall, the sex script is the progression of actions: clothes coming off, mouths finding each other, hands exploring,  body parts joining and unjoining, muscles tensing and releasing. But beneath the surface of the sex script is an emotional underground;   the mental space between bodies: sometimes sex is a bridge, other times it reveals a chasm. When the sex script works, we lose ourselves in arousal. Sex becomes a familiar dance, and we don’t think twice about the choreography. But when the sex script fails, it’s all we can do not to ruminate over the details.

Thinking recently about the concept of sex scripts, I recalled my days as a college playwright, when I was inspired by Aristotle’s Poetics, a slim and essential volume in which the Greek philosopher delineated the fundamental aspects of dramatic storytelling. In Poetics, Aristotle emphasized the importance of plot: the call to action that sets into motion a series of events that unfold over time in a unified, organic manner.

As in any great work of drama, there’s a structure to the process of a sexual event: a journey that encompasses a beginning, middle, and end—with each element taking its natural place in the overall sequence of events. What Aristotle wrote of great drama is what I per- personally believe is true of great sex: “Most important of all is the structure of the incidents . . . if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed.”1

Displaced. Disjointed. Disturbed. That’s what sex has become for many: something to avoid rather than anticipate; something to fake rather than feel; something to resent rather than appreciate. When the structure of a sexual event is disjointed, sex becomes a chore, rather than a joy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Over the years I’ve worked with thousands of people in countless ways to help them overcome sexual problems and inhibitions; to normalize what they’re going through so they don’t feel so alone; to bridge incompatibilities, discrepancies, and impasses with partners; to express their sexuality authentically; to push their way through trauma; to wrestle with self-control of their sexual thoughts, urges, and behaviors; to continue to expand their sexual horizons as an essential aspect of human growth and realize their sexual potential.

And so much comes down to the sex script.

I know that, to some, thinking about sex as a scripted event, with various elements that unfold in a sequence, may sound rigid, overly clinical, and off-putting, the opposite of spontaneity—which is what sex is “supposed” to be, right: spontaneous. I’m going to challenge that notion throughout these pages, but first let me say that I liken my overall approach to playing jazz. Sure, you want to improvise and really cut loose, but in order to do that, you and your partner need to know what song you’re playing, the genre, the key and chord progressions, the tempo, and so on. The legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter said of playing in the iconic Miles Davis Quintet from 1963 to 1968: “We were looking at every night going to a laboratory, Miles was the head chemist. Our job was to mix these components, these changes, this tempo, into something that explodes safely every night with a bit of danger.”2 That sounds like good sex to me—exploding safely, with a bit of danger—and to do that you have to know all the components you’re mixing.


With that aim in mind we will first and foremost discuss the fundamental elements of a sex script. In addition to this introduction, in the next chapter I will introduce you more thoroughly to the concept of a sex script and take you through my “sex in action” approach via a case study from my practice.

Part I: Beginning

In Chapter 2, we’ll discuss the “launching” of a sex script and how couples often differ in their desire frameworks.

In Chapters 3 through 8, we’ll discuss how to cultivate the early-stage arousal that allows you to get really absorbed in the sex you’re having. We’ll discuss both touch-based arousal and psychological arousal, and how to wrap this phase of the sex script in an experiential skin that feels thrilling and erotic.


Part II: Middle

In Chapters 9 through 13, we’ll delve into the middle of the sex script and specifically discuss approaches and techniques for genital stimulation that are appropriately sequenced to sustain a sex script to its culmination.


Part III: End

In Chapters 14 through 16,  we will discuss the penultimate phase of a sex script, in which being incredibly “turned on” pivots into a state that is “turned off”—in other words, entering the sexual equivalent of a “flow state” in which certain parts of the brain deactivate and enable a sex script to culminate in mutual orgasm.

In Chapter 17, we will discuss the phase of the sex script that directly follows orgasm, and how to stay connected and maintain what I call “the erotic thread” until your next sexual event.


Part IV: All Together Now

In Chapters 18 and 19, we’ll pull together all of the elements in a step-by-step guide to constructing sex scripts that feel unique to your sexual personality and preferences, while also allowing you to experience sexual events of depth and meaning.


Part V: Problems, Solutions, and Useful Exercises

In Chapters 20 to 29 we’ll highlight many common problems, such as low desire and erectile unpredictability, for example, that may be interfering with your sex script. In this section, you may want to just skip directly to those chapters that are relevant to you and/or your partner, but I encourage you to read the chapters at the end of this part dealing with homework, exercises, and communication strategies.

Throughout the book, we’ll look at what’s working in your current sex script, what’s not, where you might be missing or mis-sequencing elements, and how to get the most out of each phase. In addition to bringing you my own clinical insights, I’ll also be including quotes from other therapists, educators, and researchers whom I consider to be the smartest and most informed voices in the field of human sexuality. Within these pages, you’ll encounter tips and tools, as well as homework assignments (both written and experiential), and, of course, case studies from my practice (with details changed to protect patient confidentiality).

My patient population is an even split between individuals and couples, with about 60 percent heterosexual and 40 percent LGBTQ+. It’s important to acknowledge that genitals get together in various combinations; often it’s a penis and a vulva, or maybe two vulvas or two penises, and sometimes when penises and vulvas congregate they don’t always do so in ways that are cis-gendered (when a person’s gender and their birth-assigned sex correspond). For example, a trans woman (born male-bodied) who hasn’t surgically transitioned may refer to her penis as a vulva because that’s what it feels like to her. Most of my patients are in monogamous relationships or aspire to be, but some are non-monogamous or polyamorous or hoping to actualize non-traditional relationship structures. Many of my patients, regardless of background, orientation, and identity, feel sexually marginalized or misunderstood, either by a partner, society, or both. While in many ways this book falls into the category of a traditional sex advice guide, I’m hoping it speaks to people of various gender and sexual identities regardless of whether they are in traditional or non-traditional relationships. No book can appeal to everyone, but I genuinely believe that the principles and practices you’ll encounter in these pages can be generalized to anyone.

In my office, during a session, we take apart the sex script, we tinker, and we tweak. For my patients, reflection and insight are paramount, but so is the ability to take action. They may leave my office with a greater understanding of the issues at hand, but they still have to do something. Talk isn’t enough, and the sex script is where insight and action converge. Almost without exception, every patient or couple leaves my office with a homework assignment that addresses a modification to the current sex script—an addition or subtraction of an element, or a change in the sequencing of an element. Then they bring back the data from their homework and we take it from there. But rather than just tell you about how I work with patients and their sex scripts, let me show you.




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Meet The Author: Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT

Ian Kerner is a licensed psychotherapist and nationally recognized sexuality counselor who specializes in sex therapy, couples therapy, and working with individuals on a range of relational issues. He is the New York Times bestselling author of She Comes First and many more, focusing on healing sexuality and relationships. He is a Clinical Fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists; certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (where he also sits on the board); the Society for Sex Therapy and Research; and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.

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“From breaking out of a sex rut to managing mismatched libidos, Ian Kerner is at the forefront of giving us fresh sexy solutions to classic sex problems.”—Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity
"Even in therapy, sex seems like the one topic people need to talk about most but don't know how. Thankfully, renowned sex therapist Ian Kerner has come to the rescue for everyone who has wanted more out of their erotic life but felt stuck, confused, or just plain frustrated. Combining decades of clinical research and real people's stories, this elucidating guidebook is a must-read for anyone interested in creating a richer, deeper romantic life. There is warmth, compassion and clarity on every page."—Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone
"Ian Kerner is a voice of equal parts compassion and logic. He speaks equally to men and to women, equally to people with great sex lives and people who are struggling. Ian's work is essential in the world of sex positive writing."—Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of Come As You Are and Burnout
“Ian Kerner’s book is refreshingly informative. His compassion and kindness gently disarm shame, promoting the kind of communication and self-interrogation that are, ultimately, key to experiencing joy in sex.”—Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex and Boys & Sex
“What a fascinating book on the how-to of sex—it’s packed with riveting data and great advice:  Either you’ll be gratified that you are doing everything right or you’ll pick up a pile of truly valuable tips.  Kerner is a wise man--it's a compelling read.”—Helen Fisher, Ph.D., Author of Anatomy of Love
“Is the air you breathe oxygenated with a little bit of eroticism?” asks bestselling author and sex therapist Ian Kerner. If it is, then you will savor this book which, (as the title indicates), invites us to look through the window of our last sexual experiences to illuminate our sex lives and what they could become. If it isn’t then you must buy this book today! Kerner has created another instant classic for individuals, couples and their therapists who are willing to consider what last night could mean for tomorrow."—Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Ph.D., Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Canada
"Based on real stories and linked by real data, Kerner's So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex is a look into the sex lives of people that will serve to normalize, validate, and importantly, inspire! This book is for sex therapists, individuals seeking to improve their sex lives, and anyone who wants to turn good sex into great sex!" —Lori A. Brotto, PhD, author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness
"For any couple struggling to make sense of their fickle sex drives, dwindling desires and disappointing sexual experiences, Dr. Kerner’s latest book is the first step towards living healthier, fulfilling and more pleasurable sex lives.  This book will transform not only the sexual relationship you have with your partners but the one you have with yourself. It's a must read for anyone who is ready to let go of their limiting beliefs to make way for sexual discovery and satisfaction."—Emily Morse, Doctor of Human Sexuality, Founder & CEO, Sex With Emily
So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex is full of useful advice. . . it's likely every couple can benefit from giving it a read."—Your Tango
"Much like Ian’s therapy work, his books are action-oriented and provide concrete examples, strategies, and homework to help individuals adapt their behavior in the bedroom."—Dating News
"A masterpiece! Most people experience sexual difficulties at some point in their lives and Kerner's book is here to help people move through them to create more pleasurable, connecting, affirming sex lives. Highly recommended!" —Debby Herbenick, PhD, author of Because It Feels Good
So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex is simply a delightful book! It tells you how to focus down and unpack your sexual dance and make it rock! More than this it's so easy to read: down to earth and so eminently practical. A great acquisition for anyone who wants to improve their sex life.”—Sue Johnson, Author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love
“Ian Kerner is the real deal. In So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, he uses the most essential form of communication—storytelling—to help couples follow the thread from their stuck, unsatisfying scripts back to the deep tender core of vulnerability that underlies them. Filled with practical exercises, Kerner addresses an array of sexual challenges and shows how they can become opportunities for erotic growth. He also inspires his readers to expand their erotic repertoire through flexibility, creative imagination, and more meaningful sexual conversations with themselves and their partners. I can't think of a more hopeful, humane and knowledgeable guide for navigating the sometimes vexing impasses of couple sex.”—Daphne de Marneffe, PhD, author of The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together
“Kerner dusts off the traditional concept of a ‘sex script’ and polishes it to a high sheen. In his hands, this humble tool becomes a powerful key to deeper sexual aliveness. This is a highly original book. It’s also playful, deeply personal, unfailingly kind, and clearly a labor of love. I can’t think of any other sex writer who can discuss Aristotle’s Poetics together with the neuroscience of orgasm, but Kerner does it all with unfailing skill. Highly recommended!”—Stephen Snyder, M.D., author of Love Worth Making
"Ian Kerner is a gem of a sex therapist and a masterful storyteller. This book is insightful, practical, accessible, and most of all, helpful. Written in an extraordinarily comfortable and engaging style, Kerner has produced a book that will not only grab the reader's attention and interest, but is sure to enhance the sexual, emotional, and relational lives of its audience.  Much like his earlier work, She Comes First, So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex is a book that will endure for years.  I am sure to recommend this text to my patients with frequency and enthusiasm!"—Daniel N. Watter, Ed.D., Past-President, The Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR)
"Does the sex between your ears or your sheets needs a script update? You’ve come to the right place. Ian Kerner brings together up to the minute sexual science with the highly personal art form of sexual pleasure to give readers a master class in sexual script writing. Full of practical and knowledgeable ideas for rewriting your last forgettable sexual experiences into sexual narratives worth repeating and retelling."—Doug Braun-Harvey, MFT, Co-Author of Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction
“My goodness, he’s done it again. After helping men become “cliterate” with She Comes First and guiding women through the intricacies of male passion with He Comes Next, Ian Kerner fearlessly leads us to explore one another. His guidance is at once fresh, human and state of the art. What is your erotic blueprint? Dispelling one myth after another So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex invites you on a journey toward a deeper, richer and more authentic sexuality.”—Terrence Real, author of The New Rules of Marriage
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