I spoke with Ian Kerner, therapist, sex and relationships specialist, NYT Bestseller and most recently author of the book, So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex about what else? Sex. In the book he describes how he helps couples identify and understand— and then ultimately change their “sexual script.”
Q: What is a sexual script?
As a sex therapist, couples come in to see me with all sorts of problems—desire discrepancy, sexual performance issues—and they usually want a solution quickly, or they want to feel like they’re making progress. What they don't want to do is just feel like they're talking about something and not getting anywhere. So I've developed a very solutions-oriented approach where I look at a single sexual event: the last time they had sex.
When did they last have sex? (And many couples will actually disagree about when they last had sex). Where did they last have sex? Why did they last have sex? Who initiated? Who had orgasms? Who didn’t? I call that the sex script. I'm looking at the sequence of interactions that unfolded and generally, that set script is reinforcing the problem. I want to help them rewrite the script.
Q: You mentioned desire discrepancy— how could that be addressed with a conversation about sex scripts?
It's very easy in that situation to label each other “Oh, I'm high desire. They are low desire.” I try to look beyond labels and look at each partner's desire framework. One person is in what I call a spontaneous desire framework. That’s a person who can respond very quickly to a sexual cue. For example a guy sees his girlfriend come out of the shower and she looks cute and sexy, and he's able to get aroused. The other framework is a responsive desire framework. That partner can’t just immediately be sexually called into action. That partner needs more percolation of those sexual cues, needs a context for them.
So what can we do to create a shared desire framework? Obviously, we can tweak the environment and reduce stressors. We can be more selective about when we're gonna try and be sexual and the overall context and then more specifically, I ask couples: how are you getting into arousal? How are you cultivating arousal? Another big issue I see is that generally couples are just relying on a sequence of physical behaviors and there isn't really any psychological arousal.
Q: How does a couple cultivate physiological arousal?
I have couples look before a sexual event happens at what I call the erotic thread, which is the space between sexual events. To what extent is sexual energy allowed to build? To what extent does the couple flirt with each other? To what extent can the couple be sexy and sexual with each other without having to have sex? Because all of that puts desire in the air and a sexual event is likely to emerge much more organically.
On the physical front, spending more time above the waist, certainly a much greater focus on outercourse as opposed to intercourse— oral sex, manual stimulation. So many couples have lost sight of just the power of kissing; kissing can really be a fantastic way of getting absorbed. I often have couples read erotica out loud to each other or listening to audio erotica or a sexy podcast, or watching ethical porn. Something above the neck to get the brain turned on.