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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Relationships: Understanding Your Sex Script

In his latest book, So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, Dr. Ian Kerner, sex and couples therapist and New York Times bestselling author, introduces the idea of sex scripts in relationships, provides clinical examples from his psychotherapy practice and useful homework assignments at the end of each chapter that couples can use to improve their sex lives (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2, and The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Relationships: Understanding Your Sex Script

For couples who are having problems in their sex life, Dr. Kerner takes a look at his clients' most recent sexual encounter, assesses the entire sequence of events and helps the couples to tap into their eroticism to have more sexually pleasurable experiences.

What is a Sex Script?
According to Dr. Kerner, a sex script is a unique and detailed description of a sexual encounter that reveals the sexual interaction between the couple--what happened, what didn't happen, what was pleasurable for each individual and what wasn't.  He looks at the beginning, middle and end of the couple's sexual interaction.

Prompted by his questions, his clients reveal:
  • How did they decide to have sex on that day?
  • Who initiated?
  • When and where did it occur?
  • How did they generate sexual arousal physically and psychologically?
  • How did they intensify their sexual arousal?
  • What did they do specifically?
  • What didn't they do that one or both partners might have wanted to do?
  • What was off limits and why?
  • Who had orgasms and who didn't?
  • What was the emotional and psychological impact of that sexual experience for each of them?
  • Did it leave each of them motivated to have more sex?
  • Did things get stalled?
  • Did their sexual interaction work for each of them? Why or why not?
Although it might be awkward at first, couples learn to get comfortable to talk about the details of their sex life with their therapist and with each other as a way to have more pleasurable and emotionally connected experiences with each other.

Dr. Kerner explains that, on the surface, the details of the couples' last sexual encounter reveal their sexual behavior, but below the surface the sex script reveals the "emotional underground" for each individual.  He indicates that sometimes the sex script reveals the emotional connection between a couple and sometimes it reveals a disconnection between them.

What is a Sexual Desire Framework?
In addition to the questions above, Dr. Kerner indicates that he's listening for each individual's "desire framework," which he describes as how each individual experiences and expresses their own sexual interest.  He also looks at how each of them might overlap with each other or if there is a difference in how they experience sexual desire.

As I've discussed in a previous article, a desire framework includes whether each individual experiences spontaneous or responsive sexual arousal and if there are discrepancies between them (see my article:  Overcoming Problems in Relationships With Spontaneous Sexual Arousal vs Context-Dependent Arousal).  

It also involves the particular "accelerators" and "brakes" for each person (see my article:  Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes).

A Clinical Vignette
In one clinical vignette, Dr. Kerner discusses a husband and wife, Eva and Andy:  Eva initiates sex by telling Andy that she feels "horny" and by quickly pushing her husband's head down on her for oral sex.  This couple initiates without any eroticism--no seduction, no kissing, no foreplay, no caressing or tenderness to each other.  

After Eva has an orgasm, she says to Andy, "Enough" so he stops oral sex.  Then, she tells him, with little enthusiasm, that if he wants to, he could penetrate her.  But by that time Andy had lost his erection and his interest in being sexual.  Then, they each lie in bed feeling emotionally and sexually disconnected from each other, and neither of them is happy with their sex life.

As Eva and Andy discuss how they feel, Andy reveals he feels controlled and emasculated by Eva in bed, and Eva believes Andy doesn't care about her. 

When Dr. Kerner analyzes their sex script, he says it lacks any eroticism or foreplay.  There is no "warm up," either physiologically or psychologically, to generate sexual arousal, which makes the sex unsatisfying to both Andy and Eva.

Over time, Dr. Kerner helps Eva and Andy to each see how their individual histories connect to how they relate to each other sexually.  

For instance, Eva felt emotionally neglected by her father.  Andy is aware of Eva's history with her father, but he hears it in a new way in their session with Dr. Kerner, and he feels compassionate towards her.  He now understands how she was traumatized, the emotional impact her childhood experiences had on Eva and how it relates to their relationship.

Over time, by working with their therapist and doing homework assignments between sessions, the couple understands each other better. They're able to try new sex scripts where they take their time to include both physical and psychological elements of sexual arousal.  Gradually, their emotional and sex life improve so they're happier together.  

It's not unusual for unresolved traumatic family of origin issues to affect relationships, as it did in the vignette about Eva and Andy.

I'll continue this discussion in future articles, including:

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling on your own with unresolved issues, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist.

Working through unresolved issues allows you to free yourself from your history so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

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