The Scoop: Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT, has gained national acclaim through his work in sex therapy. Singles and couples can book a private therapy session with Ian to gain insight into the emotions at play during foreplay and the issues that can arise regarding sexual activity. Ian empowers singles and couples to speak their truth and grow into their sexual potential. He has also written clinically informed self-help books that explain the secrets of sexual health, arousal, and pleasure.

Sex can be a complicated and confusing part of life. Sometimes individuals carry shame when it comes to certain physical acts. Sometimes couples don’t feel comfortable broaching the topic of fetishes or kinks with one another.

Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT, has learned to set aside hangups and approach sexual topics in a straightforward and nonjudgmental way. He’ll start by saying, “So tell me about the last time you had sex,” and he’ll pay particular attention to the emotions behind the story.

Photo of Ian Kerner

Ian Kerner guides couples through conflict and sexual frustration.

Ian is a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sex counseling and relational issues. He works with singles and couples who are struggling to maintain healthy intimate relationships. And he begins by listening.

“I’m like Sherlock Holmes going back through events and looking for clues,” Ian said. “A sex therapist has to be curious, and think broadly, and hold many possibilities at once.”

During sex therapy sessions, Ian said he provides a safe space where individuals and couples can talk openly about their intimate thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The discussion can demystify some personal issues and provide meaningful answers that help a healthy sexual relationship flourish.

By fostering a dialogue and sharing insights about sex, Ian has given people the tools to improve how they connect and communicate with a partner in the bedroom and beyond.

“My style is psychodynamic meets behavioral — or insight meets behavior,” Ian said. “I really want to walk about someone’s mind and explore all the aspects of their story and emotions. Then I give them homework and create action plans.”

Private Therapy Sessions Address the Underlying Issues

Ian Kerner works with adults from all walks of life. About half of his clients identify as straight and are in heterosexual relationships, and the other half are LGBTQ+ people who are cohabitating or married. Their ages range from early 20s to late 70s, with the majority of clients falling into the 35-to-50 category.

The couples therapy sessions typically see dating or married couples who have been together for a while and have some concerns or challenges when it comes to getting intimate. Ian said he helps these couples create an action plan to strengthen their relationship and get where they want to be on an emotional and sexual level.

Cover of "She Comes First"

Couples can build trust and intimacy by discussing their sex life.

As a career sex counselor and psychotherapist, Ian has tackled many sensitive topics in adult relationships. He has worked with couples to address desire issues, mismatched libidos, erectile dysfunction, and sexual frustration. He has also helped people overcome sex addiction and recover after infidelity.

Sometimes sexual health isn’t the only issue facing couples, and the sexual dysfunction is a symptom of a larger conflict or problem in the relationship. For example, one person may be bottling up feelings of insecurity or resentment, and that can translate into a lack of sexual interest during intimate moments. Sexual partners need to discuss the underlying issue to get to a more positive, loving, and healthy state.

“The issues I work on are at the intersection of what happens in the bedroom and out of the bedroom,” Ian explained. “Good communication is at the center of everything.”

Ian said he is flexible with his patients’ schedules and empowers them to help set the pace of the therapy sessions. At the end of the session, he’ll ask when the individual or couple want to meet next and discuss what they need to do to make progress between sessions.

When dealing with sexuality and relationships, everyone has their own journey, and Ian makes a conscious effort to respect that process and provide guidance without being judgmental or presumptuous.

“I’m co-constructive, not didactic and authoritarian,” Ian said. “I want the patient to have a powerful voice in the dialogue around treatment.”

Opening a Dialogue About Intimacy & Arousal

During the last year, Ian said he has seen relationship tensions rise and emotional issues weigh heavily on his clients. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to everyday life, and the new normal was a pressure cooker for some couples and families.

Ian said the lockdown environment magnified issues that already existed between couples who had fewer outlets to blow off steam or escape. As a result, he saw more blowups in his office and had to work harder to de-escalate conflicts. “The issues aren’t new,” he said. “Just more intense.”

Sex therapy can have a healing and rejuvenating impact on personal relationships, but Ian told us his focus is on health. He gives people the tools and understanding to improve how they communicate their sexual needs, and sometimes their self-growth means leaving a partner who cannot meet those needs.

Over the last year, Ian has written extensively about the common problems he sees in his work with couples. Ian’s new book “So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex” delves into the erotic and often unspoken areas of sex life.

Photo from Ian Kerner's website

Ian uses a combination of clinical research and real-life stories to shed light on sexual issues.

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.

“No question, Ian Kerner’s book is refreshingly informative,” said author Peggy Orenstein in a review.

“His compassion and kindness gently disarm shame, promoting the kind of communication and self-interrogation that are, ultimately, key to experiencing joy in sex.”

In his book “She Comes First,” Ian further explores taboo topics in the sexual domain. Specifically, the topic of vaginal pleasure. The book is a man’s guide to keeping a female partner sexually satisfied.

Through his books and lectures, Ian raises awareness about important sexual topics and encourages couples to talk about what’s going on between the sheets. Ian is a leading expert in this field, and he currently supervises and trains other therapists on how to work with couples and be present in therapy sessions. He also co-leads a sex therapy program at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.

“I’m known for helping people express themselves sexually,” Ian said. “I help people get on the other side of sexual issues that may have been beleaguering them for most of their lives.”

Ian Kerner Sheds Light on Taboo Topics

Couples can struggle to communicate their desires and needs to one another, especially if they were raised in sex-negative or sex-avoidant environments. But bottling up feelings about sex is not a good long-term solution to any conflict.

Duing private therapy sessions, Ian opens a positive conversation about sex and relationships. He supports clients in overcoming shame, confusion, and disagreements, so they can be more confident and comfortable in intimate situations.

Ian said he loves his work because he gets to see clients gradually grow over time. By putting words to their experiences and feelings, Ian can help people find their voice and embrace their sexuality.

“I honor sexuality as part of being human and being alive,” Ian said. “Becoming a sex therapist was part of my journey to better understand sexual relationships and how to show up in them.”