Sex surrogacy sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s actually a relatively mundane (if controversial) therapeutic practice—and one being utilized by an increasing number of women.
A sex surrogate is kind of like a sex therapist, only he or she actually engages in sexual acts with clients (including, but not always, intercourse). Often, sex surrogates work in tandem with psychologists, psychiatrists or other therapists to try and help patients overcome sexual issues, from trouble with intimacy, confusion over sexual orientation or issues stemming from sexual trauma (such as incest or rape) to physical problems such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction or pain during sex. “The surrogate participates with the client in structured and unstructured experiences that are designed to build client self-awareness and skills in the areas of physical and emotional intimacy,” according to the International Professional Surrogates Association. “These therapeutic experiences include partnerwork in relaxation, effective communication, sensual and sexual touching, and social skills training.”
The practice (also called surrogate partner therapy) is, unsurprisingly, a product of the 1970s, and used to be mainly the province of men. It’s a relatively rare practice for people of either gender, actually, but apparently it is on the rise among women. The IPSA said it’s been receive more requests from women patients, along with an increase in membership from male surrogates. About 35 to 40% of IPSA surrogates are now male, the IPSA president Vena Blanchard told MyHealthNewsDaily.
“There’s been a steady increase in women taking ownership of their sexuality,” Blanchard said. They don’t just want sex therapy to please their partner. “They want to make their own lives better for themselves.”
At the same time, the number of men using sex surrogates (um, at least officially) has decreased, which some attribute to the rise of drugs like Viagra.
There are no laws against sexual surrogacy practices, according to the IPSA, but (as you can probably imagine) it’s still controversial. One sex therapist, Sari Cooper, notes that there’s no distinction made by the law between sex surrogacy and prostitution (both, after all, involve handing over money and engaging in sex acts). But that’s not the only reason Cooper eschews the practice:
Often times, particularly with men who are late virgins, it’s more important to address underlying social issues than simply “cure” a patient of his virginity, she said. “Even if you went to a surrogate and you were able to have sexual encounter or intercourse with her, it’s not necessarily going to help you in developing a relationship with somebody. Because that person is being paid to do what they’re doing.”
Men, by the way, have had access to ‘sexual surrogates’ for years, even if we don’t call it that. Countless sex workers will tell you how their job often includes helping men work through sexual issues or address sexual fetishes. Turning to male prostitutes to work out sexual issues, however, is an option that’s a lot less acceptable and available to women. I respect what Cooper is saying—sex surrogacy isn’t always the best way to address sexual issues—but that doesn’t mean it never is. Obviously, no one but the patient, the therapist and the potential sex surrogate can really know what’s the best course of action for addressing a particular issue. I think it’s great if more women with sexual problems are trying to take control of them in this way.
In a New York Magazine article about sex surrogacy, Amy Sohn asks, “Is this medicine? Or plain old-fashioned prostitution served up with a spoonful of love?”
Does it really matter?