Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Sexual Surrogates: Who and Why

Sex, while perfectly natural, is not naturally perfect.

A woman married for 15 years sat in my office last week complaining of her husband's ineptitude as a sex partner. "I wish there were some place to send him so he could learn how to be a good lover," she laughingly complained.

"You might teach him yourself, you know," I told her.

"But I don't want to," she said adamantly. "I want him to go somewhere else, learn what he needs to know, and then come back to me."

"Have you considered a sexual surrogate?" I asked.

"What's that?"

And so I told her. I told the same things to an incredulous gentleman at a Labor Day party who had heard of sexual surrogacy and on learning that I do sex therapy wondered who on earth would go to a sexual surrogate and why.

A sexual surrogate partner is a sort of hands-on therapist, I usually explain. She or he acts in the same way a tennis coach might in teaching the sport, correcting your stance and adjusting the manner in which you hold the racket. The coach might show you how to regulate your energy, how to learn from your opponent, and might even play a few volleys with you until you get the hang of it. Tennis pros, golf pros, skating or skiing pros - they all are professions held in esteem. Most people immediately see the benefit in having an on the spot teacher for practically any sport.

Very few of us ever get the opportunity to see the equivalent of those who do it well playing the actual "game". No televised sexual Wimbledon is available, no Olympics of love making. Pornography, with all its self-perpetuating myths, is not about real people with real life fears and shortcomings. It is often said that sex, while perfectly natural, is not naturally perfect. With sex you're on your own to succeed or fail unless you are lucky enough to come across a patient and nurturing partner.

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So why would a person seek the services of a sexual surrogate? In my own practice over the years I have successfully referred a man in his late 30's who had never had sex before and was very fearful, a woman who had never seen a nude man's body and wanted to understand how men functioned, a single father who felt he might be gay and wanted to safely experiment with another man, and several men of different ages with paralyzing performance anxiety or premature ejaculation. I have on occasion referred a young couple who wanted to learn more about pleasing each other and themselves.

I have worked with both men and women surrogate partners, all of whom were or are extraordinary empathetic individuals well trained by the International Professional Surrogate Association (www.surrogatetherapy.org) . Several of them have advanced degrees in sexuality and various body work disciplines. It is not a job many people could possibly do.

It must be said, and I always do to anyone contemplating such a referral, that sexual partner surrogacy is a legal gray area. Licensed people helpers such as psychotherapists and social workers have very strong proscriptions against intimate touching of their clients and exchanging sexual services for money is illegal in most states. The work of sexual surrogates falls somewhere in between these two professions. To my knowledge, there has never been a law suit testing the issue.

If a potential client has some moral reservations about such an interaction I assure them there is much to be learned about breathing, relaxation, and anatomy without "going all the way". The surrogate partner will always discuss and honor the client's boundaries and the referring therapist is available to discuss any emotional difficulties and repercussions.

I do wish more people in the helping professions were aware of and willing to utilize the services of trained sexual surrogates since sexual ignorance and fear are at least as pervasive as muscular aches and pains and postural peculiarities. But then, many don't refer to chiropractors all that often either!

Here's to the dissemination of accurate, nonjudgmental sex and body information, and to informed choices for all.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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