Sex surrogates, sometimes referred to as surrogate partners, are practitioners trained in addressing issues of intimacy and sexuality. A surrogate partner works in collaboration with a therapist to meet the goals of their client. This triadic model is used to dually support the client: the client engages in experiential exercises and builds a relationship with their surrogate partner while processing and integrating their experiences with their therapist or clinician.
The modality in which surrogate partners work is called Surrogate Partner Therapy. This modality is used to address obstacles to physical and emotional intimacy that a client is unable to resolve through traditional therapy and requires the involvement of a partner. Clients’ presenting issues have commonly included sexual dysfunctions, lack of healthy intimate experiences, or traumatic history.
Masters and Johnson introduced the practice in their book Human Sexual Inadequacy, published in 1970. They believed that people could learn about sexual intimacy only by experiencing it. In their research, subjects that were partnered used these partners to aid in a series of exercises designed to help overcome sexual dysfunction. Unpartnered subjects were paired with "surrogates" who would take the place of a partner, working under the direction of a trained therapist and acted as a form of mentor for the client. In their research, all of the surrogates were women who were assigned to work with single men. Today, most surrogates are women, but a few are men. The practice of Surrogate Partner Therapy reached its peak in the early 1980s with a few hundred surrogate partners practicing in the U.S. Since then, Surrogate Partner Therapy's popularity declined but has recently reentered social consciousness after the 2012 film The Sessions, which depicts one surrogate partner's work with a disabled man. Currently, those practicing Surrogate Partner Therapy are still very few in number.
There are people who have experienced a change in sexual lifestyle due to an acquired disability (accident, paralysis, disease, trauma), and a surrogate can help them explore and develop sexual potential. The causes of sexual concerns are numerous and the methods a surrogate might use to help improve a client's sexual life are varied.
Since sexual problems are often psychological rather than physical, communication plays a key role in the therapeutic process between a patient and the surrogate partner, as well as between the surrogate partner and the therapist. Surrogate partners offer therapeutic exercises to help the patient. These may include, but are not limited to relaxation techniques, sensate focusing, communication, establishing healthy body image, teaching social skills, sex education, as well as sensual and some sexual touching. Surrogate partner therapy begins with a meeting between client, therapist, and surrogate partner in which the goals of the client are discussed and the scope/duration of the therapy are established. Throughout the process, communication between surrogate partner-client, client-therapist, and surrogate partner-therapist is maintained.
Some couples attend surrogate partner therapy sessions together, while some people (either single or in a couple) attend them alone. The surrogate engages in education and often intimate physical contact and/or sexual activity with clients to achieve a therapeutic goal. Some surrogates work at counseling centers, while others have their own offices.
- This Is Life with Lisa Ling dedicated an episode to "Sexual Healing" (Season 4, Episode 1).
- The 1985 documentary Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate explored the relationship between a sex surrogate (Maureen Sullivan), her clients, and her clients' therapists.
- The National Geographic show Taboo's episode "Forbidden Love" (Season 7, Episode 6, first aired 2011) featured a professional sex surrogate (Cheryl Cohen-Greene) in one of its segments.
- The Discovery Fit & Health documentary My Sex Surrogate, first aired in 2013, follows a woman and a man as they each work with a sex surrogate. The sex surrogate who worked with the man was Cheryl Cohen-Greene.
In popular culture
- The American movie The Sessions (2012) stars Helen Hunt as Cheryl, a sexual surrogate who helps polio survivor Mark (John Hawkes) lose his virginity at the age of 38, based on the true story of Mark O'Brien and Cheryl Cohen-Greene. O'Brien wrote about his experience in 1990.
- The Israeli movie Surrogate (2008) is about a female surrogate (Lana Ettinger) treating a man (Amir Wolf) who was sexually abused as a child. The film was directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer and is based on research at Dr. Ronit Aloni's clinic in Tel Aviv.
- In an episode of Anger Management, a friend of Kate (Selma Blair) is a 32-year-old virgin who is looking for her first-time sexual encounter with a man. Charlie Goodson (Charlie Sheen) decides to be her first encounter as a faux sex surrogate (not being professional or licensed), and she becomes attached to him. Later on she finds out that he (Charlie) was taking the place of a professional sex surrogate for a real one provided to her.
- My Therapist (1984) starring Marilyn Chambers
- In season 1 episode 10 of Backstrom, "Love Is a Rose and You Better Not Pick It", the S.C.U. investigates when a young female sex surrogate is found dead.
- The American movie She's Lost Control (2014), treats about the professional and personal life of a sexual surrogate.
- Masters of Sex episodes 03-07 and 03-08, TV-series based on the work of Masters and Johnson.
- Franklin & Bash: the character of Peter Bash's mother, played by Jane Seymour, is a sex surrogate.
- In the Season 3 (2006) premiere of Boston Legal, titled, "Can't We All Get a Lung?," Aspergian attorney Jerry Espenson sees sexual surrogate Joanna Monroe (Jane Lynch) at his counsel and compadre Alan Shore's (James Spader) behest.
- Freckelton, Ian (2013), "Sexual Surrogate Partner Therapy: Legal and Ethical Issues", Psychiatry, Psychology & Law, 20 (5): 643, doi:10.1080/13218719.2013.831725
- American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (February 2014). "Sexual Surrogacy Revised". Contemporary Sexuality. 41 (1).
- Zilbergeld, Bernie (1999). The New Male Sexuality. New York: Bantam Books.
- Keesling, Barbara (2006). Sexual Healing. Alameda: Hunter House Inc.
- Cohen Greene, Cheryl (2012). An Intimate Life. Berkeley: Soft Skull Press.
- International Professional Surrogates Association. "Surrogate Partner Therapy". Retrieved 13 March 2013.
- "Better-Sex Secrets from a Sex Surrogate | Women's Health Magazine". Womenshealthmag.com. 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
- "Certified Sex Surrogate Partners". Sexsurrogateofla.com. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
- "Taboo: Forbidden Love". National Geographic Channel.
- List of Anger Management episodes
- Listo, Mike (2006-09-19), Can't We All Get a Lung?, James Spader, Julie Bowen, Mark Valley, retrieved 2018-02-27
- "IPSA — International Professional Surrogates Association".
- Sex Surrogates: A Clarification of Their Functions Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D, SexQuest/The Sex Institute, NYC. Master's thesis for New York University, February 1984.