The Professional Debate
Sex therapists have argued for decades over whether or not sex surrogates are helpful in therapy. Here, two top psychologists lend their expert opinions.
"In the eyes of the law, sex surrogates are prostitutes."
Pamela Supple, sex-and-relationship therapist from Sydney says -
"It's just not accepted for sex therapists to use surrogates. There are very few who do. Any sexual issue can be treated by talking and working through psychological exercise - there's no need to get undressed. As well as physical dangers, there is a risk of the patient becoming psychologically attached - and falling in love with their surrogate - which could harm them in their vulnerable state."
In the free lovin' 1960s, gynaecologist Dr William Masters and psychologist Virginia Johnson pioneered modern sex therapy. Following physical checks that ensured patients' sex issues were psychological, Masters and Johnson would assign couples exercises in giving and receiving sensual pleasure, which would help them overcome sexual anxieties. The homework didn't always involve intercourse - couples might be told to spend time holding hands or touching - developing intimacy was the ultimate goal. However, trouble arose when solo patients came to Masters and Johnson with sexual issues, but no study buddy to do their assignments with.
The solution? Surrogate sex partners, defined as "professional substitutes trained to help sex therapy patients overcome inhibitions". Sex surrogate therapy has been a controversial practice since its inception and has been available here for several decades - though not always openly. Jess* works as a surrogate in conjunction with a sex therapist in Melbourne, and agreed to speak to CLEO about what her job involves:
"I've studied psychology subjects and massage therapy, but it was during a Tantra class that I was introduced to surrogacy. One of my male classmates worked as a surrogate for a therapist, so that's how I found out about it.
We work on a three-person model: patient, therapist and surrogate (though we're never all in the same room at the same time). The therapist works on the patient's psychological issues, briefs me, I have an appointment with the patient, and then I write a detailed report for the therapist to discuss in their session. I usually start by sitting down and having a chat with the patient, followed by a hug, because it's relaxing to have that body contact (most people are just so anxious). Then we move on to tantric breathing exercises, and lots of touching and holding. I've only had intercourse with about half my patients; intimacy, not orgasm, is the goal.
My patients come in with a wide range of issues: traumatic sexual pasts; erectile dysfunction; body-image issues; and physical disabilities that make sex difficult. One of my patients is a 30-year-old virgin who was never touched by either of his parents, except in violence. He was seeing another surrogate before me, and he became quite distraught when she moved overseas. We started working together, and the therapist made him realise that people come and go in relationships; that's just what life's like, so it was actually good for him to experience that. Sometimes, patients make joking little comments when they start dating, like, 'Don't get jealous!'. I reiterate to them that the whole point of our sessions is for them to develop healthy sexual relationships out in the world. It's what I want to hear.
So far, the therapist has matched me really well with patients, but it'd be hard if I was ever repulsed by someone's energy. However, I'd speak up [to the therapist] and we'd resolve it.
When I tell people what I do, some of them think I'm a prostitute, but the difference is huge: Firstly, if a man just wanted to have sex, why would he pay so much [$600 per session for 90 minutes] to talk through his issues and potentially just hold hands for an hour? He could visit a sex worker for a lot less than that. Secondly, prostitution is about physical release, while surrogacy is teaching somebody how to be intimate.
In my personal life, I don't have one specific partner at the moment. I have a couple of people who I see and they're open to the work that I do. I'm passionate about my job because I see people's lives change - they feel more free and happy inside. Yes, the money is good, but it's not a driving force. The main thing that motivates me is helping people to have more successful relationships."
"Sex surrogates teach people how to have healthy intimacy." Dr Brian Hickman, sex therapist and psychologist from Melbourne
"Women are generally able to work through sexual issues verbally, but most men aren't very good talkers. Guys learn best with a hands-on approach, strong feedback, and authentic communication. Sex surrogates don't have intercourse in every session, that's not the point of it; the goal is to open a man up to intimacy. I've had patients say to me, 'I've slept with hundreds of girls, but two hours holding hands with this woman was the most intimate i've ever been.' Our surrogates and clients are regularly STI-tested, safe sex is practiced, and i assess whether a patient is too emotionally vulnerable for the treatment. We have checks in place to keep everyone safe."
*Name has been changed.