The clandestine world of the sex surrogate
By Diane Cooke
Sex surrogates are people specifically trained to help others work on issues of sex and sexuality, according to The Sex MD.
Their activities can range from touching and holding exercises to different sexual activities with the goal of helping their clients work through any difficulties.
Many people assume that it is just paying for a sexual partner, but there is so much more that goes into sex surrogacy. In fact, many surrogates never even have sexual intercourse with their clients, instead having therapeutic effect with just conversation, touching and holding, and emotional connection.
As you can imagine, sex surrogacy is not without controversy. Most states in the US consider it tantamount to prostitution and therefore have not legalised the practice. The IPSA (International Professional Surrogates' Association) is currently the only place in the US where surrogates can be trained and certified.
Conceptually, the idea of a sex surrogate helps solve multiple problems – dealing with anxiety in the moment and the experience of a knowledgeable and encouraging partner who is not judgmental or gives destructive criticism.
Surrogacy’s origins are legitimate. The concept was developed in the fifties by the pioneering American sex researchers Dr William Masters, a gynaecologist, and Virginia Johnson, a psychologist, during tests of their landmark programme for treating sexual dysfunction.
Over 11 years they worked with nearly 600 people to treat sexual problems. Unimpressed by old-style, Freudian talking therapies, Masters and Johnson believed that only practice could make perfect. The pair assigned couples physical “homework” to work through together.
Single male patients presented more of a challenge, so they recruited 54 women “surrogates” to help them. Previous success rates for sexual dysfunction had been very low. In contrast, Masters and Johnson’s two-week, “hands-on” programme was proved to be 80 per cent effective over five years, and 75 per cent effective when surrogates were used.
But even in the free-love era, surrogacy was viewed with suspicion. In 1970 the couple regretfully ended the practice when they were sued by a man who claimed his wife was working as a surrogate. The result, Masters said later, was a complete reversal of previous success rates with single, impotent men, with 75 per cent of therapy now failing.
Surrogacy is still a clandestine world. Since the advent of Aids, the field has become increasingly niche, with only a handful of practitioners in both the US (where prostitution is largely illegal and surrogates are frightened of possible repercussions) and the UK (where prostitution is legal but cannot be advertised).
Only in Israel is surrogacy remotely mainstream. In 1984, the Chief Rabbinate approved it as a form of therapy, and it is especially used to help rehabilitate army veterans. “Having a family is central to Judaism and the Rabbinate understood that there are so many late-virgin single people who were never able to date or create a relationship with the help of talk therapy alone. They need the experiential component in order to overcome their problems and fears,” says Shai Rotem, an Israeli male surrogate, who practises in both the UK and the US.