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Surrogates can be sexual healers
Helen Hunt and John Hawkes star as a surrogate partner and her client in "The Surrogate."
February 17th, 2012
11:40 AM ET

Surrogates can be sexual healers

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex weekly on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

A provocative movie premiered recently at  the Sundance Film Festival that caught the attention of audiences and critics as well as sexuality professionals such as myself.

The Surrogate” chronicles the true story of a relationship between a surrogate partner (played by Helen Hunt) and her client (John Hawkes), a poet who is stricken with polio and seeks to lose his virginity before he dies.

When we hear the term “surrogate,” most of us probably think of a surrogate mother, who carries and delivers a baby for another couple or person who cannot. Yet surrogate partners (sometimes called sexual surrogates) have been around for years, providing a potentially valuable, though oft-debated, service to clients who wish to increase their sexual, physical and emotional experiences.

Surrogate partners gained attention in the 1960s when William Masters and Virginia Johnson (also known as Masters and Johnson) began training surrogates at their research institute.

These days, surrogate partners are typically trained by the International Professional Surrogates Association in Los Angeles, the main surrogacy organization. Clients are referred to surrogate partners by their therapists or other mental health professionals.

So just who sees a surrogate partner? The short answer is: anyone who wants to improve his or her sexual intimacy skills or, more likely, overcome a daunting sexual problem.

Surrogates, who can be male or female, see a wide variety of clients. Some people may use a surrogate partner because they are sexually inexperienced and want to gain skills before sleeping with a romantic partner.

A man may seek a female surrogate to help him deal with issues such as erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. Likewise, a woman might seek a male surrogate for assistance working through issues such as painful sex or difficulty reaching orgasm with a partner.

Surrogates also work with people coping with the infirmities of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, quadriplegia and other physically challenging conditions - as was the case with the real-life woman upon whom “The Surrogate” is based.

Watch: A look into the work of a sex surrogate

But surrogate partners don’t just have sex with their clients. In fact, some never engage in intercourse at all, instead focusing on other intimate activities including kissing, touching, cuddling and answering the client’s questions about sex.

The goal is to provide a safe, comfortable atmosphere for clients to explore sexual issues without judgment or fear, and with a professional who is able to go beyond talk therapy and into the hands-on realm of intimacy-interaction.

And like a therapist/patient relationship, the question of whether a surrogate partner is sexually attractive to the client is not part of the equation.

Many sex therapists would prefer that their clients work through their sexual issues themselves - using their romantic partners as they would a surrogate partner, if you will.

“I always tell my patients that I cannot really know how a person works to say whether they are physically healthy or psychologically appropriate and sensitive to a person's needs," says sex therapist Madeleine Castellanos, author of the "Good in Bed Guide to Male Sexual Issues."

"Because of this (and the legalities of surrogacy in New York and other states) I do not recommend or encourage my patients to do this. I always prefer that individuals work out their issues with their partner.”

One of the main issues with sexual surrogacy is that it remains highly unregulated. The International Professional Surrogates Association does have its own code of ethics, but that only matters if a surrogate partner is trained by and aligns him or herself with this organization. Better regulation could add more legitimacy to what is already an important, but often misunderstood, profession.

You're probably asking - how is this different from prostitution? A professional, empathetic surrogate partner is light-years away from a prostitute (the services of which, in addition to being illegal outside of Nevada, often amplify rather than mitigate a sexual issue). But while sexual surrogacy is not prostitution, the legality is somewhat fuzzy, and therefore polarizing in clinical and medical circles.

Sexual surrogacy is not a contract for sex. On its website, the International Professional Surrogates Association addresses the issue of legality thus: “The legal status of surrogate partners is undefined in most of the United States and most countries around the world. This means that there are generally no laws regulating the profession.”

Even if a person is interested in retaining the services of a surrogate partner, finding a surrogate may not be easy. While the profession hit the ground running during the sexual revolution of the 1970s, today locating a surrogate partner is nothing like locating, say, a dentist, or even a sex therapist. At its peak, the association had 200 to 300 members in the United States but now has about 50.

Even if you do reside in a community with access to a surrogate (or can travel to meet one), you may face challenges: Many traditional therapists aren’t comfortable discussing sexual issues with their clients in the first place, and may be further reluctant to recommend a surrogate.

Perhaps with the release of the movie, more people will become aware of the value these partners provide and the potential role they can play as sexual healers.

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Filed under: Relationships • Sex

soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    The editorial staff at CNN must have had fun with this one. Why every time I hit Vegas there are hundreds of these 'surrogates' just walkin' the streets. And all along, I just thought of them as wh*res.

    February 17, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hb

      Is it difficult to function in everyday life when you are that ignorant? I guess stupidity and classlessness knows no bounds.

      February 18, 2012 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
    • illustrator

      so is that what they call STD's these days "surrogates?"

      February 19, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • patricia

      Forgive Tony, when his mom said she was going to pick up a side job – he had hoped it was closer to Rocket Scientist extraordinaire.

      February 21, 2012 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
    • Tina

      sorry... I had to laugh reading this article... you are right – Vegas is surrogate heaven! I guess we have a new name for them now.

      March 1, 2012 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • melvinslizard

      The difference? Insurance pays for a surrogate 😉

      March 15, 2012 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • Adrienne

      I would suggest you seek out more information about this very valuable and ETHICAL process, which it is when addressed
      Properly through IPSA. You might need professional help one day, and this is the proper way. The 'surrogates' you refer
      to walking the streets are certainly advertising their services. You will never be able to find a Professional Surrogate Partner
      that advertises. You would have to see a Therapist to be referred,

      October 31, 2012 at 11:07 | Report abuse |
  2. Teri

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    February 17, 2012 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Newt Gingrich

    If any of you ladies need a surrogate, I am available to meet your needs.

    February 18, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ThePreacherTheTeacher

      yuck

      February 28, 2012 at 19:47 | Report abuse |
    • Tina

      LOL! good one!

      March 1, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse |
  4. ?.

    Not sure. I have those conversations on bike rides sometimes. They seem like bicycling conversations to me. I have a disabled friend that really struggles with the whole concept. He seems to think he is missing out on life. I can't say whether this would help or not. Seems like it would be better if he found someone that loves him the way he wants to be loved, and vice versa. but he doesn't seem to do well in that. he sees his sibs getting married. seems to cause him a lot of grief in life. a lot of people talk about it actually. seems like they feel like they are missing a lot. fundamentally people want to be loved. if that's love. i haven't figured that out yet. sex isn't necessarily love. could be violence. i'm not sure where in the spectrum this fits for me. talking about it is one thing...but actually having sex with someone is different. its more about protecting your own body and other people's bodies. and their mind. might be more of a mind, body and soul thing. protecting all of those...for everyone involved in that (like if you have kids and you are getting yourself into relationships that would mess up your kids...that has issues). and we have the love laws to contend with. who can love who and how much. it is hard to listen to people that are obviously suffering in life because they don't feel loved, but i don't see how this would help that exactly. they have viagra for some of those things. does viagra work for paraplegics or quads? not sure. someone asked me that once...a paraplegic guy. i don't know the answer to that.

    February 18, 2012 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ?.

      heart, mind, body, and soul. maybe people can have sex and not get involved in it. dunno. not for me. i guess rapists do. so its possible.

      February 18, 2012 at 09:22 | Report abuse |
    • ImpishLisa

      Everyone making snarky remarks, shame on you. What if you had problems and felt isolated and lonely, or were unable to connect with people due to issues?These aren't prosties, these are people trained to handle the emotional side, as well as the physical. Why are we so judgmental about others just wanting happiness? Does it really matter in this day and age if someone pays for companionship or to work through things? I applaud these people that do this. Then again, I applaud professional prosties, too, because they skip the hypocrisy of dinner/date stuff and get what they want out of it, which usually costs less than the guy has to spend on Polly Prissy and her prudish expectations that thinks her whoo-whoo is unique,special and the key to heaven. *rolls eyes* Grow up people. Life is short.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
    • patricia

      My friend is a para and he has two beautiful children and without going into detail, assured me though he was not consciously stimulated he and his wife have a healthy and affectionate sexual relationship

      February 21, 2012 at 10:05 | Report abuse |
  5. illustrator

    I can just see this now in a divorce court...."He told me he had to go out and look for surrogates to make our marriage stronger!"

    February 19, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joel

      second that!

      March 1, 2012 at 18:04 | Report abuse |
    • Adrienne

      We as Professional Surrogates do not work with married couples. Read the article.

      October 31, 2012 at 11:09 | Report abuse |
  6. KnowsMore123

    just die a virgin if you cant get laid. so what?

    February 19, 2012 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • saxophone31

      KnowsMore123, what's so wrong with someone wanting to experience the many joys of sex before they die? If they're going through a lot with their disability/illness, it can give them something happy in their lives.

      February 25, 2012 at 01:10 | Report abuse |
  7. Virgin

    Being a virgin in america is a painful life. It's a hopeless journey.

    February 20, 2012 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Bananarchy

    I don't see a problem with it, if it's two consenting adults and it makes them happy, so be it.

    February 21, 2012 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tina

      Sure – but lets be realistic – if you pay for services, there is a name for it. And it is not 'sexual healer'.
      According to this, everyone in the 'oldest profession in the world', is a 'healer'. In fact, I am sure they will listen to your whining for a good hourly rate and you may get lucky too!

      March 1, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse |
  9. Isaiah Cousineau

    This article is trash. & I wish it was never typed up. Didn't even read it all, sickening.

    February 21, 2012 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ThePreacherTheTeacher

      Tell the truth. You probably jacked to it.

      February 28, 2012 at 19:53 | Report abuse |
  10. Tom, Long Beach, California

    in most cases, would cause more problems than it solves

    February 21, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. patricia

    Tom, you are so right, soon people would want their own religions, maybe to experiment with same sex relationships or consider living their lives free of others telling them how to think, feel or express themselves! The world would go to Hell! Go kick a puppy and cheer up.

    February 22, 2012 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bnode

    For all you judgmental prudes out there.
    What gives you the right to criticize what two consenting adults do privately?
    How does it affect your life?
    Mind your own business.

    February 22, 2012 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Navin Johnson

    Umm..where do I sign up to be a surrogate?

    February 25, 2012 at 04:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. ThePreacherTheTeacher

    None of anybody else's business, what consenting adults do is.

    February 28, 2012 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Tina

    Oh, yes – 'sexual healers' – how can I be so stupid...

    March 1, 2012 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ben

      Did you even bother to read the article?

      March 1, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse |
  16. Heywood Jablowme

    Hung like a mule

    March 4, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jim in Colorado

    There is nothing that I want more in my life than to have sexual intimacy on a regular basis....and nothing that I have been less successful at achieving in my life than sexual intimacy. I am a soon to be 53 year old single male born with a cleft lip and palate. I am not a handsome man by any stretch of the imagination. And it's not easy for me to even make the acquaintance of members of the opposite sex no matter what venue or situation I happen to be in. Women are extremely shallow.....and making it beyond a very short conversation to the level of a sexual intimacy is not even something that I think about because it just never happens. Those of you who are fortunate to have a decent s3x life should be grateful. But for those of us who would like nothing more than to have any sort of s3x life....it's devistating beyond anything you could possibly imagine. I have gone decades without even a hug....much less intimacy of any kind. There are those here who don't seem to be interested in intimacy....and to those people I say....to each his/her own. I do have to wonder if those without interest in sexual intimacy have actually had a decent sexual experience before. The few intimate experiences I have had are among some of the most enjoyable physical experiences I have ever had in my life. And it's those experiences of physical closeness that I would like to have on a semi-regular basis. I don't think it's healthy either physically or mentally to go without s3x. I would love to have a surrogate....but even moreso I would love to have something a lilttle more regular....and a little less costly to count on. Dating....and getting to know someone costs money....I am aware of that....but when you can't even get a date....there isn't much chance of having any sexual intimacy whatsoever!

    March 6, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      Good for you man. Thanks for speaking out.

      October 11, 2012 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
  18. Miriam

    Such closed minded people, what is wrong with someone wanting to experience intimacy. Most people should feel blessed that they don't have a serious physical disability where they "seem unattractive" to the masses. What about young men/women who know they only have a short time to live on this earth. If they have intimacy issues or can't find a partner I don't see why they shouldn't pay to see a surrogate. I thank my lucky stars every day that I have a great relationship with my husband but I sincerely empathize with those who struggle.

    March 15, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Adrienne

    Anyone who would like more information...go to surrogatetherapy.org. This is the legitimate site for IPSA. Some of you
    that are judging might want to take a second look at your own lives.

    October 31, 2012 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • missy

      Well said Adrienne!

      September 18, 2013 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
  20. SoullessTechnocrat

    This is just another reason for the argument for Omnicide. There wouldn't be any useless people, forever-alone virgins, or mockery in a world with no life. The only solution, is a permanent solutuion.

    September 17, 2014 at 06:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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