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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 sex 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.
Patients frequently present with these specific problems:
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.
The 2003 Salon.com article "I was a middle-aged virgin", by Michael Castleman, discusses a middle-aged American virgin (Roger Andrews) and his therapy with the sex surrogate Vena Blanchard.
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