Sex Surrogacy. Who knew?

When the folks promoting this DVD, a re-release, got in touch, I couldn’t resist taking a look at their film: Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate. It was originally released in 1985 and directed by Kirby Dick, the same guy who did This Film is Not Yet Rated.
It’s about what it sounds like–turns out that there is a field within sex therapy, in which trained practitioners try to help their clients get over sexual anxiety and disorders by literally having sex with them. The film follows one of these therapists, Maureen Sullivan, as she rehabs two very different men, 25-year-old Kipper, a virgin grad student, and 45-year-old John, a newly divorced fella with a lot of insecurity to battle.
I felt so torn while watching this highly provocative film. On the one hand, I can understand why this form of therapy exists. Americans are so hung up on sex, but rarely deal with it in a straight-forward open way. This approach feels very European–it’s sex, so what, get over it.
On the other hand, it all felt rather creepy too. Sullivan creates real relationships with her clients, as do all good therapists, but I wonder how much their experiences with her actually translate into the real world. She has to have sex with them, after all. She has to pretend that she enjoyed it and enjoys being around them. The real world is a far messier place, where your sexual partner has his or her own nexus of desires, anxieties, and moods to contend with. Sullivan is like a blank slate sexual partner. I hope these guys don’t go out after their experiences with her expecting other women to be as singularly focused or servile (I mean, she is being paid).
And apparently this practice is very much alive and well. I uncovered a 2003 article in New York Magazine on sex surrogacy and lots of websites offering it up. Anyone else know any good feminist analysis on this phenomena?
If you want a dose of super 80s fashion inspiration and a glimpse into a thought-provoking and bizarre subculture, check it out on Netflix.

Join the Conversation