'We're not prostitutes': The sex surrogates helping real life 40-year-old virgins overcome crippling inexperience with one-on-one coaching
22:31 GMT, 25 October 2012
After the recent award-winning film release of The Sessions, a true story about a sex therapist who helps a polio-crippled man experience sex before he dies, several real-life 'sex surrogates' are now opening up about their controversial profession.
Fern Arden, the founder of a private clinic close to Manhattan's Central Park West, is a sex therapist who provides treatment for psychosexual problems.
Her female staff of 'surrogate partners' give clients, mostly 40-something virgins, one-on-one coaching in 'caressing techniques, kissing, feeling relaxed with another person in the nude and, inevitably, the sex act itself,' according to the New York Post.
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The real life 40-year virgins: Sex therapists provides treatment for psychosexual problems, mostly to career-focused virgins who neglected their love lives
The film 40-year-old Virgin may have been a successful comedy of errors, however for these professionals, it is no laughing matter with overwhelming embarrassment and shyness crippling their self-esteem.
Ms Arden, who has a Ph.D from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, explained to the the paper's Jane Ridley: 'The focus is not sex, but familiarity and intimacy. We provide an
environment, not for sexual pleasure, but for sexual learning.
'People tend to be ill-informed about what a surrogate partner does. They think of it pejoratively, the same as a sex worker, but it’s not,' she added.
'Just as you have legitimate massage therapists and people who run massage parlors, there is a huge difference between them.'
The Sessions, a real-life story about the late polio sufferer Mark O’Brien and his sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene, played by Helen Hunt, aims to shed light on what is a mostly under-the-radar profession.
'You need a partner to resolve most sexual problems and for single men that is obviously an issue'
Ms Greene, now 68, who still
practices as a sex surrogate, said ten percent of her clients are
academics or career-focused virgins who failed to concentrate on their
'They’re like “Oh my God, I don’t want to come across as inexperienced.”
They finally say, “Life is too short. I’ve got to go into surrogate
Ms Greene, who
is married to a 'wonderful, supportive partner,' says she makes $50,000 a
year, charging $300 for a two-hour session. She says penetrative sex
usually happens on the sixth visit.
Ms Arden charges clients between $3,000 and
$5,000 for an average course of 12 to 15 sessions, some with herself, and some with the surrogate.
VIDEO: “The Sessions” Trailer:
Sex surrogates: After the release of The Sessions, a film about a sex therapist (played by helen Hunt) helping a polio-crippled man experience sex before he dies, real-life 'surrogates' are opening up about their profession
One-on-one coaching: Sex surrogates help with caressing techniques, kissing, feeling relaxed with another person while naked with sex itself
Today there are 30 sex surrogates registered in the U.S. under the International Professional Surrogates Association. Surrogates must complete a two-week training program with the society to become registered, and they mus also work for a licensed sex therapist.
Not everyone is convinced of the practice's legality, or ethics, however.
Derrelle Janey, a defense attorney at the Manhattan law firm Gottleib and Gordon, believes a sex surrogate is much the same as professional prostitution.
He said: 'It doesn’t matter if the client is disabled, it doesn’t matter if he is suffering from some kind of emotional distress – that just makes it kind of sad. They have agreed to pay money for a sexual experience, and everyone understands that’s the transaction. In my view, that’s prostitution.'
Based on a true story: The Sessions, about late polio sufferer Mark O'Brien and his sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene, aims to shed light on the profession
However Ms Arden, who founded the Abel 2 Counseling Center 22 years ago, and is not a member of the International Professional Surrogates Association, insists it is purely a public service.
Ms Arden’s staff have 'college degrees' and are 'professionally trained clinicians' who report to her after each session, with take place in the center's offices, she says.
'You would typically need a partner to resolve most sexual problems and for single men that is obviously an issue. Most of the men who come to my center are sexually inexperienced, so
the surrogate program allows them to progress with their treatment.'
She continued: 'People have this perception of a sex surrogate as: “Oh wow, I am going to have a sexual teacher and we’re going to have hot sex!” but it’s not that way at all.
'The sessions with the surrogate evolve gradually. It’s a very gradual, sensual process of getting used to holding hands, caressing and kissing.
'[The clients] could come into treatment for several visits before they even take their clothes off.'
Ms Greene agreed, saying: 'I look at our work like this: If you go to a prostitute, it’s like going to a restaurant. You read the menu, you choose what you want, they prepare, they hope that you love it, and hopefully you want to come back.
'With a surrogate, it’s like going to cooking school. You get the ingredients, you learn to make a meal together – and then the point is to go out into the world and share that and not come back.'
Ms Arden’s 'surrogate partners' are required to be tested for STDs at least once every two months, as are the clients.
Sarah, one of the center's surrogates whose background is in sexual psychology and social work, said: 'I usually begin sessions by working on eye contact and the way they hold their bodies.
'We use massage and touch therapy, so the client can learn to be in the moment, be comfortable with their bodies and become aware of the sensations.
'We take a mind-and-body approach and slowly remove anxiety out of the equation.'
She would not comment on whether she had penetrative sex with her clients, however.