Should You See “The Sessions” Film about a Sex Surrogate?

Yes, but not without reading this blog, as well as my story “Jungle of the Heart” posted at Red Room (“where the writers are”.)  My post is on the front page until October  21; see below for how to access it later. And here’s a taste of what’ll you find…

This week “The Sessions” opens in theatres nationwide.  It dramatizes a true story in which a surrogate partner works with a severely disabled client.  It features well-known actors Helen Hunt, John Hawkes and William H. Macy in what some critics have described as Oscar-worthy performances.  It’s a touching film about the limited options that people with disabilities may have for loving themselves, finding an intimate relationship, and exploring the boundaries of their sexuality – something most of us take for granted.  Plus Helen Hunt gets naked; who minds that?  (Incidentally, is it me, or does her body not look that different from a certain Princess I blogged about recently, who is almost 20 years her junior?  Just sayin’.)

Be aware that, as in other professions, there are different philosophies about how to approach this work.  Not all surrogates work like Cheryl, the real-life person that Helen plays.  Some take issue with the fact that she asks the client to get naked in the first session.  For many people with disabilities – whether physical, emotional or social – that would be too much too soon, before the couple has had a chance to build intimacy.  And in this story, Cheryl/Helen and her client have only six of “the sessions.”  It might be appealing to someone to hear that s/he can be ‘cured’ in only six meetings.  But the reality is that usually it took time for a person to close down sexually; it can also take time to open up.  Twelve sessions plus would be more typical.  (And yes, there are male surrogates for female clients, as well as gay and lesbian partners.)

Some also feel that the film focuses too much on the sexual connection between the surrogate and client.  In fact, the very term “sex surrogate” (the one used most often in popular media) is inaccurate.  Dr. Vena Blanchard, a therapist who works with surrogate partners and President of the International Professional Surrogates Association  (IPSA) based in Los Angeles, says, “Back in 1970, researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson reported great success for single clients in sex therapy who worked with ‘partner surrogates’.  Someone shortened ‘sex therapy partner surrogate’ to ‘sex surrogate,’ … but (the term) is now just an outdated misnomer. The correct term is Surrogate Partner (or Professional Surrogate Partner).”

I used the term sex surrogate in my title only because I know that’s what many people may search on.  But the truth is, the work is more about partnering than it is about sex.  Check out the websites for Dr. Blanchard and IPSA, and more about the film under “IPSA News”.

So on to my story (which, by the way, did I mention is called “Jungle of the Heart” and is featured on the front page of www.redroom.com? :))  This too is just one story about one surrogate partner and one client.  It’s not meant to be representative of every such experience.  But some think it may be more reflective of a typical surrogate/client relationship.  Rather than brag myself, I’ll just share what a few others have said about it. (Does that count as bragging?  Oh well!)

Red Room describes it as “a moving story” that “depicts the complexities.”  The editor wrote to me, “To be honest, we don’t often feature stories, but I’m happy that we’re doing so for yours.”

One surrogate partner called it “Hot, honest, raw and real.”

Dr. Blanchard wrote on facebook, “An exquisitely personal story about surrogate partner therapy, by a fabulous author.”

Award-winning author Susan Tweit posted the link to facebook and called me “an incredibly courageous and insightful writer.”

Author/editor/teacher Victoria Zackheim encouraged me to submit it to Red Room in the first place.

And a cousin wrote, “I am knocked out by the raw power of it.”  (OK, my cousin you can take with a grain of salt.)

All this just happened this past Sunday on my birthday weekend, so I must say I haven’t had this much fun since … well, since I went dancing Saturday night!  (And it’s hard to say which I like better – getting published or being called “hot”!)

But see the film, read the story.  (After October 21 it can be found at Red Room under my name.)  Visit the websites linked here.  Call these unique professionals surrogate partners, please.  And don’t pre-judge them until you know more about the powerful, healing work they do.

(In Licking the Spoon, my book in progress about food, sex and relationship, I discuss some of the sexual problems that would be appropriate for surrogate partner therapy.)

22 thoughts on “Should You See “The Sessions” Film about a Sex Surrogate?

  1. I read your story on redroom and WOW! People just don’t know what surrogate therapy is! I myself thought it was kind of a front for prostitution…or something. I was amazed at how such a young man can already be so messed up; the ability of the surrogate to be so generous with herself and really open to her client; the skill of therapist in keeping everyone on track. It’s a beautiful thing. Now I want to know how that story ended! And I guess I’ll go see the movie, too. Thanks for an instructive and moving experience.

  2. I enjoyed reading this blog since I did my presentation on sex surrogates, and I find this topic really interesting. 🙂

  3. I don’t know much about sex surrogate workers, but I this movie sounds like a good representation of what they do. I think I’ll check it out, it sounds interesting.

    • I’d say it’s mixed, Eric. It’s a very poignant, human movie. But for example it shows the surrogate getting undressed right away. That wouldn’t happen! There would normally be at least 6-7 dressed sensate focus sessions before any nudity, so the couple can build the relationship. So keep that in mind.

  4. One of the movies you showed in class about sexual surrogates (for those with disabilities) was really thought provoking. For whatever reason, sex is totally a taboo subject in our society.

    • And it’s interesting too that some can approve surrogate partners for disabled people, but have trouble imagining that people can have many kinds of disabilities – some not visible. I think it takes courage to face one’s problems and work with a surrogate partner if that’s what’s called for. A very successful therapy.

  5. I read your article Jungle of the Heart. This title cannot be better suited to your story. When I read it I was anxiously on the edge of my seat as I continued to read and thought about how your heart was on the line. And how in your pursuit to help another person, you were risking your heart. I’m glad that this experience ended with a hopeful outlook.

    This article was a great eye opener to the risks that these professionals take in order to better the lives of others. I overall liked the honesty in the article about the conflicting feelings of professionalism and of possibly being in love.

    From one fellow writer to another congratulations on being published! 🙂

    • Thank you, and especially for appreciating the special professionalism of surrogate partners. Too often they are viewed as ‘prostitutes’ who just get people off. Nothing could be further from the truth. To really heal someone, the surrogate has to open to a ‘real’ relationship with the person, and of course the person has to open as well. Sometimes the therapy doesn’t work, usually because the client can’t do it (because the surrogate is trained to do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!) I must admit I loved having this story appear on the front page of Red Room, along with Maya Angelou, Jon Stewart and Barack Obama! What great company to find myself in!

  6. After reading this it made me want to watch the film even more, too bad I was unable to find it anywhere. 😦 but I am glad there are people out there trying to help people with disabilities to have a normal sexual life. They deserve it.

  7. I actually saw the movie “the sessions” and I thought it was a good film. However, I do admit there are some major flaws. I don’t understand why professional surrogate partners are so easily and badly judged, if anything I believe that they are doing a great thing for those in need of their assistance. That being said I definitely think that the film you showed in class helped inform me or to have at least some prior knowledge about this type of service which benefited me while watching the movie.

    • I know the person the film was made about, and the help and genuine caring she expresses to her clients are very real. I didn’t like the way she had them get undressed at the first session. It usually goes slowly so the client doesn’t get freaked out. It builds a relationship the client can feel safe to explore within.

  8. I saw the film “The Sessions” and I believe that it is a great film but I am unsure as to if the surrogate partner usually ends up having feelings for the person they are trying to help or what. I thought the movie was funny and probably not as professional as most real scenarios but I believe the part where a surrogate partner helps another person to explore their sexuality and ultimately helps the individual.

    • The surrogate partner usually ends up having feelings for the person, but is professional and knows the relationship must end. But if you think about it, most relationships end. Those end with proper closure, affection and good wishes, instead of anger like a lot of ‘real’ relationships. The part about them helping someone who is ‘stuck’ is very real, and very moving.

  9. I saw the film and thought it was a generally good film. I’ve read a few articles criticizing surrogate partners and I believe they shouldn’t be be compared to prostitutes at all.

  10. I like that the correct term is surrogate partner–“sex surrogate” makes me think of just an upscale prostitute, not that it’s a bad thing. Just misconstrued in my brain due to word associations

  11. I remember you talking about this film in class and i couldn’t remember the title. It seemed like a very interesting movie and I am excited to watch it! As I was reading your blog posts, I scrolled along this post and now I am definitely going to watch this film since i finally know the title! Thank you 😊

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