In search of a sex surrogate

Is sex surrogacy a legit approach to therapy? This week, Sasha offers a guy looking to gain some experience some tips on finding the help he needs.

Dear Sasha,
I’ve been working with a sex therapist to address a problem I’m having, and unfortunately we’ve hit a wall, as I don’t have a girlfriend or wife. Do you know if there are any sex surrogates working in Toronto? He does not know of any and suggested asking you.

Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it.

—Inexperienced

Dear Inexperienced,

Sex surrogacy has been in THE NEWS lately due to the film released last year called The Sessions. I haven’t seen it yet, but the trailer looks really cute. Isn’t it always so cute — actually, more like heartwarming, really — when someone with a chronic physical disability finally gets laid? And even more so when they’re given the blessing of a scruffy and amused clergyman, someone who ordinarily wouldn’t condone premarital adventures? I love when we can all learn a lesson about sexuality, disability and religious tolerance all in under two hours.

I understand that The Sessions is based on a true story, but it says a lot that the first Hollywood film that introduces the concept of sex surrogacy to the mainstream does so using the International Client Sanctioned to See Sex Workers and Surrogates Because They Are Deemed Unfuckable clause. The CBC recently featured a documentary on Rachel Wotton, an Australian sex worker “impassioned about freedom of sexual expression” who “specializes in a long overlooked clientele — people with disabilities. Working in New South Wales — where prostitution is legal — Rachel’s philosophy is that human touch and sexual intimacy can be the most therapeutic aspects to our existence. Indeed, she is making a dramatic impact on the lives of her customers, many of whom are confined to wheelchairs or cannot speak or move unaided.”

Given the history at the CBC of bias towards victim narrative reporting (just go to their website and look for some of the shows that feature the topic, especially those that deal with clients), this again says that sex work and surrogacy are only acceptable if the person accessing the service is perceived as wretched by the dominant culture. A veritable intersection of offensiveness, really, despite the fact that Wotton is an amazing worker and activist.

And YES, I KNOW I’m going off the rails about sex work again. And don’t worry, the very MINUTE it is decriminalized in Canada, I will shut up for good. In fact, let’s make a deal: I will quit my column when sex work is adequately decriminalized. There, it’s done. I’ve been looking for a proper quitting date. I’ve had this goddamn thing longer than I lived at home, for crying out loud.

Now, Inexperienced, let’s get back to your concern. No, there are no authorized sex surrogates in Toronto in the same way there are in the States. Therapist Jodee McCaw weighs in: “I don’t think that that is going to come from therapists recognizing that there’s this important need, and working to solve that. My take is that one day a group of savvy sex workers (some of whom have studied psych or counseling or social work and some of whom are doing some of that work) will reach some kind of critical mass where they realize that a lot of what they do actually is sex surrogacy, and that if they organize and formalize that, it would be really helpful for everyone involved, the workers and clients both. And the floodgates will open. I think a lot of people would really benefit, and that there’s this huge, unmet need.”

The way it works in the States is that you, your therapist and your surrogate work as a triad. Your therapist communicates with your surrogate and informs them of the issues you face and what needs resolving. You all work to make this better together. In Canada, therapists don’t have the same access to surrogates. If they did research and chose an appropriate sex worker on your behalf and communicated with them, they might certainly be charged with pimping, and no doubt they would also raise a few eyebrows in their professional community.

But since sex work does remains legal under certain parameters in Canada (if a worker visits you at home and you select her directly), my best suggestion is that you look for a sex worker who seems to offer services that speak to your needs. Ask your therapist what kinds of treatments are required of a surrogate and bring them to a sex worker.

There are many sex workers who would, to some extent, qualify as adequate surrogates. Many have taken massage and bodywork courses and also have post-secondary degrees in psychology, social justice and social work. They may not have all the legitimate qualifications of someone like, say, Vena Blanchard, but they are experienced with overcoming sexual dissatisfaction and often have extended professional relationships with clients.

If this sex worker would be willing to work with you this way, part of your session with them could be going through any exercises your therapist provides. My only real concern about this relationship is that surrogates receive some training in “detaching” from the client, and a sex worker might not be so invested in walking you through the end.

McCaw comments: “One of the things that I think helps the most with this is, both people have a clear idea of what is going on and what can be accomplished, and the limits of that. So that’s where frameworks and language and knowing about what works and what doesn’t and what other workers do all help tremendously. And about celebrating what it is, more than grieving what it is not.”

You might find the language used by people in open relationships helpful when it comes to nontraditional exchanges. Have a look at Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up. ■

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