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.)