Behavior

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘surrogate’ is not a four-letter word

SANDRA PEREDO January 24 1977
Behavior

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘surrogate’ is not a four-letter word

SANDRA PEREDO January 24 1977

Contrary to popular opinion, ‘surrogate’ is not a four-letter word

Behavior

The “library” at the Centre for Social and Sensory Learning in Los Angeles specializes in books relating to one broad topic: The New Sexuality, Total Orgasm. Acts Of Love. It also contains plastic squeeze bottles of “oil for sensual massage.” a vibrator, and a queen-sized bed piled with fuzzy-feel pillows. What goes on in this room is certainly more than reading, but as therapists in Canada and the United States are currently debating, is it also more than sex? The centre is one of 12 California clinics employing surrogates—professionally trained partners who guide clients through a personalized maze of sexual hang-ups. Says director Barbara Roberts, a clinical social worker who founded the centre three years ago: “Sex is the least of it. We’re not teaching techniques. We’re teaching people to get in touch with their own responses, to be able to say ‘Hey, that feels good.’ The techniques are merely tools to get at a person’s feelings about being close with another human being. Then he can generalize—utilize what he learns with partners he chooses himself.”

The crux of the present debate is whether—in fact—that happens. Can clients (in California only medical doctors may legally have patients, others have clients) generalize after therapy? Some sexologists feel that many may use surrogates as they would prostitutes, without ever learning to face up to intimacy or involvement in the real world. Last fall. Toronto psychiatrist Frank Sommers—exploring better ways of treating single patients with sex problems—went to California to talk to practising sexologists. “It’s the old story of a doctor looking at a clinical situation and being frustrated in knowing how to deal most effectively with it.” says Sommers. “Many of my patients were suffering, not even going out anymore because they feared it would lead to sex and they’d fail again. You’d be surprised at how many 30and 40-year-old virgins there are.”

A typical sex surrogate course consists of getting to know each other in weekly twohour sessions over 10 to 15 weeks. (It can also be done “intensive”—daily for two weeks.) Sessions are usually in the nude. However only the last few involve actual sexual—as opposed to purely tactile—contact. Both surrogate and client report to the therapist on what went on at their meeting. Masters and Johnson, who first publicized surrogate therapy in the Sixties, claimed a 75% success rate for at least five years for impotence and both premature and retarded ejaculation. But in 1970 they

stopped using surrogates—partly because of a lawsuit by the husband of an alleged surrogate. Other sexologists took it up. but too little time has elapsed for long-term follow-up. In any case, clients—who now include women being treated for “frigidity,” inability to have orgasm or even to allow penetration—don’t really want to be followed up, and don’t come back to say how they’re doing. Sometimes the only indication is a postcard to announce they’re getting married.

The lack of more scientific feedback disturbs many traditional sexologists who prefer to give single patients “homeplay” assignments (a euphemism for masturbation) they can later discuss in therapy. “1

would hate to work hard at surrogate therapy and find it wasn’t going to work outside,” says Toronto sex counselor Judy Golden. “Many people are afraid of a close relationship. When the excitement is over, you could be back to square one. Are you doing your client a disservice?” Adds London, Ontario, sexologist Naom Chernick: “Surrogates are a sugarcoated method of dealing with the problem. And it isn’t even necessarily a sexual problem.” Sommers, 33. agrees that “performance anxiety” can be caused by fear of forming close relationships, but is nevertheless convinced that surrogate therapy works. “You can probe a person’s psyche for two years.” he says, “but when you’ve shot off that arsenal. then what do you do? The fantastic property of this method is that it’s so fast. It makes sense to teach directly.”

Anna-Kria King, Los Angeles chairman of ipsa—International Professional Surrogates Association—says being a surrogate requires “a balance between wanting to help and wanting to make a living. I can only take on a certain workload and still keep my brains intact. There have been a lot of cases of burn-out recently.” IPSA’S 11 female and six male members (most surrogates are between 30 and 55) pay $25 yearly dues to be included on a referral list sent to about 100 Los Angeles-area therapists who employ them—at rates ranging from $30 to $50 per session, IPSA statistics published six months ago claim treatment of 300 clients in the past three years.

King, in her forties, files her tax returns under personal services, deducted her new king-sized bed last year, and seems to spend much of her therapeutic time as social secretary—encouraging clients

(“mainly the products of Jewish mothers or Catholic upbringings”) to go out and find somebody else to practise with between sessions. She also has to fend against prejudices clients themselves sometimes bring to therapy. One graduate admits that although his approach to sex is now more realistic, some surrogates he’d met were “hard around the eyes.” “It’s a bummer when they think you’re a prostitute,” says King. “But that usually happens only when the therapist isn’t doing h Ajob. Some therapists prefer to stay relatively uninvolved.” Sommers, who hopes to be working with two surrogates by midwinter, plans to remain closely involved with the process. He also feels the term ‘surrogate’ is laden with misconceptions. “So,” he says. “I’ve thought of a new term—sexual therapy practitioners. I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s more accurate.” SANDRA PEREDO