How I Became a Sex Surrogate
The following is an excerpt from " An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner," the memoir of Cheryl Cohen Greene, the surrogate partner who is played by Helen Hunt in film "The Sessions."
Michael and I hadn’t had sex for almost a week. For some couples this would be unremarkable; for us it was a red flag. We had been in California for about a year and suddenly our sex life had dropped off a cliff. When I tried to kiss or cuddle up with him in bed he told me he was sleepy and rolled over onto his side with his back facing me. Michael being too tired for sex was like a fish being too tired to swim. I remembered when he would work a ten-hour shift at his hospital job and then come home and spend hours making love with me. The first couple of nights I tried to convince myself that maybe he was tired. Maybe he just needed some downtime. But when I was rebuffed for the fifth night in a row, I knew something other than fatigue was at play.
I needed to know what was going on. Even if my worst fear was true, at least I would know what I was dealing with and I could put an end to the speculation that was making me too anxious to relax even in corpse pose.
When I got home, Michael had just put the kids to bed and he stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. I walked up behind him and put my arms around his waist. He turned on the water to rinse the suds off his hands and then twisted his body around, loosening my embrace. He took a few steps away from the sink with his hands up and grabbed a dishtowel.
“Michael, we need to talk,” I said.
“Okay,” he answered, and sat down at the kitchen table.
I sat down across from him.
“What’s going on? Why aren’t we having sex?”
Michael explained that he was feeling performance pressure because I regularly initiated sex.
“When I want sex I’ll initiate it,” he said.
This rocked me. First, I was humiliated. Was he saying that he didn’t want to have sex with me? Was this Michael’s way of accusing me of being a sex maniac, à la John, my teenage boyfriend? Also, I thought we were casting off tradition here. Was it suddenly wrong for me to want and initiate sex? I tried hard to maintain my composure, but soon I was crying again.
“Remember back in Boston when I told you that I had never been monogamous?”
I sure did. Michael told me this the first time we slept together. I wanted to think the sheer force of my love would turn him into a one-woman man.
“Well, I don’t want to be monogamous now. I need more stimulation,” he said.
More stimulation? I felt like the wind had just been knocked out of me. Then he pointed to an issue of the Berkeley Barb that lay on top of a pile of papers on our table. “Have you seen the ads for swingers parties in here?”
It took me no time at all to realize that Michael was asking for an open marriage. My feelings were not just mixed, but at odds. In 1970, traditional marriage was one of the many institutions up for popular review. In truth, I was curious about exploring with other men. I was only twenty-five. I had finally shaken off my religious guilt and shame and I was living in the heart of the sexual revolution, the San Francisco Bay Area. Part of me was happy to dispense with the confines of marriage, but another part of me was terrified of losing Michael. I did a quick, barely perceptible calculation and realized that opening the marriage would probably offer me the best chance at keeping it.