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How I Became a Sex Surrogate

The woman behind the new film "The Sessions" shares her sexual awakening and journey to sex surrogacy.

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Five years, and a few extramarital relationships, later I had a better sense of the parameters, but I still had a lot to learn about sexuality. In 1973 my friend Alison invited me to an event that reminded me of this and started me on a career path I would never have dreamed of in my earlier life.

   Alison asked me to attend a talk on sex at a church (a church!) in Berkeley. It was being led by three women who had just founded San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI, pronounced Sfissy), one of the first telephone hotlines for unbiased, fact-based sex education in the country. “Sexual ignorance is not bliss” is SFSI’s motto.

   Alison and I had dinner at a small café a few blocks away from the church. As we often did, we got lost in conversation and didn’t leave until about ten minutes to seven. Neither of us was worried, though. We had only a short way to walk. As we reached the church we saw a line that snaked around the building. Would we get in? Alison and I took our places in line, shocked at the turnout. As it started to move we grew less optimistic that we would make it in. The church was obviously too small to hold everyone who wanted to attend. As I got near the doorway, I looked in and saw a sea of people, many of them standing. Alison walked in and I followed. Just as I stepped inside I heard the greeter apologize to the people behind me who had to be turned away because there was simply no more room left.

   The evening started with a film that I will never forget. It followed a woman as she masturbated and reached climax. This wasn’t only shocking because of what she was doing, but because of who she was. This was a normal-looking woman, with an imperfect body that she seemed perfectly at ease with. The star of the film was Shirley Lewis.

   When the movie ended and the lights came on, the stark silence of the room was almost palpable. A few moments later Alison turned to me and asked, “Do you ever do that?” When I nodded my head yes, she replied, in a kind of conspiratorial whisper, “So do I.” So, other women liked sex too? We broke up into discussion groups and I found that I was far from alone, not just in my shame, but also in my confusion and anger about how my sexuality had been treated within the Church, my family, and society. This was the first time I had ever been encouraged to talk openly and publicly about masturbation or any other sexual practice. Times were indeed a-changin’.

   The next morning when I told Michael about the event, the first of two serendipitous things happened. Turned out, Michael, who had been taking a class at the now-defunct Center for Intimacy, knew Shirley. In fact, she taught the class he was taking. Michael mentioned to Shirley how impressed I was with her and he learned that, in addition to her work as an educator, she was also a surrogate partner. Then, about a week later, my friend Elizabeth gave me a copy of Surrogate Wife by Valerie X. Scott, who had been a Masters and Johnson–trained surrogate. The coincidences were starting to mount, and I began to wonder what it might be like to be a surrogate myself.

  I wasn’t alone anymore. Many people struggled with issues around sexuality and maybe I could help them. I no longer had to apologize for being a woman who enjoyed having sex. I still didn’t know if I liked it more or less than other women, but I was starting to think that it didn’t matter if I did. It occurred to me that maybe I could even actively channel a strong libido into something that would help individuals feel happier and, I hoped, might make the world a better place.

 
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