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I Was a Sex Surrogate for 40 Years

The real-life surrogate who inspired Helen Hunt's Oscar-nominated "Sessions" role reveals what the film left out.

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I like that analogy and somebody else came up with another one the other day that was: if you go to an orthopedist because you strained, or broke, or, you know, injured yourself, often they’ll send you to a physical therapist, and I don’t want physical therapists to get upset – well, if they got upset, I’d say, “Let’s talk about your sexual issues” [laughs] — but it is, it’s like you do the hands-on work. Therapists can do that kind of touching and exploring, and it’s a gradual increase of intimacy, it’s not about jumping into bed and having sex. That’ll happen, sooner or later, but it happens — it’s a very slow process of learning what intimacy is actually about.

That actually brings me to my next question, which is: In the movie, we see that pretty quickly, after some cursory conversation, the clothes come off. Is that at all accurate to how things would really happen?

That can happen, getting undressed, getting the nudity out of the way. I just did a documentary for a British television channel, Channel 4 in England, and they brought a young man who was 45 years old and a virgin. He had an evangelical background, he belonged to a youth group, he had all sorts of issues around sexuality, not feeling that a good person would be intimate with anybody until they were married. And then he was 45 years old and finding that – you know, he had never dated very much, he was still a virgin, and he wanted to be a part of this project. And we didn’t get undressed for six sessions, and we took it very slowly. So I don’t rush people, it’s not about rushing them. [Mark and I] had 11 sessions, and on average, I would say between six and eight and the maximum would be about 14. If you went to Masters and Johnson years ago, to their clinic in St. Louis, you’d be there for two weeks, and you’d see the therapists and you and your partner would be given the same exercises that we do with clients.

So in the movie we see the husband in one scene, lying in bed, tells Helen Hunt that she’s a saint for what she does. And I’m sure that’s a sentiment that you’ve heard many times before. I’m wondering how you feel about that sort of characterization?

I always say, “I’m no Mother Teresa.” I remember when I started this line of work, I said to my first husband – the one that’s represented in this movie – “Well I guess this means I’ll never be First Lady.” [laughs] And I really didn’t care. I think of what I do as – well, First Ladies matter – but I think what I do matters in the world just as much, because I don’t feel most of us walk away from our childhood with a real good sense of the rightness of our sexuality. There’s always confusion. And I bothered, from the time I left Salem, Massachusetts, and I was telling you I went to The Immaculate Conception – St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – from the time I was five ’till I was almost 14; and I walked away feeling horrible about myself. Every time I masturbated I was sure my guardian angel was standing in the corner just going, “Oh no, here she goes again.” And then I’d go back to confession, and I’d tell the priest the truth because I believed – I was told – that if you lied in confession that was even worse, and so I was, you know, I was miserable, and I bothered to figure it out and work towards getting to be a healthier person. With the help of many people, I used therapists a lot, it’s a wonderful tool. And my first husband was very open, I mean he had his issues, but he was not a jealous man, so the relationship with him was much different than in the movie.

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