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Sexual Surrogacy
July 3, 2008 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Sexual Healing. "Sad stories and otherwise freaky tales from Florida's last sexual surrogate." A longish article, and fascinating.
posted by five fresh fish (106 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy cow, there's a real organization behind it all, too: The International Professional Surrogates Association.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:31 PM on July 3, 2008


Catherine, ironically, is her confirmation name.

Not sure what's ironic about that.
posted by Miko at 6:36 PM on July 3, 2008


Catherine, ironically, is her confirmation name.
Not sure what's ironic about that.


Sexual Surrogate is not on the approved list of professions for Catholic women.
posted by tkolar at 6:38 PM on July 3, 2008


in a Viagra-infused society, I miss Bob Newhart.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:40 PM on July 3, 2008


I understand that, but I still see no irony in the fact that a person raised Catholic could choose a profession or participate in an activity that the Church doesn't approve of. It happens every day.
posted by Miko at 6:41 PM on July 3, 2008


More than any other dysfunction, her patients are rapid ejaculators with anxiety issues. "I'm here to tell you, the Jewish mother is alive and well," Catherine says. "That overmothering, the control, the 'He's my son, and nobody's gonna take him away,' that has an effect on men. I see it."
Ah, I see. We just need to be able tell who's a Gentile.

ANyway, I admit a silly derail. This was kind of an interesting article. What's with the layout, though?
posted by Miko at 6:45 PM on July 3, 2008


Confirmation name being the name of a saint. Some would say her work is a sin.

That's the irony, I guess.
posted by CKmtl at 6:52 PM on July 3, 2008


I understand that, but I still see no irony in the fact that a person raised Catholic could choose a profession or participate in an activity that the Church doesn't approve of. It happens every day.

The fact that she's Catholic isn't the ironic part. The ironic part is that she gave her Catholic name to hide her identity as a filthy sex pervert.

Seriously though, this is fascinating. I'd never heard of this, and I do a lot of reading about freaky sex shit and abnormal psychology. It's strictly an academic interest. What? No, seriously. Shut up.

My favorite part is the quadriplegic guy living in the Catholic nursing home who hadn't had an orgasm for ten years, and was understandably freaking out, but couldn't communicate it to anyone. The sexual surrogate figured out the problem, and started coming over every week to watch movies with him and give the poor guy a handjob.

Did the nuns realize they had a real, live saint in their midst? Seriously.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:57 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Or the irony is that Catherine and Catharsis share the same pseudo-Greek root (?)
posted by yort at 7:02 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This was an excellent article. It's a shame that her occupation is in a legal gray area; it's immediately evident that she makes the world a better place. Thanks for posting this.

Also, she's had a rough life. Sad. Hopefully she and her boyfriend will continue to help one another out.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:03 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Eh, I suppose. Perhaps this edit should follow:
Though her Ukrainian mother was devoutly Catholic, she [ironically] divorced while Catherine was in elementary school
Though maybe not, since if her mother's name isn't a saint's name, it's not ironic. On the other hand, I can't think of many Catholics whose names, Confirmation or otherwise, aren't saints' names.

I just thought it was silly to drag in a dramatic reference to the supposed sin against her Catholic upbringing when it seems like a reasonable deduction that she has not lived as a practicing Catholic since childhood. So I'm not sure it matters.
posted by Miko at 7:03 PM on July 3, 2008


Handjobs For Quadriplegics, now there's a charity doing God's work.
posted by anifinder at 7:04 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Did the nuns realize they had a real, live saint in their midst? Seriously.

Probably waiting for the second coming.
posted by hal9k at 7:04 PM on July 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Miko. Again: the object of the irony mentioned in the article is not the fact that the woman was raised Catholic. The object of the irony is the fact that she gave her Catholic name as cover for decidedly non-Catholic activities.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:08 PM on July 3, 2008


Did the nuns realize they had a real, live saint in their midst? Seriously.

Despite the feelings of adolescents and lonely guys the world over, doing a good deed or two is not sufficient to meet the criteria for Catholic sainthood.
posted by Miko at 7:10 PM on July 3, 2008


The object of the irony is the fact that she gave her Catholic name as cover for decidedly non-Catholic activities.

YES I GOT IT THANK YOU
posted by Miko at 7:12 PM on July 3, 2008


You're welcome.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:14 PM on July 3, 2008


Hmm. So you have to perform at least two miracles to be canonized?

I'm sure it was a miracle as far as the quadriplegic guy was concerned.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:16 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Somehow, after beating back most f my own issues, and internalizing all of the Savage Love articles, it wasn't until reading this article that I had the following epiphany:

We get our priorities 100% backwards when trying to help people with relationships.

We look at unhappy married couples, unsatisfied in bed, and try to get them to look at what's wrong in their communication and what's troubling them about their work, and who's not doing the chores, and who's acting shrewish, so that, with all of that dealt with, the two might be able to find their way back into the sack.

But those things... those are the things which come with the responsibilities attached to sex, and aren't really at the root of sex at all. The sex is the reason we form romantic relationships, from the lizard-brain, primary reality of it all. We are lucky enough as a species to have evolved to the point where the way we choose a mate has to do more (at least seemingly) than the success of our progeny, and there are, of course, rare couples who choose not to have children at all, which I think is brave and wise on their parts.

But you can't fix a transmission problem by fiddling with the headlights and radio, and you can't fix a sexual problem in a marriage by setting up a chore-calendar. A marriage may have other problems, yes, but for the sexual ones, which I'm guessing with no data are actually most of them, you may need someone who comes into the situation with no emotional baggage, no judgments, and nothing other than a clear understanding of where the patient is coming from, and what it will take to make him or her feel comfortable in this most human of activities.

Religions have long known that if you can effectively control sex then you control almost everything. From this perspective it doesn't matter to the religion how much they may screw up an individual with their rhetoric or polemics. From my perspective, I second nominating "Catherine" for sainthood.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:18 PM on July 3, 2008 [11 favorites]


Man, I love Savage Love. Once I realized all of the articles were archived online, I started working my way through them, and I was sad when I reached the end.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:24 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


A longish article, and fascinating.

Right on both counts. Thanks.
posted by lekvar at 7:25 PM on July 3, 2008


I'm sure it was a miracle as far as the quadriplegic guy was concerned.

But it would be ironic of the Catholic Church, which disapproves of spilling seed, to agree. Becuase masturbation is decidedly anti-Catholic!

I mean, you accept the terms of judgement, or you don't. If you don't acc
What I took from this is how sorry I feel for her. Sure, she's helped some people, but at the expense of her own pleasure in sex with them and of her longterm partnerships. $185 an hour doesn't sound too good too me, considering that you probably don't have too many of these appointments in a given week, given the rarity with which the therapy is now recommended. All subjects to explore in her own therapy, I'd wager.

It was interesting to note that so many professionals chalked up the decline in sexual surrogacy to Viagra and its descendants. It seems to me that nothing could be less useful for people with deep intimacy and shame problems than an ED med. What on earth does that do to make men like the merchant marine a more functional lover? The problems she dealt with didn't seem to be inability to get aroused, but inability to pursue the activities following arousal. Makes me wonder how often people are getting a prescription instead of relationship therapy.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I took from this is how sorry I feel for her.</em

Me too. I thought the whole story was tragic. She was molested as a kid, had disasterous relationships, lost custody of her kids and then decided she wanted to help people with their sexual issues by becoming a therapist. So she "pieced together" a community college degree in psychology, confided in her chiropractor that she didn't see how she could ever manage to get a PhD, and he referred her to Vogel who told her about "something in the field of sex therapy that didn't require a post-grad degree." It did require $1,500, and a weekend long training where she was groped by a pervy stranger (and when she complained was basically told "good for you! you're awesome at this!" for figuring it out) and since then has been Certified to do work that, as the article acknowledges, is "technically" prostitution. I guess I'm in the minority, but I don't think it's that awesome of a job.

posted by moxiedoll at 7:47 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


(um... I guess the endless italics function to underscore how sad I think it is).
posted by moxiedoll at 7:48 PM on July 3, 2008


Yeah, I read it that way too, moxiedoll.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on July 3, 2008


To flesh out the disability piece of this story, here is a great essay about working with a surrogate by the late Mark O'Brien, a writer who was a polio survivor and an iron lung user.
posted by Tesseractive at 7:55 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Personally I think one of the great tragedies of society these days is the unimportance we place on sex and sexuality. A lot of trauma and pain can be traced back to people not understanding how sex and relationships are intertwined. The fact that something like could be considered illegal is one of the reasons for that.
posted by concreteforest at 8:10 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not only did I find the linked article a (you'll excuse the term) gripping read, but there is another article in the sidebar -- To Hug a Porcupine which deals with horrific failings in the Florida Foster Care system, and one couple who adopted three brothers (adopted at the ages of six, five, and almost four) who turned out to have reactive attachment disorder due to abuse that took place while they were in foster care. It left me weeping. Great writing about great topics. I will check out the New Times in the future, I think.
posted by anastasiav at 8:10 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter, what a boyzone, huh?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:18 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else get a page that was a repeat of the previous pages? I'm not sure if that was a browser/server glitch, or an error in the source document.

I went crawling for some other info on sex surrogacy and basically got a little creeped out. While I think there is a need for this type of therapy and that it could easily be a very fulfilling job for the right person, my impression is that its promoters are... well, skeezy.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:19 PM on July 3, 2008


Also: Sex and the Welfare State
posted by lalochezia at 8:22 PM on July 3, 2008


I also got the weird page repeat, in both the FPP article and the article anastasiav posted.
posted by Tesseractive at 8:30 PM on July 3, 2008


Holy crap, the To Hug a Porcupine article is chilling and cry-worthy.

What an utterly fucked-up sort of society we live in.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 PM on July 3, 2008


yea there's a weird page layout issue, in order to skip that, there's also a "view all" link, which seemed to help for me.

good post, great read, thanks fff.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:45 PM on July 3, 2008


Personally I think one of the great tragedies of society these days is the unimportance we place on sex and sexuality.

Interesting. I think one of the great tragedies of modern society is the degree to which we are bombarded with sex and sexuality, told how important it is, and somehow convinced, like the addict to whom the substance presents itself as the solution to the problems it causes, that it should play an increasingly central role in our understanding of who we are and how we interact with the world.

Which, I suppose, cheapens it, and maybe that's what you meant.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:45 PM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think its the importance we place on sex and the unimportance we place on intimacy.
posted by Parallax.Error at 8:56 PM on July 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I thought the idea of a sexual surrogate was pretty cool. I don't understand why it's creepy--from talking with male friends who have issues with women it seems like it would be a great way to address those issues.

Also, the "To Hug a Porcupine" article definitely needs to be made into an FPP. I remember seeing another article, I think on Metafilter, about reactive attachment disorder, and I've found the concept of RAD both horrifying and fascinating. What the hell do you do with these kids once they're grown?
posted by schroedinger at 8:58 PM on July 3, 2008


"The problem was, I didn't want to go through getting a Ph.D., and in psychology, you basically can't work unless you have a doctorate."

Oh, what a horseshit justification! There are many, many (well paid!) avenues to go down in professional psychological work that don't require a Ph.D.

See, she was driven to his line of work because the system didn't hold open a spot for her to follow her dream.

Look, I'm sure her life was tough, and she seems to be doing good things for people. But is it too much to ask for honesty?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:16 PM on July 3, 2008


But is it too much to ask for honesty?

See, I do think she's being honest, and that's what makes it so pathetic. I think she honestly thinks that she's a special kind of psychologist who has sex for money.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:32 PM on July 3, 2008


from talking with male friends who have issues with women it seems like it would be a great way to address those issues

I was thinking about the Pick Up Artist thread as I posted this one.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:42 PM on July 3, 2008


Those of you who think this person is "pathetic" are the reason sex therapists exist. Because she was molested, she can help those who have their own dysfunction. In short, she does not look down her nose at them, as you obviously do. She can connect with them and bring them into a normal state. I think she's done valuable work with her life, after having a shaky beginning (as more people have than you might suppose).
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:48 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


See, I do think she's being honest, and that's what makes it so pathetic. I think she honestly thinks that she's a special kind of psychologist who has sex for money.

Did you notice the "in 12 years, she has had about 30 patients. She's had intercourse with only three of them: two 40-plus virgins and one rapid ejaculator who couldn't last more than a few seconds during intercourse" part? Sounds to me as if she is a special kind of psychologist who has sex multiple therapy-touch sessions for money.

There are much easier and more lucrative ways to "have sex for money", including many which involve dressing it up as therapy (the more iffy side of the massage business comes to mind) and do not involve spending time with smelly merchant marines and people with crippling social problems and/or disabilities. Thus, I'm more than inclined to give Catherine the benefit of the doubt. If the article is anywhere close to accurate, it seems to me as if she's quite honest about what she is and is not doing.
posted by vorfeed at 9:58 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whoa. I absolutely do not "look down" at people who have been molested. Nor do I look down at sex workers. But, yes, I see pathos in the story of a woman who was molested, and who aspired to and sought direction toward work in a profession, who was nonetheless roped into prostitution when that was not her intention. I think that's sad.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:00 PM on July 3, 2008


What's sad and pathetic, "moxiedoll", is you and Miko and the snide, catty shit you've spewed in this thread. Catherine is worth a hundred of you. She's not a saint—she's an angel. I guess you can figure out what that makes you.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2008


I've done some work (as a patient) with somatic therapy, and I found it incredibly powerful. The idea is similar -- your physical movements/reactions/tensions can embody (that's not quite the right word, it's more like "encase" or "compress" or "bundle-up-in-a-profoundly-uncomfortable-way") some pretty incredibly painful stuff -- which may significantly or even overwhelmingly inhibit your interactions with the world around around you.

Sex was never a part of this therapy, but it makes sense to me that there is way of working with sexuality in therapeutic and body-oriented way that could be incredibly beneficial to the patient and not all degrading to either person.
posted by treepour at 10:06 PM on July 3, 2008


Metafilter: A boyzone for demons
posted by OrangeDrink at 10:30 PM on July 3, 2008


Whoa. I absolutely do not "look down" at people who have been molested. Nor do I look down at sex workers. But, yes, I see pathos in the story of a woman who was molested, and who aspired to and sought direction toward work in a profession, who was nonetheless roped into prostitution when that was not her intention. I think that's sad.

Ugh. The mind boggles. So, despite your outstanding tolerance for molestees and prostitutes, you still condescend to a woman who thinks she's a real therapist when she's actually a prostitute? Is that the problem here? She thinks she's a professional, but you know better?

Therapists are, at the root of things, emotional trash collectors. They are (most of them) living saints for talking through what polite society and stable relationships can't abide. By that measure, this woman, who goes to places more broken and more intimate than most mainstream therapists would be willing to acknowledge, is better at her job than those others are. It's possible to acknowledge and even be sad about the emotional, legal and social complications that attend her chosen vocation. It's even possible to do that while continuing to dignify and respect the work she does. You ought to try to do that, moxiedoll, instead of insisting on redefining her labor in willful blindness toward its complexity and its value.
posted by felix betachat at 10:39 PM on July 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm not outstanding in the least. All I'm saying is that:
1. I don't look down on people who have been molested, and, frankly, that's a weird and horrible accusation to make.
2. I don't look down on sex workers, which is slightly tangential, but relevant.
3. I *define* prostitution as "being sexually intimate for money or barter". I think that's a pretty standard definition. And "sex work" is defined yet more broadly - strippers... dominatrices... do not necessarily engage physically with clients, yet, generally, self-identify as sex workers.
4. Getting tricked into sex work under another label is, I think, very tragic.
5. I fail to see how the above beliefs make me TEH DEVIL.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:52 PM on July 3, 2008


#4's your problem, right there. Doesn't follow based on #2.

And #5 is just pure drama queenery, so knock that off too, why doncha.
posted by felix betachat at 10:55 PM on July 3, 2008


Actually, I pretty much called her that (or one of his minions).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:06 PM on July 3, 2008


Felix, regarding #5, see this comment.
posted by lekvar at 11:11 PM on July 3, 2008


Yep. Missed that. Sorrie moxiedoll, that knuckle rap was misplaced.
posted by felix betachat at 11:12 PM on July 3, 2008


um...sorry

...geez...
posted by felix betachat at 11:13 PM on July 3, 2008


A woman always has the option to "just lie there." Perhaps her partner will not see her as being "a good lay," but at very least he won't walk away unhappy, he won't think that there's anything wrong with her ...

... but he may walk away thinking he may have just accidentally fucked a mannequin.

Sorry, I'm sure you thought you had a well thought out point there, but you lost me in the first paragraph with the wacky generalization.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:46 PM on July 3, 2008


@stavros : sex is not pornography. we're bombarded with pornography, not sex.
posted by liza at 12:02 AM on July 4, 2008


I'm not actually finding Catherine's story that sad. She had unfortunate circumstances, most specifically in the molestation and the fact that she became pregnant at such a young age. But it seems to me that in coming to terms with her problems she found a calling, and even though that work has made her private life more difficult, I imagine that it would have been a sadder story if she had not pursued her unusual profession.

And she did pursue it. She wasn't tricked into becoming a "prostitute"; she sought and found a way to practice sexual somatic healing - an idea that she was specifically drawn towards. She's had an unusual life, done a lot of different things, didn't end up with the white picket fence... but some people aren't cut out for a traditional role. She is obviously a person who doesn't have a problem relating to others and making them feel good about themselves, about her... Had she wanted to get married, settle down into a normal career and live a more typical existence, I can't imagine that she couldn't have done just that, and easily. But apparently that's not what she wanted at all. Ultimately she set a course of her own choosing and was successful with what she wanted to achieve (as unrecognized or misunderstood as it might be) - which, really, isn't a bad coda for anyone.
posted by taz at 12:10 AM on July 4, 2008


@stavros : sex is not pornography. we're bombarded with pornography, not sex.

We're dunned to fucking senselessness by both, and by more besides. Please not to be putting words into my mouth. I meant what I said, and you'll have to trust me when I say that I'm not dumb enough to make category mistakes like that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:45 AM on July 4, 2008


ah, I did want to mention one thing I found interesting in the article:

Masters and Johnson developed new methods to treat married couples with sexual dysfunctions, conditions they described with terms such as "ejaculatory incompetence" and "orgasmic dysfunction in women." The solution, as they saw it, combined psychological approaches with practice at home. The exercises were based on trust and acceptance, with couples and therapists working as a team.

But this posed a problem for unmarried men and women, who were often the most severe cases. Their sexual problems, in fact, were precisely the reason they didn't have a partner. It was a twisted social paradox: can't work on the problem without a partner; can't get a partner before working on the problem
.

Okay... with you so far, then:

So Masters and Johnson trained the first surrogates. For the study, 13 women were selected as surrogates from 31 volunteers. They worked with 41 single men. After 11 years, in 1970, Masters and Johnson published Human Sexual Inadequacy, a book about their research. It became a bestseller and has since been translated into 30 languages. The book, written in intentionally dry, clinical language, has a chapter dedicated to the work of the original group of women, whom they called partner surrogates.

So, even though they identified sexual dyfunction in both men and women, the only surrogates were women, and the only patients were men, apparently. Hmpf. Interesting abstract on research with male surrogates to treat vaginismus (definition) in women here.

To my knowledge, heterosexual male surrogates remain the rarest of sex surrogates ["Sex Surrogates: A Clarification of
Their Functions
"]


Here's an article from a sex and relationship psychologist about the legal, ethical, and professional issues and attitudes surrounding the current state of sexual surrogacy
posted by taz at 12:50 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's sad and pathetic, "moxiedoll", is you and Miko and the snide, catty shit you've spewed in this thread. Catherine is worth a hundred of you. She's not a saint—she's an angel. I guess you can figure out what that makes you.

Oops - huh? Whoa there, angry one. Where did I spew any "snide, catty shit?" I did read the story as sort of a saddish one, but I think your attack is unwarranted. I have really no judgements against this woman for doing her work and can see its value. What I am responding to, and found sad, is that it has come at the expense of her own relationships, as she describes in the article. And also that she was told she couldn't work "in psychology" without a PhD, which is patently untrue. But beyond that, I don't think I've said a single snide, catty thing.

I did think about this some more this morning, and I have other questions. After reading the disability story from the Sun magazine - particularly its rather depressing conclusion - I wondered what the efficacy of this sort of therapy really is. Obviously, there are intimacy breakthroughs and some healing that goes on during the sessions, not to mention some sexual pleasure. But if, in the end, the patient is still left feeling as though they are no closer to being able to have a functional sex life on their own - and is left with the realization that, outside this context in which they are paying for sex as a therapeutic service - has there been any psychological progress made? I don't have time to read some of the links posted since, but I will. Because it seems as though the therapy has the potential to actually redound upon itself, and stand out, as it did for the Sun writer, as a shining moment but one that was manufactured and is unlikely to recur in his lifetime in a natural way. For someone already struggling with feelings of depression and self-loathing, that must be difficult.

There is probably value to this service, but I think the burden of proof that it's more valuable than plain old relationship therapy is on the profession. It has probably been a very beneficial experience for some (like the man in the article) but a neutral or somewhat problematic experience for others (like the man in the second article).

Finally, I, too, have trouble conflating providing a few hours of sexual pleasure with words like "miracle" and "angel," though. Though sex can definitely be an important part of life, I agree that more is made of it than it deserves. Among the kindnesses human beings will do for one another before death takes us, sex is only one, and probably not even the most vital. I certainly believe that all people are entitled to a healthy and enjoyable sexual life, and if this therapy actually helps some people in battling shame or self-hatred or interpersonal panic, then great. But sex, though a strong driver, doesn't really override our other physical or emotional needs for very long. Even when it's great, in itself, it's a short-lived pleasure like many such pleasures. For that reason the therapeutic context of what's happening around this sort of therapy must be a LOT more important than what happens in the sexual surrogacy sessions. Without some means of integrating these experiences into a broader effort to live with self-acceptance in meaningful relationships with other people, there's nothing much to it.
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


That last link on the issues of efficacy and regulation and the sort of Wild West environment surrounding surrogacy was great, taz.
Way back in the 1970s there were calls for a wider debate on how we proceed with the issue of surrogacy, with suggestions that surrogacy could be a valid form of treatment - but it needed careful training, support and regulation in order to protect both clients and professionals. We’ve still not had this discussion properly.
Because this is what I've been wondering about:
If you are considering seeing a sex surrogate it’s worth co sidering the following…
- Do you have a problem with your mental or physical health (including a potential sexually transmitted infection or sexual problem). If so you should consult with your GP first.
- Is your relationship in trouble? If you are having problems with your partner then it may be better to see a relationship therapist.
- Have you got a sexual problem (for example caused by previous abuse, a view that sex is bad or dirty, or another issue that’s getting in the way of enjoying sex). If so, you may want to see a sex therapist.
At what point does the talk therapy in relationship/sex therapy fail, and indicate a need for a sexual surrogate to go through sex acts with the client? What are the indicators that sexual surrogacy is need to get the job done? And what are the markers that indicate a successful result has been achieved?
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on July 4, 2008


I share Miko's and moxiedoll's reaction. It's a sad story, and as mentioned above, it's not clear how much long-term improvement Catherine's efforts create. Of course her intentions are good, as is her willingness to accept and nurture others. But this is also true of therapists stripped of their license due to sexual misconduct. Many of them too were sexually molested as children and were looking to nurture their patients. In my eyes sexual surrogacy squarely falls under the definition of prostitution, i.e. intimate involvement for monetary exchange, whether intercourse is present or absent.

The comments are fascinating - they are a good example of the saint/prostitute dichotomy that exists in Western society, down to the wording. The way this dichotomy is playing out in this threat is that if Catherine is doing something selfless, or good, she cannot possibly be a prostitute, or bad. Calling her occupation what it is, sexual involvement for money, brings in the all-bad prostitute construct which cannot coexist with respect or genuine sympathy. So moxiedoll gets blame for negative emotions she has never voiced and callousness she never showed, because "a prostitute" cannot be selfless or deserve respect or admiration in the saint/prostitute frame-set.

Personally, I think deep self-understanding and honesty are necessary for any emotionally loaded work with human being - therapists, masseuses, teachers, counselors, social workers, sexual surrogates, etc. I really enjoyed the earlier thread about phone sex operators - most of all because of the participants' honesty.
posted by Shusha at 9:15 AM on July 4, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't understand what the problem here is with sex surrogacy. Does it really boggle people's minds that non-threatening touch and sexuality could be used as forms of therapy for people who have problems with touch and sexuality? Seriously. I feel like therapy can go only so far--are there people on Metafilter who have had similar problems to Catherine's patients, and have been able to deal with them exclusively through talk therapy? Exclusively through talk therapy, so you were able to start a normal, happy sexual relationship with someone else and that person never, ever had to coach you or help you?

I guess I would not be surprised at all if some of the touch/sex/relationship issues people had were so bad that they needed coaching. A prostitute is not a coach. A prostitute's job is not to be compassionate. Their job is to get the sex act done, or provide the girlfriend experience, or what have you. They are not trying to work through your inner demons as they touch the places that trigger molestation memories. And a therapist can help you talk about those memories, and give you coping skills, but in the end it is left to you to find someone to actually help you put those skills into practice. And if you really do have that many problems than that could be pretty impossible. A sex surrogate then can provide that bridge. I don't understand why this is such a crazy idea. It seems like her patients have felt this helps a lot.

And while I find her background sad, I don't see her as "roped" into becoming a prostitute, because I don't regard her as a prostitute at all. Her professional seems pretty admirable to me, though it lies outside our cultural norms. It looks like to me she was able to transcend what she went through and used that experience to help others.
posted by schroedinger at 10:22 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


. A prostitute is not a coach. A prostitute's job is not to be compassionate. Their job is to get the sex act done, or provide the girlfriend experience, or what have you

Well, one thing that immediately occurred to me, having read a fair amount of material written by women who worked as prostitutes, is that a lot of them do do this sort of thing (Sans training, of course; but I'm not sure how deeply impressive a three-week training course is as preparation for this sort of work, either). It's not at all uncommon for prostitutes to have non-sexual encounters, to have encounters you could classify as therapeutic, or to employ nurturing/listening/reflection/healing behaviors with their clients. The "what have you" category includes plenty of sex work that does touch on psychological issues. It seems to happen quite a bit. You could certainly take this as an argument that more surrogacy is needed, not less, so that clients could do this work with people who are able to put the transaction into a therapeutic contect. I would venture to say, though, that a lot more people seek relief from psychological problems with sexuality thorugh interactions with prostitutes than with sex surrogates. They're just not in the mental-health sphere with people trained in therapeutic work when they do so, and the potential for progress is , therefore, probably a lot smaller. However, I do know that at least some prostitutes express the idea they are providing a similar, generous, caring, healing service to their clients.

I'm not concerned with saying that sex surrogates=prostitutes=bad. Shusha nailed it in highlighting the strong reactions and dichotomy. I don't think any of these things are bad in themselves. What I do think is that, if there is a need for sexual surrogacy which can't be addressed through talk therapy, then it is incumbent on the profession to demonstrate its efficacy as a treatment. It's the treatment context that is important, and if the treatment has only as good a result or a worse result than no treatment, it's not efficacious.

...are there people on Metafilter who have had similar problems to Catherine's patients, and have been able to deal with them exclusively through talk therapy? Exclusively through talk therapy, so you were able to start a normal, happy sexual relationship with someone else and that person never, ever had to coach you or help you?

I think there are people all over the world who have been able to deal with similar problems exclusively through talk therapy. That's why the fields of relationship therapy and sex therapy exist, with demonstrated effectiveness. That's the record to beat; talk therapy does work, so how does this therapy improve upon talk therapy alone?

At some level, is anyone "able to start a normal, happy sexual relationship with someone else and that person never, ever had to coach you or help you?" If you are lucky enough to enjoy a life of normal, healthy sexual development, you still have to learn the skills it takes to maintain a relationship, be intimate, take risks, manage your sexuality, communicate with your partner, etc. It's not something anyone is born knowing how to do already. We've all gone through a sexual development, and we've used whatever resources were at our disposal - books, friends, websites, porn, classes, partners - to figure out how to have a "normal, happy sexual relationship." So of course there is a learning process - but for the vast majority of people, the learning process takes place alongside your total self-development and maturation and with voluntary partners. I think it would be unreasonable to expect someone with deep psychological scars surrounding sexuality to step out into the world suavely and comfortably and enter immediately into a "normal, happy sexual relationship;" but who does? It takes most of us a good chunk of lifetime to learn to manage such things healthfully.

I don't think it's at all uncommon for people to work out their issues in talk therapy and then, gradually, begin exploring the world of relationships with the help of a therapist. Therapists do this - talk you through dating, help you figure out how to talk to a partner. They make explicit what your upbringing didn't allow you to learn. So it's not insane to think that, using talk therapy, and being honest with partners, you could make your way step by step to a healthy sex life even with deep scars. People do it all the time. What I'm curious about is whether and when therapists see this type of therapy as more useful than following a progression of natural, voluntary relationships and dealing with the issues as they are raised through relating.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on July 4, 2008


What Shusha said. I'm not really getting why prostitutes can't be compassionate, or saintly. The argument that Catherine is genuinely trying to help people, therefore not a prostitute, is kind of senseless. There may be non-compassionate surrogates in the world, and there may well be caring and thoughtful escorts, call girls, "masseuses", gigolos. I'm sure if you equate prostitution with "bad", it's hard to get beyond that, but I'm sort of baffled by the tendency of several people in this thread (and in the world in general, I suppose) to consider other sex workers a lower form of human than surrogates.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:13 AM on July 4, 2008


because I don't regard her as a prostitute at all

What do you regard a prostitute as? In fact, let's drop the whole loaded "prostitute" word. Let's use "sex worker". So a sex worker who thinks she caters to her clients sexual needs, expands their capacity for intimacy, coaches them in new ways of being with their wives and girlfriends, does she cease to be a sex worker? I am sure there are a lot of sex workers who do think this, and many of them are right. Even more, when a therapist starts sexual intimacy with a client he or she ceases to be a therapist and becomes a sex worker, someone who gets paid for sexual involvement.

I believe prostitution should be legal. I don't think there is anything inherently degrading or sad or pathetic about being a sex worker. Changing people's mindset on this will minimize these instances of confusion when someone believes they work in a field of psychology, when in actuality they are a specialized therapeutic sex worker.
posted by Shusha at 11:42 AM on July 4, 2008


We must be reading different threads. moxiedoll's comments, in particular, read as derogatory and dismissive to me. She's just another sex-worker, what else is new? Sad, but at the end of the day, "Catherine" just fucks for money. That's not a major part of her work. What am I missing here? Is this not just another ring of the "shame the sluts" gong?

I also don't think invoking the "whore with the heart of gold" archetype is helpful either. It distracts from the discussion. That's just another box you're trying to force her into. It does not do justice to the work she does or what this is about.

I don't think the woman described is a saint either, but I can respect her impulse help people. Miko's points about efficacy are very well taken---I do think outcomes need to be tracked. To my mind this is the meat of the issue. Is this an effective technique? Is there a lasting benefit or only a temporary afterglow? A recurring problem with psychological therapy choice is an almost complete lack of knowledge of how well any techniques work, talk therapies included.

The lack of male surrogates is very interesting. It is very suggestive of an unequal power dynamic in the therapist-patient relationship. Given the number of abuse cases brought by female clients of male practitioners (both therapists and psychiatrists), there are large ethical issues raised also.
posted by bonehead at 11:44 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, I see that many people already said pretty much the same thing as me. Really should use the preview button...

I wonder: if prostitution became legal, would some sex workers advertise themselves as proficient in coaching and erotic intimacy? Would there be weekend retreats with experienced sex workers running workshops titled "Understanding your clients emotional needs" and "How to alleviate premature ejaculation"? In fact, Firefly comes to mind. "Here comes the Ambassador". That would be a better world for women.
posted by Shusha at 11:52 AM on July 4, 2008


Shusha, the conflation of sex-work for jollies with somatic and sexual therapy is a big mistake, just as one shouldn't confuse a speed-junkie with someone who takes Adderal.

(and melissa may says it much more eloquently than I could)
posted by bonehead at 12:02 PM on July 4, 2008


Sad, but at the end of the day, "Catherine" just fucks for money

I don't read that comment this way at all. It only reads this way if you think "fucking for money" is derogatory. I firmly believe that while it can be, it certainly does not have to be.

Where the pity and sadness come from in me is in the understanding that Catherine has very minimal understanding of what she does, why she does it, and in fact, of herself. As many adults sexually abused as children she is very good at understanding and emotionally connecting with others. She uses this in a selfless way, hopefully helping some people, but she is not getting the help she herself needs to get her life together with someone who loves and wants her for reasons other than her ability to please him. This has nothing to do with whether she is a sex worker or not. Sex worker vs. therapist issue just underscores how lost this woman is.
posted by Shusha at 12:02 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Melissa May, I never spoke of looking down on anyone because their work involves sex or just physical intimacy. I wish there was no stigma attached to the word "prostitution" and no reactions like those above. I never looked at those pictures of sex phone operators and thought "well, at the end of the day they only talk to strangers about sex for money" in disgust. And Catherine's life is described in the article - I wouldn't assume all sexual surrogates were abused as children, or had character pathology. It did seem from the article that she came to her occupation ill-informed and that it has created problems in her personal life. That's where the sadness comes from, not from the type of work she does.
posted by Shusha at 12:22 PM on July 4, 2008


I should also say that when I used the phrase "talk therapy" I was trying to draw a distinction between traditional therapy and physical intimacy. Therapy with a relationship specialist or the like isn't just talk, and that should be made clear. The healing doesn't occur just through talking. Different therapists take different approaches, but therapy can include assignments, journaling, challenges (like to ask out someone you're interested in or react to someone a different way), self-observation, etc. The "talk" part comes in looking back on the assignment or challenge and discussing the reactions and feelings that arose. So a patient who is having similar troubles to some of the men in the article, but is completing assignments in therapy and then talking about them, might be making the same kinds of changes without a surrogate. I think if therapy is viewed as "just talking" its power can be minimized; ultimately, it's a relationship centered on improving the quality of a client's life, and a lot of different things can happen within a therapeutic relationship. But it can be effective, and is effective for many people, without including a physical component between health professional and client. So again, before saying that this is a legitimate, evidence-based psychological practice that is beneficial to people as both a career and as a treatment, I guess I'd just need to be convinced that this is a more effective way to address certain problems than therapy that does not involve sex.

But I don't care that people do it, on a personal level, at all. It just looks like a profession that is not especially well-developed and not all that widely supported, and is rife with a peculiar set of risks and perhaps exploitive characteristics. As therapy itself once was, of course.
posted by Miko at 12:32 PM on July 4, 2008


Perhaps it might be useful to consider this in terms of learning strategies. The division of learners into verbally, visually and tactilely-driven has been found to be a useful tool. It's intriguing to think that some patients might be better reached by somatic therapy than a more verbal approach. Given how some kids just don't get a concept until they get a chance to be tactile with it, counting pennies rather than adding, for instance, it strikes me to dismiss sexual surrogacy potentially throws out a therapy which could reach a whole class of patients that language-alone therapies might not reach.
posted by bonehead at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2008


Good point; but it's not dismissing it to ask for evidence that could help legitimize it, if it works.
posted by Miko at 1:17 PM on July 4, 2008


Absolutely. Let's not throw a baby out here, is all I'm saying.
posted by bonehead at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2008


Also, the "To Hug a Porcupine" article definitely needs to be made into an FPP.

Yes, please. That was my thought as well. Though hopefully not a single-link wonder...there is so much online of worth about RAD.

And back to this FPP...was anyone else curious about the financial logistics about the paralyzed guy in the nursing home receiving "services"? I'm pretty sure hand-jobs are not Medicare/Medicaid reimbursable. Whatever medical trust was set up for him for care expenses after his accident....THAT'S what I want, if I'm ever that badly injured. I'm glad his Catholic nursing home has cooperated with that aspect of his "treatment plan."
posted by availablelight at 3:56 PM on July 4, 2008


It just looks like a profession that is not especially well-developed and not all that widely supported

I read through this thread and I think "Gosh, look at all the wide support and understanding in here! I wonder why the rest of our society can't be so open and thoughtful when it comes to this subject?"

Actually,I read this thread and think "Gosh, I didn't realize [person X] was such a tightass. I wonder why s/he has such a hate-on for the idea. No wonder there are only a few workers in this field: comments like this would drive one to suicide."
posted by five fresh fish at 4:41 PM on July 4, 2008


Interesting post, thanks for that, fff. Catherine seems to have her heart in the right place. Although, I hate to spin it this way, but when you place her in the category of a sex worker, I wonder how 'saintly' regular ol' prostitutes would seem if they had the opportunity to work in the same sort of setting as Catherine. In other words, I bet if they had the option to just chat/massage/take their clients out on dates, they'd prefer that as to just fuckin a bunch of guys. If the pay was the same anyway.
posted by CwgrlUp at 5:38 PM on July 4, 2008


Sad, but at the end of the day, "Catherine" just fucks for money

If this were true, then there are 27 of her 30 clients who should get their money back.

She does talk, and touch, for money, though not for sexual release but for therapy. Just as your physiotherapist touches you not for pleasure, but for therapy. As said above, the fact that untrained sex workers find themselves doing this is an indication of unmet need, not that this is not therapy.
posted by jb at 6:29 PM on July 4, 2008


I read through this thread and I think "Gosh, look at all the wide support and understanding in here!

It's not the thread, but the field of psychology, that seems not to widely support it.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on July 4, 2008


I wonder how 'saintly' regular ol' prostitutes would seem if they had the opportunity to work in the same sort of setting as Catherine. In other words, I bet if they had the option to just chat/massage/take their clients out on dates, they'd prefer that as to just fuckin a bunch of guys. If the pay was the same anyway.

This is an unfair characterization of what a sex surrogate does. In the article it mentions that Catherine recently took a year off, because the work is very emotionally draining. If you've (general "you") ever become involved with trying to help a friend, for example, with emotional problems, there's a good chance you've experienced something of this, and a very good chance that you concluded that you couldn't do it, and realized that there's a vast difference between the help that can be provided by a supportive, intuitive, sensitive friend and a professional therapist. Unless you are very young, you've probably had cause to examine how involved you should allow yourself to become in such instances, and formulate some very specific boundaries. I know I have.

So, no - I don't think there a great many prostitutes who would actually be able or willing to navigate those rocky shoals. Some just want to do their work and call it a day and would run screaming in the opposite direction if they were expected to take on that sort of burden; many might be willing, but wouldn't have the mental/emotional endurance and elasticity to handle it. But to me, the question is moot, because they are entirely different things, and I find it odd that we seem to be cornered into framing the discussion this way.

To borrow a metaphor from the article, hiring a pilot to fly you somewhere is completely different than hiring a therapist to help you get over your debilitating fear of flying. Just because they both involve planes doesn't make them the same thing. Maybe some pilots would be willing to try to help you out with that, but that doesn't make the pilot a therapist, or vice versa.
posted by taz at 10:11 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's not the thread, but the field of psychology, that seems not to widely support it.

No, really? You think that maybe the vitriol being directed toward this woman might have something to do with it? Lord knows that if one published a thesis work claiming that sex surrogacy was a mighty fine thing, the likes of folk in this thread would tear the author a new one. You have noticed the level of hostility toward Catherine in this thread, have you not?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:50 PM on July 4, 2008


hiring a pilot to fly you somewhere is completely different than hiring a therapist to help you get over your debilitating fear of flying.


That's true, but I do think that a lot of people who really could use therapy are definitely hiring pilots instead. I wouldn't conflate sex surrogacy with prostitution, but empirically, those types of work are definitely on the continuum of sex work and bodywork. They involve physical intimacy that is not part of other professions. Sexual surrogacy is also on a continuum with mental health work and occurs within a formal mental health construct - so it lies at an intersection, and that's what's interesting to people here. The context is what makes the difference, and the context seems pretty variable and regulations /certifications pretty minimal, as mental health professions go.

You have noticed the level of hostility toward Catherine in this thread, have you not?

I still don't see any vitriol. What statement do you think is vitriolic? This thread is like a day in royal court compared to most threads that touch on sex and women's issues. I don't see a single thing I'd call 'vitriolic.' I see some people willing to discuss whether this kind of work is helpful for patients and therapists, and in what ways it differs from traditional therapy and differs from other kinds of sex work. But the only vitriol I've seen is coming from people who are reacting to something I completely can't see. Really, I don't see any hostility at all - as Shusha said, if a statement seems harsh to you, it might be that your reading of what the statement says is loaded with ideas that the author of the statement doesn't share.
posted by Miko at 9:08 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just wish I could get Crabby to check my comments and let me know where I stand on the whole virtue thing since he's so good on the "worth" of people he's never met. What's pathetic is someone who can't resist making declarations that make themselves looks like idiots.

Also, since when do therapists find clients replacements and then start dating the client. I was under the impression the standards were a bit higher than that. And for damned good reasons.

Also, that's intercourse for 3 out of 30 not sex.
posted by Wood at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


From what I gather from the article, Catherine work is helping her patients-clients live a better life, at least from the client point of view. It seems to produce desensitization effect, a desiderable outcome for those patients that don't respond well to other approaches, such as being treated by a formally trained psycologist ; for instance, take some people that firmly believes that all psycologist are a bunch of charlatans because they were repeatedly told so , Scientology comes to mind, by an authority figure that had much influence in their life. Some may be also afraid that a psycologist will take control of their mind or create a deep dependency in order to obtain a needy patient, routinely bringing in more money for new therapy sessions.

The very occasional intercourse part of her job, or her being nude and touching the patients seems utterly irrelevant to me, considering that she seems not to be hiding her intentions of helping the patient to do _without_ her , as opposed to the work of an "hooker" who does indeed never helps the patient develop indipendence, as that would istantly end the stream of profit.

Certainly a more advanced education would benefit her and her clients, but that's true of almost any profession in the world ; the focus should be on wheter the lack of some particular education is likely to be harmful for the patient or not, or ultimately for her own safety.

And allow me a little provocation: while prostitues make no secret of using desire to sell their services, there's a number of "respectable" people out there , and possibily plenty of them are women, who routinely use sex and affection to obtain some kind of behavior , some times being fully conscious of what their are doing, sometimes not so consciously and just trying to address their own unresolved issue , without understanding the problems that may arise.
posted by elpapacito at 5:00 PM on July 5, 2008


Miko, I consider some of your early remarks in this thread to be dismissive and belittling and a transparent attempt to derail any serious discussion. Then you agreed with moxiedoll's even more unpleasant comment. That's why I included you in my remark.

Wood, I won't comment on your "virtue" or lack thereof. I do think you need to work on those self-esteem issues, though. But do be sure to get a real talk therapist and not some dumb whore with ideas above her station.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:07 PM on July 5, 2008


"Crabby" indeed amirite?!
If you want to have a serious discussion, let's hear your ideas - so far your only contributions have been the sorting of women into angels and demons. Miko has left long and thoughtful comments and to call them "derails" because they aren't a variation of "every time a dude gets laid an angel gets his wings!!!" says more about you than about anyone else in this thread.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


It says a fair bit that your defense appears to be that Miko wrote stuff. Not a word there addressing your own dismissal of Catherine as a self-deluding whore.

Which, if you haven't figured it out yet, is a nasty take on the story that I, and I believe others, have found to be offensive and unwarranted.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2008


Crabby I'll work on the self-esteem thanks. Sarcasm is always tricky on the internet, what I meant to say was: you're completely full of shit to talk the way you did about Miko and moxiedoll. Trust me, I'm not the only one who realizes this. I mean, re-read the comment you linked to and re-read:

What's sad and pathetic, "moxiedoll", is you and Miko and the snide, catty shit you've spewed in this thread. Catherine is worth a hundred of you. She's not a saint—she's an angel. I guess you can figure out what that makes you.

Maybe you should learn to disagree even strongly without going off into self-important lord of the universe land, declaring on the worth or sadness of strangers who weren't that unpleasant when expressing their opinion. Even with my minor comment, your "dumb whore with ideas above her station" paraphrase is a bit much isn't it? Look for a grip.
posted by Wood at 6:51 PM on July 5, 2008


I mentioned Miko because she was the one accused of making "a transparent attempt to derail". All I've said is that I thought the story was sad. I imagine that everyone agrees that her prior life was sad, and I guess the disagreement is because I don't consider this turning point to have lead to a hereafter of puppies and roses:

After her application was approved by the IPSA board, Catherine paid the $1,500 tuition and went to California for three weeks... Classes took place at Blanchard's home in Los Angeles. The first day, the students were told they would work as partners for the duration of training.... Toward the end of training, Catherine wrote in her journal that she was having conflicting feelings. She believed 100 percent in the concept of surrogate therapy, but she suspected that her training partner — the husband — was "just there to get a cheap thrill." She felt guilty for feeling that way. Blanchard approached her after the last class. She told Catherine that her instincts were right on. "You've got exactly what it takes," Blanchard told her. "You're going to be a great surrogate."

I haven't said anything nasty about Catherine, unless it's inherently offensive to define "prostitution" as accepting money for sexual intimacy. Maybe I'm being myopic or pedantic or overly literal - in which case I'd be interested to hear how people define the differences between sexual surrogacy and prostitution (as Miko discussed, in an apparently useless derail) - but I don't see how that's offensive to Catherine unless you're bringing your own A SEX WORKER IS A WHORE IS A BAD PERSON AND HOW DARE YOU baggage to the conversation. I was reacting to a profile about an individual, and my thoughts as to whether her life has been a happy one are not affected by how much happiness she has brought to however many men. Maybe that's the difference.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:59 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


See, I do think she's being honest, and that's what makes it so pathetic. I think she honestly thinks that she's a special kind of psychologist who has sex for money.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:32 PM on July 3
'nuff said.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:06 PM on July 5, 2008


you're right - that does sound condescending. It sounds especially so when you remove it from its context, which was a response to Cool Papa Bell calling her a liar and calling her use of the term sexual surrogacy her "horseshit justification". I notice he's not on the call out list, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:11 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Prostitution is more than selling "sexual intimacy". Last time I went to the gynecologist, I gave her money (or rather the NHS did) to be rather sexually intimate with me. She even had her fingers in my uterus (installing an IUS - brilliant thing). No one calls a doctor a prostitute.

Catherine is doing therapy which involves sexual intimacy. Her clients don't get to pick her for her looks, don't get to request certain sex practices, and they aren't there to receive sexual pleasure - in fact, in the case of the marine discussed in detail, began by being incapable of being with any person sexually. As noted above, she has to go well and beyond what most sex workers would be willing to do in terms of helping her clients with their emotional state. What she does serves an entirely different purpose - it's not about selling pleasure or sex (however one feels about that), it's selling therapy which involves intimate touching, including very clinical touching.

As a sex worker, she would be a complete failure, because her purpose is completely different from that of someone who is selling a certain kind of sex experience. For instance, if you just want to hire her for fun, she wouldn't agree -- that would make her a very bad prostitute. But as a sexual surrogate and part of a theraputic team, she has a different purpose, which is not giving pleasure, but giving people both physical, social and emotional therapy to help them learn how to be able to share pleasure with others.
posted by jb at 7:23 PM on July 5, 2008


Sorry, moxie. Here is the entirety of your post.
But is it too much to ask for honesty?

See, I do think she's being honest, and that's what makes it so pathetic. I think she honestly thinks that she's a special kind of psychologist who has sex for money.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:32 PM on July 3 [+] [!]
It doesn't seem any better. And, hey, let's look at a subsequent message in its entirety:
Whoa. I absolutely do not "look down" at people who have been molested. Nor do I look down at sex workers. But, yes, I see pathos in the story of a woman who was molested, and who aspired to and sought direction toward work in a profession, who was nonetheless roped into prostitution when that was not her intention. I think that's sad.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:00 PM on July 3 [+] [!]
Catherine the gullible and stupid, eh? Veritably tricked into becoming a prostitute. Poor, sad girl.

No, no disrepect there. Not the least bit nasty. Why, you're a paragon of kindness and compassion, you are! [/sarcasm]
posted by five fresh fish at 7:27 PM on July 5, 2008


Ok, you win. I was a demon - but now I'm nice and I see the light! That one day when she told her chiropractor - who knew about her history of molestation - that she wanted to be a therapist but didn't see how she could ever get a PhD? Why, that was the best day of her life! Because he could have encouraged her to continue with school... or he could have disabused her of the notion that one must have a PhD to be a counselor... but thank god he didn't, right? God, it would have been so sad... all of that useless school just to work in a boring old office. I mean, she's a woman, right? She's got all she needs to "help people with their problems" - this way, she got to have intercourse with strangers and take showers with smelly and give handjobs in nursing homes and, yes, it took a toll on her own relationships... but so what? Yay! Happiest story ever! How wonderful for her! There is no discernible downside to this story!
posted by moxiedoll at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2008


You're a class act, you are.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 PM on July 5, 2008


I consider some of your early remarks in this thread to be dismissive and belittling

No one was responding to the post itself at all, so I commented flippantly in the hopes of getting some response started. And no, I didn't like the anti-Semitism in one of Catherine's comments. But interestingly, what I began with was calling out was the reporter's characterization of the name she chose to use as "ironic," which, to me, contained an implied judgment of Catherine's activities based on standards Catherine herself clearly does not espouse. I didn't think there was anything ironic about Catherine choosing to use as an alias a name she herself chose and has carried since her early teens; I didn't see any reason to suggest that the Catholic context of a confirmation name and sin vs. saintliness belonged in a journalistic profile of someone who works with sex therapy. Because those are two different contexts. Odd that what I objected to seems to be the point many here are laboring to make - that she's not a sinner.

I certainly don't think she's a sinner, evil, bad, or wrong. I do think she clearly has found this work personally fulfilling, but it has come at a high personal cost, and she says so herself. It's something I think is important to acknowledge. Even if this work were indeed "saintly" (which I don't think it is - at least no less and no more so than the work of people who nurse AIDS patients and terminal cancer patients in hospice settings, people who tend the severely disabled or very aged and look to all their physical needs - to the point of wiping asses and flossing teeth, and countless other examples of human kindness ), that would not be enough to warrant ignoring the things that are, indeed, sad about the toll the work has taken in her life:
Relationships are tricky for a surrogate. Before the current boyfriend, she'd had two serious boyfriends. When it came time to talk about her work, she gave them both the same careful, practiced talk about helping people with serious sexual dysfunction and feeling like she had a purpose in life. One ended the relationship immediately. "The other one said he was OK with it, but he basically didn't understand it and wasn't OK with it." They split up a month later.

After that, she didn't date for a while. "It was just easier," she says. "I fell into the same routine I'd always had in life: give and give and give and not get anything back." That's what she did when she was taking care of her younger sisters as a child.

But self-neglect has consequences. "If you don't date outside with this job, it will kill you," she says. So she set up an online dating account. On Yahoo! Personals, she met a man 15 years younger than she who hadn't been in a relationship for ten years. He told her he'd never been in love. On their first date, they ended up kissing in a booth at Bennigan's. This time, she had told him ahead of time in an email that she was a surrogate.

"He really is OK with it," she says. "He isn't jealous at all. He's more curious about it than anything else. He likes to hear stories about different patients I've had."

They just celebrated their one-year anniversary. When she works as a flight attendant now, Catherine has someone to pick her up and drop her off at the airport.

One night, she got to thinking about their age difference. "I know one of these days, you'll leave me for someone younger," she told him, a slight hint of bitterness in her otherwise sugary voice. Her eyes tear up and her voice flickers as she talks about the moment. She thinks about her life spent taking care of others.
No matter what your job is, a feeling that you "give and give and give and not get anything back" is kind of a red flag that your work is draining you emotionally and psychologically. Caretaking of others to the exclusion of one's own emotional satisfaction is not something most healthy people aspire to.

I gave her money (or rather the NHS did) to be rather sexually intimate with me.

I don't think it's a good analogy: Most people (let alone most clinical terminology) would define this as physically intimate, not "sexually intimate" since the involvement is for medical purposes, not sexual ones.

Definitions of sexual:
# S: (adj) sexual (of or relating to or characterized by sexuality) "sexual orientation"; "sexual distinctions"
# S: (adj) sexual (having or involving sex) "sexual reproduction"; "sexual spores"
# S: (adj) intimate, sexual (involved in a sexual relationship) "the intimate (or sexual) relations between husband and wife"; "she had been intimate with many men"; "he touched her intimate parts"
Definition of "sexuality:"
Main Entry:
sex·u·al·i·ty Listen to the pronunciation of sexuality
Pronunciation:
\ˌsek-shə-ˈwa-lə-tē\
Function:
noun
Date:
circa 1800

: the quality or state of being sexual: a: the condition of having sex b: sexual activity c: expression of sexual receptivity or interest especially when excessive
"
By this definition, I certainly don't get "sexually intimate" with my GYN, nor do most women I know of - at least those with no medical fetish.

In closing, I know it's a lot of fun to take a broadminded and self-righteously indignant stance against anyone who questions whether this is a portrait of a fairly and happily employed person in a necessary field. But nothing anyone has said here really warrants that sort of attack. I haven't slammed Catherine or suggested what she's done is immoral. What I have done is begin by questioning the implication that Catholicism should have any bearing on a judgment of her career. And deeper readings led to the very real questions that I and others have raised:

1. Is this therapy justifiable because it's more effect than other forms of therapy that might be applied in this case? If so, what is the evidence?
2. Does this therapy provide a lasting improvement in quality of life for the clients? For the practitioner?
3. What are the differences between this therapy and other sorts of sex work? How is sex surrogacy certified, codified, or managed with professional protocols? What is the status of sex surrogacy within the profession of therapeutic applied pyschology? What are the licensing and regulations? Is there any move toward legal protection or increased legitimacy? If so, based upon what?

So I guess I'm going to continue to resist being painted as some sort of cruel, judgmental demon of a woman who turns a cold heart to people with intimacy problems and harasses sex surrogates. No such accusation is at all warranted. As I've said before, I think this work may be beneficial to some, but evidence is scarce and what we've seen is 100% anecdotal. And it's rife with risks (physical and emotional as well as legal, since the letter of the law makes no provision for this work as being different from prostitution) and, apparently, embedded gender inequality among practitioners.

As a woman, reading Catherine's story, I saw some pleasant stories of results but also a lot of drawbacks and negatives to choosing this line of work. I think it would be dishonest to argue that those drawbacks are nonexistent. There's a reason this work is not more widespread. If the broader society were in agreement that it was unproblematic, it wouldn't be an issue. The fact that the broader society doesn't is not reflective of simple prejudice only, but also of an honest acknowledgment that the state of development of this sort of therapy within the field of psychology is so embryonic as to provide few supports and benefits and no degree of legal protection to its practitioners. If it is indeed vital work that cannot be performed by licensed professional therapists, then the field should be pushing for licensing and stringent standards and insurance coverage for it.
posted by Miko at 8:31 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, Wood. You said:

Maybe you should learn to disagree even strongly without going off into self-important lord of the universe land,

I really don't see how expressing my personal feelings equates to being in "self-important lord of the universe land".

declaring on the worth or sadness of strangers

So, what, do I need a disclaimer for everything I say? "I am not the sole and final arbiter of any individual's worth." I really need to say that?

who weren't that unpleasant when expressing their opinion.

Their opinion is unpleasant in itself, regardless of how politely it may have been expressed. I expressed my opinion in an impolite way. Happens all the time here.

your "dumb whore with ideas above her station" paraphrase is a bit much isn't it?

Is it? I don't think so. I think it's an accurate paraphrase; it just makes the inherent misogyny more evident.

You know, this thread must be really frustrating for Miko. She adroitly back-pedaled from the attacks on Catherine and redirected the discussion to focus on the efficacy and legitimacy of sexual surrogacy as a therapeutic intervention. It was a rhetorical tour de force, really. And then, along comes moxiedoll and just artlessly blurts out the real agenda behind all the hostility to Catherine:

to call them "derails" because they aren't a variation of "every time a dude gets laid an angel gets his wings!!!" says more about you than about anyone else in this thread.

Because, you know, God forbid. Or somebody.

It might be instructive for you to consider a hypothetical. How might this thread have gone had Catherine been a sex surrogate exclusively for lesbians?

you're completely full of shit to talk the way you did about Miko and moxiedoll.

Well, maybe I am, and maybe I'm not.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:36 PM on July 5, 2008


Not actually a comment here, but a string of thoughts and observations: Firstly, I think this is an interesting subject, and there will be disagreement. Of course there will be disagreement... I don't think you'll find information about sexual surrogacy that doesn't address a lot of issues and misunderstandings (if such they be), so it would be pretty weird if a lot of those thoughts weren't brought up here. It would be great if we could talk (and even disagree) without attacking each other. I for one will probably not come back to this discussion if it becomes all about throwing rocks at each other, which is such a waste of good minds.

Miko is looking at practical aspects of the issue and bringing up good questions. This isn't derailing. She and I are probably not in total agreement, but her take is a very interesting one, and I agree that it's a slippery area no pun! - it's easy to see how things could go very, very wrong for either patient or practitioner and she's asking where is the oversight? What are the controls, regulations and best practices, and how are they enforced? What is the outlook for licensing? etc.

It's not easy to get clear answers to those questions, and that's a good topic for discussion.

I would like to mention a couple of things about the article and certain points that keep popping up. One is that Catherine, if my reading of the article is correct, does actually have a psychology degree, though she doesn't have a PhD. I don't want to stress this too much, because she probably has a bachelor's degree, but I do bring it up in response to the continued references to the three-week training course, which is sort of an easy target for ridicule. More importantly, she is not the prescribing physician. She works with a qualified medical doctor who is a specialist in her field:

"Marilyn Volker, ED.D., is a consultant and clinical sexologist, host of 'Sex With Marilyn', on XM satellite radio. She is a sexuality educator for the past twenty-eight (28) years, is a diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and an Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists. She is on the faculty of the University of Miami, Barry, St. Thomas and Lynn Universities. She teaches medical, nursing and counseling students about sexuality and HIV/AIDS issues.

Dr. Volker teaches classes about sexuality in recovery for the University of Miami's Center for Addiction Studies and Education (CASE), the Addiction Training Institute (ATI), and the Florida Alcohol and Drug Association (FADA). Dr. Volker has served as sexuality consultant for a variety of addiction treatment facilities and has written many articles for publications addressing sexuality issues in recovery." [from here]

The reason I bring that up is that firstly, I believe that Catherine is very closely supervised, though this may not be the case with every surrogate, as Miko is pointing out... but also Dr. Volker's story is quite interesting in that she was a surrogate herself at one point, and actually does sort of represent the happy-ending story that we are debating about Catherine. Dr. Volker did get the degree(s?), the recognition, the happy marriage, and I find myself quite interested in her history. It turns out she is also an advocate for transgender children, among other things, and has established an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender youth. Very interesting person.
posted by taz at 11:29 PM on July 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, another thing I was thinking: A lot of our back and forth here is based solely on what has been presented in this article, and I'd just like to mention what we already know, but perhaps haven't taken much into account: a journalist writing an article for the general public is going to focus on the stories and aspects of an issue that are most fascinating or "juicy" if you will. It's not really possible for us to draw an accurate picture of Catherine herself, or the question of surrogates solely from this one interesting but necessarily incomplete article. The writer probably had dozens and dozens of quotes and anecdotes and chose the ones that were more zingy... So we don't know what else Catherine might have said about her life and her work. A lot of what has been related focuses on the sadder or more bizarre elements of her history, but may actually be somewhat non-representational in the context of everything that she might have mentioned. We have no way of knowing what was left out. Catherine may have talked a lot about other training she has had through the years, for example, which is not unlikely given that Volker is a sex educator - but not as interesting to the casual reader as the strange quickie-course.

And I'm also thinking about the quote: "I fell into the same routine I'd always had in life: give and give and give and not get anything back." Again, a "juicy" quote given the context of what she does, and one sure to bring up questions, as it has here. But I notice this is squarely in the past tense, and sounds like the sort of thing that would be an issue that she probably has worked on in her own past therapy, assuming that she has/has had therapy - which is probably a good assumption, given her relationship with Dr. Volker and her interest in the field. If I were Dr. Volker, I'd probably insist that a surrogate working with me undergo regular counseling.

So... there were undoubtedly a whole lot of other words surrounding that quote, and the fact that the author of the piece pulled it out and highlighted it doesn't necessarily mean that it is an accurate portrayal of her emotional state regarding her work. It's a very interesting article, but for us it's only a glimpse at what are probably the more unusual bits of her history rather than anything like the whole story.
posted by taz at 12:05 AM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Even if this work were indeed "saintly" (which I don't think it is - at least no less and no more so than the work of people who nurse AIDS patients and terminal cancer patients in hospice settings, people who tend the severely disabled or very aged and look to all their physical needs - to the point of wiping asses and flossing teeth, and countless other examples of human kindness), that would not be enough to warrant ignoring the things that are, indeed, sad about the toll the work has taken in her life

Miko, I'm uncomfortable with the saint language too, but I am also uncomfortable with conflating very different kinds of care because I think doing so often leads to genuine suffering for people in institutional settings (where any of us could be should we become too old or sick to remain independent, it seems worthwhile to remember).

Hospice workers are trained to alleviate pain and provide comfort to the dying and to their families; their focus is on death, and bringing as much peace and dignity and love into the process as they can. Their time with the ill is generally short. For most, it is like a calling; frankly, I don't see how they'd manage otherwise. They work inside a concentrated point in time and the emotional/spiritual content of that work is built into its basic architecture; it's nothing like a luxury or afterthought.

By contrast, while long-term care is a calling for some and something they do with love, it's far more common to find overworked, underpaid, and highly stressed people unable to provide anything like emotional support to their patients. Turnover is high in the industry and accreditation, as with sexual surrogacy, is inconsistent at best. From the linked report: Many direct care worker jobs have few or no educational or training requirements, face inconsistent licensing laws from state to state, and lack clearly defined tasks, which makes it hard to track those who move in and out of these jobs.

Everyone recognizes that asses must be wiped and teeth must be flossed so despite the general lack of training and accreditation the field is considered legitimate. Yet the emotional needs and desires of people in care, though no less profound and essential, often go completely unmet. So many people in care crave healing touch, both sexual and not.

Whatever the personal cost to Catherine, it's been her choice to give that comfort to people, whether physically or emotionally impaired, and while it's sad the work takes a toll it seems no more sad to me than the burdens other care workers must bear. It's also questionable to extrapolate from her difficulties that all sexual surrogates have the same problems.

I see ethically practiced sexual surrogacy as part of wider suite of undervalued physical therapies involving healing touch; that doesn't mean I'm blind the potential pitfalls for those who practice it, and it certainly doesn't escape my notice that as with so much work of this kind, it disproportionally falls on women to provide it. These aren't small concerns and you are right to raise them. But they should not obscure the profound need so many suffering people have for healing touch -- again, sexual or otherwise.
posted by melissa may at 5:00 AM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Everyone recognizes that asses must be wiped and teeth must be flossed so despite the general lack of training and accreditation the field is considered legitimate. Yet the emotional needs and desires of people in care, though no less profound and essential, often go completely unmet.

I totally agree; but I think the rarity of the therapy isn't enough to elevate it from "mental and emotional health care" to "saintliness." There's a drama and extremity to the use of that religious language that strikes me as unhealthy and unrealistic. I agree that there are serious emotional and sexual issues that are unmet in mainstream care, but when I see the difficult, intimate, sometimes repulsive, and hard work done by my friends in other forms of health care and mental health care, I have trouble elevating this sort of work above it.

while it's sad the work takes a toll it seems no more sad to me than the burdens other care workers must bear. It's also questionable to extrapolate from her difficulties that all sexual surrogates have the same problems.

Exactly what I'm saying; no more sad, no less sad - except that I am little extra concerned about the mention of frequency of backgrounds of abuse in women drawn to this work. As far as extrapolating, I wouldn't extrapolate too far from one account, but I've read several as a result of this thread, and every surrogate interviewed talks about the effect on their relationships and on their own emotional health - probably because the journalist, obviously, asks about those things. They all talk about some difficulties caused in those areas by their choice of professions.

In fact, you raise an interesting point: there's a fascination with this sort of therapy because, as taz notes, it's "juicy." There's a lascivious quality to some of the interest in sex surrogacy, because, you know, it's about sex. Whereas I doubt any of us would be reading and deeply discussing such an article by a caregiver who gives baths and changes diapers in hospice. Not sexy. If this work is indeed, as it seems in at least these cases, part of a continuum of mental, emotional, and physical health care, then this article is terrible - with its bubbles and its details, it doesn't help remove the issue from a prurient context.

I guess my final thoughts are that any assessment of the validity of the profession needs to take results into account, and also needs to take issues like these (mentioned in a news story of a new surrogacy clinic in Australia) into account:
Biran and Hickman could well face a serious hurdle in Victoria's Psychologists Registration Board, which is empowered to investigate perceived breaches of professional boundaries. President David List told The Age the board would respond if a complaint was made.

"The board usually views the physical boundaries between psychologist and client as sacrosanct," List says. "The obligation would be on the psychologist to justify his or her use of a form of therapy … which involved physical touch."

...how do you know those willing to carry out such delicate work are right for the job?

This is one of the many problems psychiatrist Lorraine Dennerstein, from Melbourne University's Centre for Gender and Health, has with the therapy. Other concerns include the shortage of data proving its success and the availability of other, generally effective, treatment options — such as encouraging men with erectile problems to masturbate as a way of building confidence.

...She recalls hearing some surrogates (most of whom are women treating men) speak at a sex therapists' meeting a few years ago. "They had aspects of abuse in their own backgrounds, which made me wonder how they could intimately relate to men."

Rindy, who is planning to undertake a training course run by the International Professional Surrogates Association in California, agrees more controls are needed...

...But even with strong and sane surrogates, would therapists be doing more harm than good? Does the answer lie in the source of the dysfunction; whether it can be fixed as easily as flicking a switch, or if it is caused by social factors that will return to haunt once the sessions are over?...
Here's another article that adds some context to the infrastructure of the choice to work as a surrogate:
Blanchard became a sex therapist when it became an organized occupation. In 1977 a friend asked her to attend a conference at the Center for Social and Sensory Learning, and it was there that Blanchard was first introduced to the idea. She was working in a nursery school, making minimum wage and needed a higher-paying job. At 19, she had already been married and divorced. Helping people was something she always wanted to be a part of. Since surrogate partners make $100 an hour, the same wages sex therapists do, it was enticing.

Blanchard went through a 70-hour training program in Los Angeles and then worked with another surrogate as an intern.
That happened a long time ago, and at the writing of this article this surrogate was the president of her organization. But a feminist reading of that includes the fact that, for unskilled women, the highest rate of pay per hour almost always involves the intimate use or display of the body, a fact which certainly influenced at least this one choice.

Here is one study indicating success on one measure of efficacy for women clients. And this is another entry that describes some specific ways in surrogates can help the disabled as a "non-demand partner." I basically don't contest that there can be utility; I'm just not willing to gloss over the labor and fairness issues, the areas of potential exploitation of people with a need to help, and the relative paucity of regulation and documentation.

So many of my discussions on MetaFilter conclude, simply, with the idea "it's complex." This one, too. This subfield looks as though it is sometimes a very helpful tactic, but could aim to be less exploitive, more professionalized, and more accepted and regulated.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2008


Miko, I read your 1300-word comment. I didn't really expect you to acknowledge the tone of your remarks, and you didn't. Well, whatever—anyone who's really interested can read what you wrote and draw their own conclusions.

Certainly wiping asses and flossing teeth are icky, but it seems that, to many women, helping a man with his sexual problems is even ickier, as we can see from some of the comments here. So whether you want to use the word "saintly" or "compassionate" to describe those who do the former, you should acknowledge that those who do the latter are at least a little more so.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:38 PM on July 6, 2008


I'm puzzled by this dog-with-a-bone thing you have about Miko's comments, Crabby. You characterized her earlier remarks questioning the use of the word "ironic" as "dismissive and belittling" and apparently your continued digs have something to do with this? That was nothing more than nitpicking about semantics, and if it poked at anyone at all, it would be the writer of the article - about his choice of words. That's it.

The rest of her comments have questioned the efficacy and regulation of surrogacy. There's nothing wrong with bringing up those questions. She also thought that Catherine's story sounded "sad" - based on specific quotes and background mentioned in the article. Nothing wrong with discussing our individual thoughts about and reactions to information in the article that was posted here for us to read and discuss. It's sort of the whole point.

So... I don't really know what's going on with you, but out of your six comments here, not a single one has actually been about the article or the subject of the article. People have tried to stay on topic, but you keep dragging out the personal attacks. Why?
posted by taz at 11:21 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


also, Miko, I mentioned the vaginismus abstract earlier; it's too bad we can't read the whole article.
posted by taz at 11:29 PM on July 6, 2008


Yeah, and that was one of the only articles I could find that was a clinical study, with numbers and percentages. That's the kind of thing I wish there were more of; it would probably help with the arguments in favor of greater acceptance for the profession.
posted by Miko at 9:52 AM on July 7, 2008


taz, after my second comment, I've merely been responding to people who have commented on my comments. In my comments, I have always indicated (by links or direct quotations) the comments to which I've been responding. I haven't addressed any of Miko's comments since the ones that came before my second comment, until my last comment, in which I gave a link to the comment I was addressing. Your second paragraph reveals that either you haven't read my comments (particularly this one) or you don't understand them. Now I'd hate to derail this wonderful discussion, so if you want me to answer any more questions, please send MeMail. I've said about all I plan to say here, so if you want me to keep quiet, just don't comment on my comments.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2008


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