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What Is Sexual Surrogacy?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on November 17, 2020

Sexual surrogacy is a therapeutic practice designed to help a person become more comfortable with sex, their body, and/or the emotional and physical skills they need for intimacy.

The client works together with a licensed sex therapist and a sex surrogate, or surrogate partner. While other forms of sex therapy do not include the possibility of physical touch or intimacy, sexual surrogacy does.

Sexual surrogacy is a controversial and commonly misunderstood form of therapy. Due to its potential ethical and legal complications, there is a lack of published research on sexual surrogacy. But there is anecdotal evidence that it can be an effective part of sex therapy for some people.

Other Names for Sexual Surrogacy

Another term for sexual surrogacy is surrogate partner therapy (SPT). Sex surrogates also go by the title “surrogate partner.”

Myths and Misconceptions about Sexual Surrogacy

The biggest myth surrounding sexual surrogacy is that it is a form of prostitution. But there are important differences. Sex workers focus only on giving sexual gratification to a client. But a surrogate partner’s goal isn’t around sexual satisfaction or stimulation -- they aim to help a person overcome troubles they have around sex and intimacy, whether they are physical, social, or emotional. They may focus on areas like relaxation, communication, and social skills training. In some cases, surrogate partners never have physical contact with their client.

Still, the legality of surrogate partner therapy is complicated. There are no specific laws against it. But major professional organizations in the fields of psychology and social work have also refrained from making any official statement about the ethics of surrogate partner referral. Many people agree that the key is to work with a licensed sex therapist who can guide the process.

The International Professional Surrogates Association, a professional organization for those in the field of surrogate partner therapy,  ensures that its members receive training, achieve competency, and maintain a specific code of ethics.

Some people believe that surrogate partners should only be part of therapy for people with physical limitations that affect their sex lives. However, SPT can treat a variety of issues.

How Sexual Surrogacy Works

Sexual surrogacy involves a three-person team: sex therapist, sex surrogate, and client.

Surrogate partner therapy begins when a licensed therapist determines with their client that their goals would best be met with the aid of a sexual surrogate. They might recommend this approach to help with several types of conditions:

  • Physical or mental disability
  • Anxiety or fears around sex and intimacy
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Sexual identity questions
  • Conditions like erectile dysfunction, early ejaculation, or vaginismus, a problem with the muscles of the vagina
  • Sexual trauma

More recently, some experts have proposed SPT as a potential tool to help people who have recently undergone gender confirmation surgery.

Depending on the goal, the licensed therapist and client work with the surrogate to design therapeutic experiences. According to the International Professional Surrogates Association, these experiences include “partner work in relaxation, effective communication, sensual and sexual touching, and social skills.”

The sex therapist maintains an active role throughout the process. In the most common arrangement, the therapist meets with both the client and the surrogate, independently, each week. After these meetings, the client will meet with the surrogate. When the therapy process is concluded, the relationship between client and surrogate partner ends as well, allowing for no further contact.

Safety Advice and Special Considerations

If you believe that surrogate partner therapy might be a good fit for you, talk to a licensed sex therapist about the possibility. You should only pursue this therapy with the guidance of a qualified professional, never on your own. Use only trusted referrals that maintain a strict ethical code of conduct.

Show Sources

SOURCES

Harefuah: “Ethical issues concerning surrogate assisted sex therapy.”

International Professional Surrogates Association: “Surrogate Partner Therapy.”

Journal of Counseling Sexology & Sexual Wellness: Research, Practice and Education: “Using Surrogate Partner Therapy in Counseling: Treatment Considerations.”

Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy: “Can Sex Partner Therapy Treat Sexual Distress and Dysfunction in Transgender Patients After Gender Confirmation Surgery?”

The Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Surrogate Partner Therapy: Ethical Considerations in Sexual Medicine.”

Zurin Institute: “Surrogate Partner Therapy.”

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