Sex surrogacy goes beyond traditional therapy


"Kari," who didn't want to use her real name, says a sex surrogate changed her life in profound ways.

"It isn't that I got my life back - it's that I got a life," said Kari, a 43-year-old single professional. "It's mind-blowingly intimate."

Kari said she feels like she was let in on a secret: surrogate partner therapy.

"It's for so many people, it can help so many people," Kari said.

Shai Rotem was Kari's surrogate partner.

"She was very scared, very, very scared of human connection," Rotem said.

Kari's intense fear of touch and intimacy stems from her sexual abuse as a child. She said the abuse started when she was 7 years old and continued for many years.

"As children, when you are molested, you think you are unlovable," she said. "Assault, basically, is how I viewed touch."

Kari made progress in traditional talk therapy, but that could only go so far.

"I sat on the couch for an entire year with my therapist," she said. "So shame, fear, the lack of connection with myself, those are all issues I could intellectualize in talk therapy with him and we could talk and talk and talk."

That, however, wasn't enough. Kari said she realized she needed something hands-on.

"Can you teach somebody to swim by talk therapy or with talking? Can we teach someone how to ride a bike just with telling the story of how to ride a bike? No, the answer is no," Rotem said.

Kari and Rotem worked together with Dr. Vena Blanchard, the head of IPSA, the International Professional Surrogates Association based in Los Angeles.

"It takes a special person to be a surrogate partner - ethical and compassionate," Blanchard said.

Blanchard is a 30-year veteran of the field who now trains and certifies sex surrogates.

"It is as much a part of human life to desire sexuality as it is to desire to eat and breathe," Blanchard explained.

Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist from Northern California, spent 43 years of his life in an iron lung, a respiration machine. He admits that he thought of killing himself.

"I think the boredom and the loneliness are the worst things," O'Brien said.

O'Brien, who came down with polio at age 6, explained his decision to hire a sex surrogate in the Academy Award winning 1996 documentary, "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien."

"I thought of myself as the ugliest man in the world," said O'Brien. "I hired a sex surrogate and Cheryl was very kind to me."

Dr. Cheryl Cohen Greene has been a sex surrogate for nearly 40 years. She worked with O'Brien over a period of several months.

"Here was this man confined to an iron lung," said Cohen-Greene."He wondered what it would feel like to be touched in another way than just to be cared for and bathed."

"Most fun I've ever had. I think I'd like to do it again," O'Brien said.

O'Brien and Cohen Greene's experience is the subject of the upcoming movie "The Sessions" starring John Hawkes, William H. Macy and Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate. Cohen Greene says she hopes the film helps people understand her field.

"Most of us carry around invisible disabilities, mindsets that are negative about sexuality and really misinformation about how sex should be," Cohen Greene said.

For Kari and Rotem, most of their time together was spent talking, pushing through Kari's fear and building trust with exercises as simple as hand-holding.

"He worked so hard to create a safe space for me, so that I could trust him," Kari described.

"Only then can we explore the physical body and being more sensual with the other person," Rotem said.

It took two weeks to reach their breakthrough.

"I leapt off the cliff, and I said I'm going to do everything that I want to do to know that I am a fully functioning woman," Kari said.

Rotem describes the therapy process as life-changing - it was life-changing for Kari both in and out of the bedroom.

"Just being able to receive love, compassion, affection - it's a great way to live," Kari said.

Kari agreed to share her story in hopes that more people will learn about the therapy she calls remarkable. She has a book being self-published in December called "Chasing Olives." She wants people with questions about surrogate partner therapy from a client's perspective to contact her at

Cohen Green also has an book titled "An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner."

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