A Touchy Subject

Written by Patrick Ryan Category: Valley News Issue: March 2013
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Tough prostitution laws prevent the practice of sex surrogacy in Arizona. What’s a 40-year-old virgin to do?

Arizona is no stranger to sex scandals. More than 50 arrests were made in the 2008 bust of the “Desert Divas” prostitution ring, and in 2011, more than two-dozen people were charged in connection with the Phoenix Goddess Temple, a New Age-themed sexual healing “church” that authorities characterized as a brothel.

In the wake of such controversies, a recent film has sparked a renewed interest in the issue of legal sexual therapy. Starring Oscar nominee Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, The Sessions chronicles the true story of a disabled man seeking to lose his virginity with a sexual “surrogate partner,” a certified individual who works closely with a licensed therapist, using body exercises, physical intimacy and sometimes sex to achieve a client’s therapeutic goal. Just don’t try to achieve such goals in surrogacy-sensitive Arizona, where tough prostitution laws squelch the practice.   

According to advocates, a surrogate partner differs from a prostitute in that a surrogate does not seek a client’s return business nor emphasize genital pleasure, but rather, addresses a client’s sexual dysfunctions or inhibitions. Developed by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the late 1950s, surrogacy was phased out by many therapists in the 1970s due to its controversial nature.

According to International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA) spokesman Mark Shattuck, fewer than 30 certified partners currently practice in the U.S., mostly in socially progressive states like California, Florida and Pennsylvania. There are currently no practicing surrogates in Arizona.

Several Valley sex therapists – leery of the legal gray zone of surrogacy – operate in a less precarious realm: “sexual coaching.” Phoenix resident Mukee Okan trained as a surrogate through IPSA in 1995 but has worked as a sex coach for 20-plus years. Through her weekly podcast on voiceamerica.com, Sex and the Divine Design, and a variety of coed workshops, Okan talks clients through sexual hang-ups, low confidence and premature ejaculation using breathing and relaxation exercises. “For many, sex has really been a less than fulfilling experience,” Okan says. “It’s really been pretty mediocre, only because of a lack of education.”

Other cases are more tragic – sexual dysfunction often caused by trauma or abuse. Valley sex educator/life coach Susan Simpson, who uses hypnosis and guided imagery to help couples, concedes that such fully-clothed therapies are inadequate for some patients; consequently, she has referred clients to surrogates in California. One male California-based surrogate tells of treating a woman severely depressed from her son’s death and husband’s emotional abuse; he says she “lost movement in part of her body” and couldn’t experience sexual pleasure. He worked with her, and she allegedly recovered use of her limbs and sexual culmination.

Many fear surrogacy would be categorized as prostitution in Arizona, but local lawyer Rich Gaxiola says he’s unaware of any investigations into sexual therapy at documented facilities. In fact, as long as “money is not exchanged for sexual gratification,” he says surrogacy could become a “legitimate practice” here. But only if licensed therapists – who must initiate contact between surrogates and patients – consent.

Sex therapist Dr. Lisa Fischer says she has yet to find a “compelling reason” for a client to use a surrogate, and believes how-to videos and toys can be effective alternatives. For now, that prescription will have to suffice.

“You’re never sure if people are going to crucify you or not,” says a Valley sex therapist who considered working as a surrogate. “And I don’t intend to be the test case in Arizona.”

The State of Sex?
Valley sex educator Susan Simpson isn’t happy with the state of sex in Arizona. “We are a very sexually repressive, shame-based and hypocritical culture,” she says. According to Simpson, such attitudes have helped engender Arizona’s higher-than-average teen pregnancy rate. She’d like to see more comprehensive sex education programs available to teens. Arizona schools are required to stress abstinence in their sex-education programs, and parental consent is mandatory for students to take the course, according to the Arizona Board of Education.

U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rates (per 1,000)
1. Mississippi: 55.0
2. New Mexico: 53.0
3. Arkansas: 52.5
4. Texas: 52.2
5. Oklahoma: 50.4
10. Arizona: 41.9
U.S. Average: 34.2

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention