Why do I need a therapist before I can start working with you?

Surrogate partner therapy involves three people: a client, a surrogate partner, and a therapist. The client practices hands-on physical and emotional intimacy skills with the surrogate partner and then processes the session (and how their new skills are playing out in their daily life) with their therapist. Once in a while, a prospective client pushes me to work with them without a therapist, or to help them find a therapist, and my answer is always “No.” Here’s why:

  1. It’s impossible to have the professional distance required of a therapist when I’m partnering with a client. In a client’s relationship with their therapist, a certain level of distance creates safety; like a good parent, a therapist doesn’t let their own baggage get in the way of holding their client. (For more on this, listen to Josh Korda discuss “mirroring” and “marking” in “Addressing Insecure Attachment with Mindfulness” – about 15 minutes in.) But partnering is a different story. My role as a surrogate partner isn’t to set my own emotions aside in order to care for my client; it’s to bring them into the room alongside the client’s emotions, so that we can navigate and negotiate together. This means that once in a while my own trauma is gonna get triggered, that sometimes the client and I might get into conflict, and also that one or both of us may fall in love. That’s what the therapist is here for: to support the client when challenging moments in our relationship come up, and also to support me with my feelings, and in noticing what pieces are mine and what pieces are the client’s.
  2. I’m not a trained therapist. My training is in sex education, somatics, and partnership work. Although I’ve learned a lot from the therapists I’ve worked with, I have no formal training in psychology or psychoanalysis. Processing the challenges, memories, and trauma that come up in surrogate partner therapy is a critical piece of integrating your learnings so you can apply them in your life, and the practitioner who can help you do that is your therapist.
  3. Seeing that a client is already committed to their therapy journey is how I know a client is ready for this work. Surrogate partner therapy is intense. Many clients come to me thinking they’re just going to “practice sex” and then they’ll be all set. But that’s not how this process works. When someone has significant blocks to physical intimacy, there is almost always an emotional root to the issue. Building our way up to erotic connection requires building trust, self reflecting, investing in our relationship, and, inevitably, digging up old emotional wounds. When a client comes to me having already started therapy, that shows me they’re ready to take on the deep, hard work that surrogate partner therapy requires. If a client hasn’t started therapy or is only planning to start when they begin working with me, I feel doubtful that they’re really prepared for this journey.
  4. Talking to the therapist is one of the ways I screen my clients. Screening is an essential tool s*x w*rkers use to keep ourselves safe. Talking with a therapist about their relationship with the client assures me that the client is someone who won’t harm or mistreat me. And if I do ever feel unsafe around the client, the therapist is my built-in support for navigating that.

Before you ask a surrogate partner to work with you without a therapist, consider why surrogate partners have these boundaries in the first place. The structures of surrogate partner therapy are not arbitrary; they exist to keep both of us safe. Honoring someone’s boundaries is one of the clearest ways to show them you respect them, and as you’ll learn if you do embark on the surrogate partner therapy journey, boundaries are one of the core building blocks of relationships and physical intimacy.

My favorite meditations: Centering with adrienne maree brown

One of my favorite forms of meditation is “centering,” a practice that comes from Generative Somatics and the Strozzi Institute. Centering is a profoundly simple and wildly powerful embodiment practice; it involves grounding in the three dimensions of length, width, and depth to get a sense of the spaciousness and boundaries of your own body. adrienne maree brown, a spiritual activist whose teachings have guided and inspired me in my own healing journey, has offered a beautiful centering practice on her podcast with her sister, Autumn, How to Survive the End of the World.

This practice incorporates song, gentle movements, and an abundance of sweet self-acceptance. It’s one of my all-time favorite meditations, one I return to frequently and share with many of my clients. I hope you enjoy!

Centering at the end of the world

You don’t need to be attracted to your surrogate partner

A question I encounter from a lot of new clients is: do I need to be attracted to my surrogate partner? The answer may surprise you (or it might have if I didn’t already write it in the headline of this blog post): nope! Attraction isn’t required for surrogate partner therapy at all.

Although being attracted to your surrogate partner can be fun, it can also bring some challenges with it. Sure, if you find your surrogate partner cute, it can be pretty delightful when you first get to kiss or undress together. But it can also make the closure process a lot harder; saying goodbye to a practitioner you’ve grown close to over many months is hard no matter what the circumstances, but saying goodbye to someone you’d actually want to date — perhaps someone you’ve even fallen in love with? That’s a whole other level of difficult.

Surrogate partner therapy is primarily about intimacy skills practice, and that’s not something you need sexual chemistry in order to experience. In fact, being attracted to your surrogate can make the intentionally slow pace of surrogate partner therapy feel frustrating. I’ve had several clients over the years who pushed and pushed to move at a faster pace than felt safe; their desire was getting in the way of the work they came to me to do. What does matter in your search for a surrogate partner is feeling safe and comfortable. This work is deeply vulnerable, and it requires working with a practitioner you can be at ease around.

An added perk of working with a surrogate partner who’s outside your usual preferences is that it can help expand what you find attractive. Almost all my clients find in the process of this work that they are actually attracted to a lot more than the somewhat narrow conception of “hot” that they started with. When we learn to feel with our bodies and sensations, rather than be constricted by our mind’s desires, it turns out a lot of things can be hot. And doing that learning with someone different than your typical dream partner can be surprisingly supportive.

If you’re searching for a surrogate partner based on who you find most attractive, you probably need to reorient the way you’re approaching this work. Talk to your therapist about what you’re seeking from a surrogate partner. Be willing to examine whether your criteria are supportive to your healing journey, or whether they’re an old constraint that’s holding you back.

Please stop calling me a “sex surrogate”

The correct term is “surrogate partner”

I’m starting to feel frustrated with how frequently I hear the term “sex surrogacy” or “sexual surrogacy.” Surrogate partners (which is the correct term, btw) have been advocating for decades to have our work called by its proper name, rather than by the sensationalist media-originated title of “sex surrogate.” Continuing to use this inaccurate title, despite the protests of the very people doing the work, perpetuates the myth that surrogate partners are essentially just a body to practice sex on.

This myth has created confusion for many of my clients. Since I’m a sex surrogate, clients have asked, isn’t my job to have sex with them whenever they want me to — even if we’re in conflict, even if I’m not in the mood, even if they’ve said something horribly offensive to me? The answer to these questions is unequivocally: NO.

My job is to be a practice partner, to react to my clients the way a real partner would (but with a lot more gentleness and the safety of a therapeutic container), so that they can learn how to be grounded and attuned in relationship. My job is to teach healthy, mutual intimacy based in empowered consent. My job is to be in authentic relationship with clients as a pathway to healing; our relationship involves physical intimacy but more importantly it involves emotional intimacy: communication, care, conversation, attunement, reading body language, cuddling, sharing our insecurities with each other, crying together, and love.

I would have hoped that after so many years of surrogate partners advocating to be called surrogate partners, media outlets and therapists (particularly those with an emphasis on sexuality like My Sex Bio and The Heart Podcast) would get this right by now. And yet almost weekly I still read or overhear someone saying “sex surrogate.”

Why do I have to keep having this same tired conversation? Do you know of any other job where, despite decades of clearly and publicly naming their preferred title, everyone consistently calls them something else? This is one more example of sex workers’ autonomy and definitions of self being tossed out the window by the media in pursuit of something more sensationalist, more whorephobic — and providing more justification for the violence and opposition we face everyday. PLEASE JUST LISTEN TO SEX WORKERS.

Call us by our freakin’ name, okay?

Why I’m over National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day, and every day on this year, I find myself scrolling through social media getting increasingly pissed off at all the celebratory posts reminiscing about coming out stories and congratulating recently-out baby queers.

Now don’t get me wrong — I recognize that for many, many people, coming out is a tremendous occasion. It takes bravery and often hardship, and in a world set on tearing us down, I understand why so many queer folks value celebrating it. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade (or as we say in the world of Somatic Sex Education, “yuck anyone’s yum”); I know that everyone has a different relationship to this stuff.

But speaking for myself, I’m totally sick of the idea of coming out. What “coming out” implies is that there’s a normal way to be, and that if you find yourself to be anything other than normal, it’s on you to let everybody know that. Because otherwise, they’re gonna assume you’re just like everyone else. And frankly, that pisses me off.

There is no such thing as normal, people.

The creation of a dominant norm is harmful to all of us, because in reality, almost no one fits into it. We all have idiosyncrasies, unique ways of being and doing and seeing the world. There are as many sexualities as there are humans on earth — and for most folks I know, our sexualities change (in big ways or in small) over the course of our lives. We are wildly unique, ever-changing beings, and the idea that there is a normal and and a not-normal is bullshit binary thinking that forces all of us into boxes.

Can’t we stop making assumptions about each other and let folks define themselves, in whatever ways they want to?

As someone who tried to force myself into the “normal” box for way too long because I didn’t know there were other options, I feel particularly ragey about this topic. I grew up in a Pleasantville-like suburb of Seattle, and I knew two gay kids growing up, both of whom were Abercrombie-wearing white boys with nice haircuts. There were no queer kids around, no punk or anarchist gays, not even (as far as I knew) any lesbians. (Of course, after high school, I found out that many folks I grew up with turned out to be somewhere on the queer spectrum). The way life was presented to me as a teen was: you go to college, get married, get a job that pays well and impresses your parents’ friends, have kids, retire, and die. And if you’re gay, you do all the same stuff, just with someone with the same genitals you have. Coming out was for those folks, not for someone who was just a weirdo like me.

Since I found boys cute and seemed to be able to tolerate a dick, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be something other than straight until my senior year of college, when I suddenly found myself crushing hard on a girl (s/o to Marina: if you ever happen to stumble upon this, it was me who added you on Wescam during senior week – sorry I was too bashful to admit it). And even once I started dating women and nonbinary folks, I was still so inundated by the social pressure to find my hetero soulmate that I continued to end up partnered exclusively with cis men for another five or six years.

I never really came out, at least about my sexuality. My straightness just kinda faded into queerness over time, and no one in my life seemed confused by that. I remember talking on the phone with my mom one time and she said that someone we knew was dating people of the same gender, and I think I said something to her like, “Oh, ya, me too,” and that was as close as I came to officially coming out to anybody I knew. (Coming out to my family as a therapeutic s=x worker, on the other hand, was a whole other story — but I’ll save that for another post.)

Even after I discovered how expansive and uncategorizable my sexuality was, it took me years to unwind the toxic threads of heteronormativity from my mind and body (lol let’s be real, I’ll be unwinding those for the rest of my life). But what felt so powerful about discovering the label queer was the way it said FUCK YOU not just to normative understandings of sexuality but to normative ways of being in general. Queerness was permission to leave my 9-to-5 job and take the leap into this fringe modality of healing work that makes me so so happy; queerness was permission to not want to be partnered, even with someone other than a cis man, maybe ever; queerness was permission to form all sorts of counter-normative domestic structures, from nesting partnerships with old friends to pseudo-utopian communities to living solo in a van up and down the west coast. Queerness was permission to be me, in my fullest expression, as I am — no boxes, no categories, nothing to come into or out of.

I often hear friends griping about how little “queer” means these days — how you can’t really tell anything about someone when they say they identify as queer anymore. But I’m 100% here for that shit. Because isn’t the whole point of queerness that we stop making assumptions about which box someone fits in? That we acknowledge there are an infinite number of ways to be in the world?

If I had it my way, the whole world would identify as queer. And to be honest (uh oh here comes the hate mail), I think the whole world is queer. Because there is no such thing as normal. There’s just people, doing their people-ing thing, in their own unique-ass way. And that’s queer af if you ask me.