When you get paid to perform sexual healing on women with intimacy issues, you need patience, sensitivity, and a willingness to put her pleasure before yours. And also condoms. Lots of them.
If surrogate partner therapy (SPT) sounds like something straight out of Masters of Sex, it is: In 1970, William Masters and Virginia Johnson published their findings on an innovative treatment in which a surrogate partner makes clinical appearances in the office—and the bedroom. Working as a member of a three-part therapeutic team, the surrogate partner helps construct a series of experiences to introduce the client to healthy forms emotional and physical intimacy. Yes, that can mean sex.
SPT rode a wave of popularity through the seventies that came to an abrupt end with the AIDS epidemic. Maybe it’s because of shifting attitudes toward sex, maybe it’s because sexually transmitted infections don’t carry the same fatal stamp they used to, but SPT is starting to make a comeback. In particular, therapists are finding more and more women are seeking the services of male surrogates.
Enter Shai Rotem, a forty-something Israeli who has lived and worked in Los Angeles for the past decade. He is one of a small (but growing) handful of male surrogates left to satisfy this rising demand. Here, Rotem shares the naked truth about his unusual job.
“I knew early on I wanted to work with people. Starting at the age of 20, I realized that nearly all the girls I had dated had some issues around sexuality, intimacy, and relationships. They either never had a boyfriend, were virgins, or had some history of sexual trauma. I got used to it. One of my best friends said, ‘Hey, Shai, what’s going on with your dating life? It’s not normal.’ He was referring to the fact that I had had six relationships, and five out of the six women had a history of sexual abuse, sexual trauma, had been raped, or molested by a family member. I just saw it as ‘This is life. I’m honored to help these women.’ That’s the day I called a center in Tel Aviv that offers surrogate partner therapy. I was accepted for the training, graduated, and I’ve been doing this ever since.
“Many clients are very, very shy, embarrassed or closed-off. If it’s a woman who’s a virgin or who has had sexual trauma or sexual problems, she doesn’t feel safe with guys. And I’m a man, so on one hand, she wants to contact me; on the other, the emotional feelings and fears are starting to surface. Many times it will start with an e-mail. I’ll respond, and then we’ll start writing back and forth to each other. Clients need to gain trust. Each client goes at her own pace. Eventually, I’ll refer them to a therapist and we’ll move to a three-way meeting. That’s when the process really starts. The client sees the therapist once a week, she sees me once a week, and the therapist and I as a team will talk in between sessions.