My Life as a Sexual Surrogate: It’s More Than One Big Sex Party
15-year sexual surrogate therapist Linda Poelzl is mild-mannered, but speaks rather bluntly when describing her intimate work: “We are not fucking our brains out all the time, but there is sex involved,” she says. “People assume sex surrogate therapy is one big sex party. And clients often assume they can get a few sex lessons and then they are fine, but it’s usually more complicated than that.”
Poelzl works alongside psychotherapists (but refrains from dealing with Freudian analysts, explaining, “I like to work in present time”) who refer their clients to her, though she also advertises through her personal website.
Poelzl has worked in the field of human sexuality for nearly a quarter century and has been independently (and steadily) supporting herself as a sex surrogate since becoming certified fifteen years ago. She is one of the few remaining in this fringe line of, yes, legal sex work. There is no guarantee for “full sexual service” but as Poelzl admits, “It’s certainly not just hand-holding.”
Her $300 per-hour rate is not covered by any health insurance plan (nor will it likely ever be) and she estimates that she’s seen between 300 and 500 clients over the years, many who are in their 50s. A sexual surrogacy session is usually two hours, with an average of fifteen sessions, but there have been notable exceptions: Poelzl’s most committed client is going on his 94th visit.
She feels “safe and proud” of the work, though admits to feeling affected at times. “It’s so tricky when you are dealing with sex — boundaries can get blurred. It can be hard to date.”
The International Professional Surrogate Association (IPSA) is the only existing organization that certifies sexual surrogate therapists. Prostitution and fear of legal repercussions have taken a toll on the profession. Consequently, Poezl’s line of work is both highly risky and thinly populated. “We are a dying breed,” she says.
How did you become a sex surrogate?
I was a volunteer with the San Francisco sex information switchboard. Sex therapy and sexual dysfunction was part of the training. A colleague talked about sex surrogate work and I was immediately intrigued.
I was a massage therapist and instructor in 1978, and I’ve always been able to help people relax and accept their bodies. I was going to sex parties, too — I was engaging with other people, not so much intercourse. I was soon able to engage with people who I wasn’t necessarily attracted to. In combination, knowing that I could do this sexually made me feel like I was qualified, even before I went through training with IPSA in ’95. The day after becoming certified, I got started. It’s the kind of thing you have to have a lot of life experience to do. It was a ten-day intensive training. We are screened, gave our history and documented just why we felt we were qualified. Some people didn’t pass the test.
Can you describe the process?
A lot of people think, “sex, sex, sex!” But it involves less sex than with an entertainment sex worker. Certainly it’s not just hand-holding. I work with psychotherapists who refer their clients to me — but I don’t work with Freudian analysts. Sex surrogate work is about a relationship with less focus on psychological processing. It’s helping a person relax and talk about their feelings. I teach them about touching, body language, how to show confidence…once you get some, that is.
We then get into nudity. People tend to get impatient, they want to just get to the good stuff. But just because I am an expert doesn’t mean I know everything about my client. When I have a new partner, I’m learning their body, so hand-guiding or making sounds is key. Sometimes it can be a little clinical and not always sexy. You are learning something, so communication is needed. I’ll teach them things like initiating touch and sensual skills first, and then “How do you know when a woman wants to be kissed?” Some of it is role play — like being on a date.
How much of the time is physical?
With some clients, there’s less actual sex. Some people can be touch-phobic and very anhedonic — they literally won’t feel pleasure. There can be a lot of touching, but it’s gradual. I use a lot of sensate focus: concentrating on sensations, and taking turns giving and receiving. During sex, people are touching each other at the same time…we work up to that.
How do you rate success?
Some particular sexual dysfunctions can be fixed. But it depends on the issue. Some issues are easier to clear up than others.
Does your work kill your own sex drive?
First of all, I am older, so I don’t have a sex drive. Most clients are over 45; some are 60 or 70. Baby boomers still want to have sex. I’ve learned a lot about elder sex.
Feelings on Viagra?
When Viagra first came out, I thought it was great but I was worried it would put us surrogates out of business. I have clients who were prescribed drugs for erectile dysfunction and have used the drugs in conjunction with their work with me. Usually it’s not just a physical problem — and using these drugs tend to annoy post-menopausal wives who are happy that they are having less sex and suddenly their husbands want a lot of sex. For them, it’s a burden.
Have you ever refused to work with a client?
There have been a few over the years. They needed more psychotherapy, and I felt they weren’t ready for sexual surrogate work.
Have you worked with any couples?
I had a couple in their 30′s who were in an arranged marriage. While they were very fond of each other they were having trouble; they had no previous sexual experience. They walked in, took their clothes off and said “we want help!” and I pretty much taught them body mechanics. They were desperate and willing. It was a matter of teaching them about…adjusting.
I imagine that there might be some clients you’ve had whose partners aren’t as open to sex surrogate therapy?
Yes. I have worked with clients who have partners that are uncomfortable, sure…
Then would you encourage them to disclose their surrogate therapy to their partner?
I don’t really care if a client tells their partner or not. But what does concern me when they choose not to is, will they feel guilty and not be able to connect with me on the level that’s needed in order to work through their issues?
Is sex surrogate therapy a viable way to have an affair?
I think there are easier ways to do it, like hiring a call girl. That’s a much quicker way to have a good time.
How would you protect yourself from a jealous lover?
Well I have a confidentiality agreement. I spell it all out in a paragraph, differentiating my work from prostitution. It’s not a contract for sex:
“CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT: I understand that the surrogacy sessions are for the purpose of expanding my ability to feel physical pleasure and emotional fulfillment through greater intimacy and increased sensation and to overcome sexual dysfunction. I acknowledge this session series is not for the purpose of sexual gratification or entertainment and may or may not include sexual intercourse, manual, or oral stimulation. I understand and will abide by the above agreements.”
Do you allow clients to keep in touch with you down the road, once the therapy is over? Who decides when the therapy has run its course?
As with any relationship, it’s unusual to end it well. Generally, when there is a lot of sex in our sessions, we are done. I work with the client in order to acknowledge that it was a professional experience, but I usually have a period of no contact with a client for a couple of months. They can come back if they need maintenance, but when I get cards and emails from people who end up married, it’s always nice. There are some people who need maintenance, and it helps them to have some outlet.
Where do you see sex surrogate therapy headed in the next, say, five years?
We are a dying breed. I think some of that has to do with the fear of liability that psychotherapists have; there are people who think this work is excellent, but fewer therapists want to risk their licenses. Maybe I’ll look into training people. We need young blood!
Photo credit: Christopher G. Boyd
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