DSC_1845With the 2012 release of the film The Sessions, starring Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate and based on the true story of Mark O’Brian, sex surrogacy is getting a lot of due attention. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what a sex surrogate does, what is the difference between a sex surrogate and prostitute; between a sex therapist and a surrogate. And what about other sex professionals and sex workers.

As someone who works in the field of sexual health and pleasure from a “hands-ons” and a talk only approach I’d like to help you understand the differences and what you might expect from working with these types of professionals.

Talk Only Professionals

Family and Marriage Counselors – These counselors work mainly on interpersonal relationships through talk sessions. Family and Marriage Counselors are not always trained to deal with sexual issues so it is important to ask if this is something that you are keen about working on in a therapeutic setting. For more information about Family and Marriage Counseling visit the American Association for Family and Marriage Therapy.

Sex Therapists- Therapists who are trained to work specifically with sexual issues and challenges. They are not allowed to touch their clients so you would experience a talk therapy session or series of sessions without touch. In order to become a sex therapist you must obtain your Ph.D. Some sex therapists will refer their clientele to sex surrogates or Sexological bodyworkers when they feel a client will be best served by working with a “touch” professional. For more information about Sex Therapist visit the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

Sex Educators: Sexuality educators work in more of an educational sense as opposed to a therapeutic sense, although there may be a therapeutic effect as a result of working with them. Most sex educators instruct by talking only. They may be authors, speakers, and teach in one on one setting. There are a few that cross the line into touch (see below). Not all sex educators are created equal, many have training, some do not as there is really no requirement for calling your-self a sex educator. Choose wisely. The American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists is a good resource.

Touch Professionals

OB/GYNs and Endocrinologists: I include doctors here because while they may not be massaging or pleasurably touching your body they do play a role in sexual health and pleasure. A GYN can help test you for STDs/STIs and keep you in great health. Some also work with hormonal changes that happen throughout your lifetime. An endocrinologist can help you understand your biochemistry and keep your sexual hormones in optimal states.

Sexological Bodyworkers (Somatic Sexologists)- A Sexological Bodyworker is a form of a sex educator who does “hands-on” work. This is mostly done through touch, massage, breathing and body awareness exercises. Certified Sexological Bodyworkers (CSBs) must wear clothing, use gloves, and provide one-way touch only. They do not have intercourse with students. While CSB is considered educational there may be a therapeutic effect as a result of working with a trained professional. CSB is only approved in the State of California and is governed by the Association for Certified Sexological Bodyworkers.

Sex Surrogates: Surrogate partner work involves three people: Sex Therapist, Surrogate Partner, and the client. In order to work with a Sex Surrogate you must be referred by a Sex Therapist with whom you are working. A Sex Surrogate Partner is just that, someone who partners with you to help you work through sexual issues, challenges and to improve your sexuality. Sex Surrogacy is considered therapeutic in nature. There are limited number of sessions that combine both talking and practicing different sexual exercises. Sex surrogacy does not always involve intercourse. Take a look at the International Profession Surrogates Association website for more information on Surrogate Partner Therapy.

BDSM Professionals: There are a wide variety of ways that Kink and BSDM (Bondange, Dominance/Submission, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) are practiced and each practitioner may have a different way of working with clients. Most Kink Professionals do not offer “sexual” services that involve sexual intercourse or any form of getting a client off physically. The work is mostly psychological in nature but also very physical with bondage, sensation play, and many other forms of touch. While the work is not designed to be therapy many people claim to find this work profoundly helpful and transformational to them. There are some professionals who do offer sexual services along with BDSM practices, so be sure to screen appropriately see what type of services the professional offers. For more information visit the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom.

Dakas, Dakinis, Tantra Practitioners, Sacred Intimates: There are also a wide variety of practitioners of sacred sexual practices. These practitioners may be talk only, but many work from an experiential space. They use breath, movement, sound, energy, visualization, meditation, massage, touch, goddess worship and many other tools to help practitioners move through both physical and mental blocks and to transmute sexual energy into spiritual awakening. Dakas are male practitioners and Dakinis are female practitioners of the sacred sexual arts.