Sex for money. In almost every state, prostitution is a crime. But what if we told you about a legal form of sex for cash right here in Arizona? It's considered a form of therapy.
Behind closed doors, therapy. Where getting comfortable doesn't mean lying on a therapist's couch, it means getting into bed. And the focus isn't on talking. It's touching, skin to skin contact, sometimes even sexual intercourse.
They're called surrogate partners. Helen hunt plays one in the new independent film "The Sessions." her client is a 38-year-old virgin quadriplegic.
But this isn't just playing out on the big screen, it's happening in bedrooms across the country.
Surrogates are typically women, but there are some men who do this for a living too.
"In my work with clients we would never take one stitch of clothes off before session seven or eight," says Shai Rotem, surrogate partner.
Shai Rotem has been a surrogate partner for several years. His female clients are of all ages.
"From 23 the youngest to 60 years old the oldest."
"Is it difficult though just being a man to go through intercourse with somebody that you may not be physically attracted to?" we asked Rotem.
"That's actually a very good question," he says. "With each every one of my clients I found this thing I like about them, this place that opens my heart and to have so much compassion for them, I know how to transform this energy into sexual energy."
According to Rotem, the pay is around $120-200 a session -- similar to what a regular therapist charges. So how did he get into this line of work?
He says a lot of his former girlfriends had sexual intimacy issues, so he would "coach" them.
He already had a degree in psychology, so he got professional training and eventually became a certified surrogate partner.
"Some people are impressed, most of the people are impressed, most of the people that know me a little bit before they know this piece about myself are not surprised at all. They say you know what, I'm not surprised, its part of your personality. You're very soothing, you're calm, you're relaxed, it's nice to be around you."
"I think there's a huge problem around surrogate partner therapy because of how misunderstood it really is," says Dr. Shannon Chavez, clinical psychologist.
Clinical psychologist Dr, Shannon Chavez says for starters, you can't just go out and hire one. You have to get a referral from a clinical sex therapist -- and often times that referral is a last resort.
"A lot of people that go and see surrogate partners have dealt with really intense trauma sexual trauma and abuse and they're overcoming and healing from that)
She says therapy often begins with something as simple as eye contact. From there, touching fingertips, maybe an elbow.
Women are often times looking to overcome pain during intercourse. Men address issues of premature ejaculation and impotency. A lot of clients are late term virgins.
"Why is it that something like physical touching and actual intercourse has to take place, if it's therapy why can't it just be talking?" we asked.
"Not all surrogate partners have sex. Intercourse is probably the smallest percentage of what surrogate partner therapy is about, the majority is about rapport building and intimacy, skill building," says Dr. Chavez.
The profession is regulated. The International Professional Surrogates Association has a code of ethics. There are board members.
Yet there is still debate over whether this is a legitimate profession. is surrogate partner therapy just another form of prostitution? If you look at some of the headlines on the internet regarding the topic, they're pretty racy. Here in Arizona there really are no laws against this form of therapy.
"It's really being coached in more of that therapeutic method. Part of the therapy is sexual contact, that's really the way around the classical prostitution type statutes that all the different cities have on the books," says Scott Maasen, criminal defense attorney.
Maasen says, legally the profession falls into a gray area.
"The problem really is when you have laws that deal with sex, you're talking about privacy and areas where getting the government to enforce the law, police, that that could be difficult," says Maasen.
"Some of us maybe don't agree with some of the things people do but we don't want the government in our bedroom."
"Paying money for sex is illegal, paying money for therapy is legal," says Rotem. "There are so many people, clients, former clients who have now families, have kids who couldn't have them before. Therapy, verbal therapy didn't help them," says Rotem. "They say I feel progress, I feel I am healing I feel I am being transformed. I feel I can now go on a date, I feel I have hope."
There are only approximately 50 certified sexual surrogates in the U.S. Therapy can take anywhere from a few months to several years.
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