How sex surrogates are helping injured Israeli soldiers
In many countries surrogate sex therapy – in which a person is hired to act as a patient’s sexual partner – is controversial, and not widely practised. In Israel, however, it is available at government expense for soldiers who have been badly injured and need sexual rehabilitation.
The Tel Aviv consultation room of Israeli sex therapist Ronit Aloni looks much as you would expect. There is a small comfy couch for her clients and biological diagrams of male and female genitalia, which she uses for explanation.
But what happens in the neighbouring room, which has a sofabed and candles, is more surprising.
This is where paid surrogate partners help teach some of Aloni’s clients how to have intimate relationships and ultimately, how to have sex.It doesn’t look like a hotel – it looks more like a house, like an apartment,” says Aloni. There’s a bed, a CD player, an adjoining shower – and erotic artwork adorns the walls.
“Sex therapy is, in many ways, couple therapy and if somebody doesn’t have a partner then you cannot complete the process,” she goes on. “The surrogate – she or he – they’re there to model the partner role in a couple.”
Although critics liken this to prostitution, in Israel it has become accepted to the extent that the state covers the cost for soldiers with injuries that affect their ability to have sex. People need to feel they can pleasure somebody else and that they can get pleasure from somebody else,” says Aloni, who has a doctorate in sexual rehabilitation.
“People are coming for therapy. They’re not coming for pleasure. There is nothing similar to prostitution,” she adds firmly.
“Also, 85% of the sessions are [about] intimacy, touching, giving and receiving, communicating – it’s about learning to be a person and how you relate to other people. By the time you have a sexual relationship, that’s the end of the process.”Mr A, as he wants to be known, was one of the first soldiers who got Israel’s Ministry of Defence to pay for sex surrogate therapy after a life-changing accident nearly 30 years ago, when he was an army reservist.
A fall from a height left him paralysed from the waist down and unable to have sex in the ways that he had previously.
“When I was injured I made a list ‘To Do,'” he says. “I have to [be able to] do a shower by myself, I have to eat, dress by myself, to drive by myself and have sex independently.”
Mr A was already married with children, but his wife did not feel comfortable talking about sex to doctors and therapists, so she encouraged him to seek help from Aloni.
He explains how Aloni gave directions and feedback to him and his surrogate partner before and after each session.You start from the beginning: you’re touching this, you’re touching there and then it’s building step-by-step until the last stage of getting an orgasm,” he says.
Mr A argues it was right for the state to pay for his weekly sessions, just as it did other parts of his rehabilitation. Today the cost of a three-month treatment programme is $5,400.
“It wasn’t the goal of my life to go to a surrogate, OK, I was injured and I want[ed] to rehabilitate in every aspect of my life,” he says, sitting in his wheelchair, in a tracksuit, on his way to play table tennis.
“I didn’t fall in love with my surrogate. I was married. It was just to study the technique of how to get to the goal. I took it as a very logical thing that I have to do.”
He blames Western hang-ups about sex for any misconceptions.
“Sex is part of life, it’s the satisfaction of life,” he says. “It’s not that I’m being Casanova, this is not the issue.”Short presentational grey line
A steady stream of people of different ages and backgrounds visits Aloni discreetly at her clinic.
Many are struggling to have a romantic relationship because of intimacy issues or anxiety, or have suffered sexual abuse. Others have physical and mental health conditions.
Aloni has focused particularly on disabled clients since the start of her career. Several of her close relatives had disabilities including her father, a pilot, who suffered a brain injury after a plane crash.
“All my life I was next to people having to deal with and overcome different disabilities,” she says. “All these people were very well rehabilitated and so I had this very optimistic approach.”
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Aloni became close to a surrogate who worked with disabled people while studying in New York.
When she came back to Israel in the late 1980s, she gained the approval of leading rabbis for the use of sexual surrogates and started providing therapy at a rehabilitation centre on a religious kibbutz – a rural community.