Nancy Beauchaine has a slender body, and she carries it erect, supple as a dancer. Nancy is discussing how she uses her body in her work as a sexologist. She is sitting in Hob Nob Hill, the Hillcrest restaurant, nibbling on homemade bread and talking about how it feels to take off her clothes with clients; how it feels to stroke and caress them, and on rare occasions, even to have sexual intercourse with them.
“I suppose that my approach is similar to a gynecological approach. When a gynecologist examines a woman, he feels her breasts, he prods her stomach, he literally goes up inside of her. That’s extremely intimate, but there’s a sense of professional distance.” Beauchaine uses her hands elegantly to complement her words; she projects great self-possession, even serenity. She looks no more than thirty-five, but she’s older. She says, “If 1 were a nurse in a hospital, bathing a patient, there would be a lot of physical contact in that situation. But no one questions a nurse handling a patient’s genitals. Society as a whole will accept touching from a nurse or a doctor.” Beauchaine knows, however, what society tends to think of her line of work. ”1 guess it's the prostitution mind set.” she says. So she usually is cautious about sharing her whole-hearted belief in and support for “hands-on” sex therapy.
If society as a whole might condemn that approach, even the limited circle of professional sex therapists harbors doubts about it. The concept of surrogates — individuals with whom sexually dysfunctional clients can practice sexual techniques — has existed for decades, although for a long time only prostitutes filled the role. Pacific Beach psychologist Harold Greenwald. nationally known for his research on call girls, says that for years he fielded requests from medical doctors seeking prostitutes to work with their patients who were plagued with sexual problems. But Greenwald says by the 1960s, sex researchers Masters and Johnson had publicized the use of “professional” surrogates, people specifically trained to work in a therapeutic setting.
Use of them and debate over their merits has been more cautious in San Diego than in larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but recently the subject has crept out of the shadows. The San Diego Society for Sex Therapy and Education has announced plans to focus for the first time on surrogate training and therapy at its annual public workshop (to be held October 27 at San Diego State University), and a few weeks ago members of the professional organization packed the Casa Del Prado in Balboa Park to listen to Aalsa Lee Bellmore.
Bellmore is a surrogate from Los Angeles. She works full-time at it, and she's almost an archetype. She is about forty years old, poised, outspoken, and curvaceous. At the recent therapists’ meeting, she dressed expensively; she looked professional, if a trifle hard. She mentioned frequently, not clearly joking, how great she is in bed.
Bellmore says her childhood helped prepare her for the work; home was a "sex-positive ” environment in which her parents were openly, physically affectionate. She says that when she returned to college at thirty-five, she read exhaustively about sex research, and when she heard about the use of surrogates, she decided she was cut out for the work. Another surrogate who wanted to retire trained Bellmore and transferred a number of clients to her; in the two years since then, others have come to her from physician and psychologist referrals.
Now she works in a spare bedroom in her home near Culver City, accepting up to six clients a day and charging fees which range from thirty-five to fifty dollars per hour-long session. Clients have stayed with her from four weeks to up to a year. She told the group that she starts out unassumingly. “You don’t just drag them off and jump in the sack. That doesn't work." She argues that her work differs from that of a prostitute in that prostitutes lack her training, her goal of helping clients to overcome sexual problems, and her resolve to “wean" them quickly. She basically uses techniques developed by Masters and Johnson, but she qualifies that. “I find that when I’m interacting with a client on a very personal level such as sex, being clinical is very difficult for me.... I don’t think it’s just a mechanical process. I think it requires a hell of a lot of togetherness and a lot of real knowledge of yourself.”
Bellmore told the group that she's never rejected a client simply on the grounds that he turned her off. Clients have ranged from virgins who've suffered “with more of a social then a sexual dysfunction” to men with specific dysfunctions such as premature ejaculation and impotency. She scoffs at the notion of telling clients not to “get involved” with her. When clients fall in love with her, and they often do. “I acknowledge it,” she says. “And I tell ’em I’m not going to do anything about it. If they want to be in love with me for an hour or two a week, that’s fine. I’ve never had any problems.” Just remarried this past July. Bellmore claims that her own husband, who’s aiming for his doctorate in sexology, views her work as being no different from any other job. ("We've always had an open relationship.’’) Her eighteen-year-old daughter has accepted the surrogate work, but her twenty-two-year-old son has had misgivings.
Bellmore acknowledges that she’s an anomaly in one respect — most of her fellow surrogates shrink from publicity, a situation which holds true in San Diego. The professional surrogates’ organization, IPSA, counts no San Diego members, and both surrogates and the therapists who are using them generally refuse to talk to outsiders. In the course of preparing this article, about a dozen local counselors who work with surrogates were contacted, as well as six individuals who have worked as surrogates, and all refused to be interviewed, even under conditions of total anonymity. So no one knows how many San Diego surrogates there are, yet clues to their presence abound. Martha Graner, for example, is one counselor who expresses fundamental doubts about the widespread use of surrogates, but she admits that she and her physician husband 'had a client use a surrogate successfully on one occasion. Graner says at that time her La Jolla office received a flurry of calls from other would-be surrogates, all professional women with a variety of academic degrees.
Gordon Clanton, a San Diego State University sociologist, is the current president of the sex therapists’ society. and he expresses frustration over the secrecy. Clanton helped to arrange Aalsa Bellmore’s recent talk in the hopes that it would bring the subject out in the open. He was disappointed. “These people (the local therapists] are my friends and I'm the president of their organization, and they still don’t talk to me about it.” But he understands clearly the reasons for the silence....