Private Practices was made in 1985, and has been reissued presumably because of the success of director Kirby Dick's recent documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated. It has a commentary with Kirby Dick talking to Tanner Barklow, and, on the DVD insert, there is a short printed recent interview with Maureen Sullivan, the sex surrogate featured in the documentary.
We follow Maureen working with two clients, Kipper who was 25 and was very reluctant to initiate any physical contact with women, and John, 45, who was recently divorced and had a crisis of sexual confidence. We see Maureen in her initial meetings with the clients and their psychotherapists, and then we follow her one-on-one sessions with Kipper and John as she gradually becomes more physically close to them, and helps them feel more comfortable with themselves and the idea of taking sexual initiative. Eventually they get to the level of being naked together and touching each other. With John, she deals with the ending of the therapy and his feelings that he must be special to her.
We also see some contextual interviews and meetings: John dining with his ex-wife, John's daughters, Kipper with his brother, Maureen's neighbors, Maureen talking with her therapist, and most gripping of all, a discussion between Maureen and her brother and father about her job and their past.
It is a clearly a documentary made on a shoestring, yet it works well. Much of it is fascinating viewing, partly because of what it shows about sex surrogacy, and especially because of the awkwardness of many scenes. It is also fun because of the nostalgia of the 1980s fashions.
The documentary makes a strong case that Maureen is able to help people with her work as a sex surrogate, and that it is a long way from prostitution. The worries about the possible emotional and physical dangers of the work are less addressed, and it does seem that the combination of nurturing and sexuality could lead to a powerful attachment of the client on the therapist.
The commentary with Kirby Dick has plenty of updates and information about how the documentary was made. His conversational partner Tanner Barklow tries to be provocative and Dick defends his subjects and the validity of sex surrogacy.
Private Practices will be particularly interesting to those interested in sexual surrogacy, as an historical document and possibly as a way to reflect on the basic idea of how to treat sexual problems. It only touches on the difficulties for the surrogates and says very little about ethical concerns, and says nothing about the current place of sex surrogacy in therapy.
Link: Zeitgeist Video
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.