A surrogate partner provides real-world therapy for people dealing with negative body images, abuse, and other sexual and relationship-related problems. Discover how it may help you.

close up of two people holding hands as a supportive gestureShare on Pinterest
2150816449 Anna Frank/Getty Images

A surrogacy program helps a person build a foundation of confidence in their body, reduce anxiety, and improve a person’s body confidence.

The confusion about surrogate partners likely comes from the ability of the therapist to initiate touch and engage in sexual contact. To be clear, sexual contact is typically only indicated after building a foundation and may not be necessary in all cases.

A surrogate partner is a type of therapist who provides real-world therapeutic interventions for a person. They work closely with a sex therapist to address the specific needs of a person seeking help with sexual, emotional, and confidence-based issues or concerns.

A surrogate partner enters into a temporary relationship with the person seeking help. This allows them to practice therapeutic concepts in real-world scenarios, such as:

  • going on dates
  • cuddling
  • holding hands
  • other intimate and public forms of affection

Therapists, such as talk therapists, can recommend a surrogate partner as part of therapy. They may recommend this form of therapy in cases where they feel a person may benefit from a surrogate partner.

Surrogate partners often focus on building a strong foundation for the person receiving therapy that includes helping with:

Sexual contact is not considered until those goals are met or worked through. Even then, a person may never require sexual contact with a surrogate partner in order to complete the program.

Surrogate partners often receive extensive training, and some organizations, such as the International Professional Surrogates Association, may offer certificates indicating their employees’ credentials. Before starting a surrogacy program, a person should ask about training, certificates, and the organization’s code of ethics.

Several different people may benefit from sexual surrogacy, but it’s not appropriate for everyone.

Some groups that may benefit from sexual surrogacy include people who are dealing with:

  • medical conditions
  • negative body image or physical disfigurement
  • intimacy issues
  • sexual, emotional, or physical trauma
  • confusion about their sexual orientation
  • lack of sexual or social self-confidence
  • anxieties or phobias
  • unresolved relationship trauma

They may also help with sexual issues, such as:

  • anxiety around intimacy
  • pain or other issues during sex
  • premature ejaculation, inability to orgasm, or other sexual dysfunctions
  • shame or anxiety around sex
  • lack of relationship experiences
  • trouble with low arousal
  • inability to orgasm

Sex therapy involves a licensed therapist that operates similarly to other forms of therapy. A person meets with a therapist either alone or with a partner and works through various concerns, such as:

  • problems with intimacy
  • sexual traumas
  • anxiety

They do not engage in any form of touching or intimacy with their client.

Sexual surrogates work with a person in real-world settings. They engage in a short-term relationship where the surrogate helps a person work through many of the same issues a sex therapist addresses.

In addition, surrogate partners may also continue to work with the person once the surrogacy ends.

Differences include:

Sex therapistsSexual surrogates
A license is required to become a sex therapist.Depending on who they work for, a license may not be required.
Helps a person work through sexual, emotional, and intimacy issues so they can generalize what they learn across settings.Provides real-world training to accomplish the goals through a short-term relationship.
Does not engage in physical contact. Helps guide physical contact and may engage in sexual contact, as indicated for treatment.
Works with both single people and those in relationships based on need.Typically for single people who may not plan to have a relationship outside of the program.
May refer a person to a sexual surrogate as dictated by the person’s needs.Encourages a person to also work with a sexual therapist, as opposed to solely working
with a surrogate.
Helps a person generalize the skills learned with a sexual surrogate to everyday situations they may encounter. Works alongside a sexual therapist as an important part of the treatment team.

A person pays sex workers for the explicit purpose of sexual gratification. The worker accepts money to engage in a desired sexual experience for their client.

By contrast, a person hires a surrogate partner along with a sexual therapist for a team approach to intimacy and sexual therapy. A surrogate partner may engage in sexual contact that helps a person work through their emotional or sexual needs.

In some cases, intercourse may be indicated as part of therapy. If it is, it forms only a small part of the therapy.

Reputable agencies typically require training and certificates in order to work directly with clients. They also typically emphasize several areas of concern outside the area of sexual intercourse.

Surrogate partner therapy exists in a legal gray area.

Governments around the world — including the United States — have largely ignored surrogate partner therapy. The United States, for example, does not have any explicit laws forbidding or protecting it.

This means that federal or state regulations do not exist. Some agencies, such as the International Professional Surrogates Association (IPSA) and the Surrogate Partner Collective, exist to help fill the industry’s regulatory need.

Both organizations require surrogates to undergo extensive training. They also both seek to educate people on exactly what surrogate partner therapy is and is not.

The Surrogate Partner Collective states that many of the concerns around legality come from misunderstanding and fear. They also note that neither therapists nor clients have ever faced prosecution for this type of therapy.

Surrogate partner therapy helps with building self-esteem, positive body image, and relationship confidence. Though they can engage in sexual contact with a person, the service provides a real-world therapeutic approach to sexual therapy.

Often, a sex therapist will recommend a surrogate partner as needed for a person who they determine may benefit from the services.

Contrary to popular misunderstandings, surrogate partners’ primary goals are not sexual intercourse. They will work with a person on several underlying skills before entertaining the need for sexual contact.