Sexual Surrogate Partner Therapy (BOOK REVIEW)

Sexual Surrogate Partner Therapy, JNB Publishing, ISBN 0-995-52390-7.

From Adam and Eve through to the swinging 60s and the modern-day debate over pornography, the subject of sex continues to be a taboo topic with the lines between love, lust, affection and eroticism blurred by modern day society. In this book David Brown demystifies the conjecture and controversy, and in doing so explains the power of Surrogate Partner Therapy as an effective way to resolve psychogenic sexual problems and dysfunctions; even the otherwise “untreatable” conditions created by fear of intimacy, performance anxiety and sexual insecurities and phobias.

By the author’s own admission Surrogate Partner Therapy is a subject that is much misunderstood by the general public, and, as a result, there has been great misconception and sensationalism, sometimes deliberate on the part of the tabloid press, towards it. David, as one of Europe’s leading experts and practitioners in the field, deconstructs those misconceptions and explains the benefits and sexual and spiritual wellbeing that nowledge can bring.

The strength of the book is its simplicity. A subject like Surrogate Partner Therapy is a daunting one for any uninitiated reader, but far from being an academic tome that is technical and lecturing, the chapters and prose are easy to understand and engage the reader in an almost conversational style — where the reader is provided with some answers but is also left challenged to ask more questions of the author, and perhaps more importantly, themselves too.

In discussing and detailing the concept and implication of Surrogate Partner Therapy, David strips the process into stages that do not overburden the reader with terminology. Noticeably the book does not contain many references to sex in its crudest and stereotypical form, a fact that will be an undoubted disappointment to any reader seeking some sort of titillation.

A chapter containing case studies of clients who have benefited from Surrogate Partner Therapy is respectfully written and necessary for the reader to appreciate the practical problems that can exist and the solutions that lie within. Another chapter chronicles frequently asked questions — and some perhaps rarely discussed — which gives the reader the opportunity to debate within its pages issues that David has explained throughout the book.

The first and final chapters are a personal journey for David; and an emotional one both for the author and the reader. David looks at the formative years of his work, the conflicts he faced with the passing of Jane Brown through breast cancer, and the strength gained from a new vision of the Happy Dream Project, which will offer hope to those struggling to come to terms with cancer and their own sexuality.

Sexual Surrogate Partner Therapy is an honest and genuine work that is clearly aimed not just to inform but also to inspire — and it succeeds through the sensitivity of the words written and the subject discussed, which embraces rather than confuses those reading it. In short, the book unpatronisingly treats the reader as an adult, in what is after all an adult subject to discuss.

Note: the above review was commissioned and provided by the School of ICASA, of which David Brown – who is a CSCS member – is Principal. The School invited the Editor to add his own comments.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of this book, and the enterprise to which it refers, is that it invites the reader to examine the presupposition that “sexual relationships” and “therapeutic relationships” are mutually exclusive. Of course many if not all healthy sexual relationships have a strong therapeutic element. But the conventional wisdom insists that therapeutic relationships, as such, should not be sexual. Brown does not believe this, and tends to dismiss the “safety-first” attitude of conventional therapy. I do not see in his writing any real discussion of the relationship between sex and power or the dangers of abuse. In fairness however it must be said that ICASA appears to exercise the most rigorous and intensive vetting, training and supervision of possible surrogate partners, and it is significant that there are only a tiny number of them – clearly outstanding and courageous people - and they are nearly all women. All the case studies refer to the work undertaken by these women with sexually dysfunctional men.

Those case studies make it clear that surrogate partnership can, and indeed must, involve intimacy in every possible sense (physical and emotional). Whether that would be seen as acceptable will depend on the underlying assumptions, for both parties, of the nature of sexual activity. Here Brown applies his own spirituality, based both on Jung (oddly misspelt “Yung”) and a lot of Goddess mysticism, tantrism, theosophy and other somewhat syncretistic approaches. Whilst there is much here on which to meditate, and some things which may ring true to the experiences of many, I found myself asking, as a Christian realist, whether he does enough justice to the incarnational insights of Christianity which take rather more seriously the hard realities of the human condition, its biological imperatives and drives, and its darker side.

Be that as it may, Brown makes a good argument that the understandings of sex prevalent in Western society – for which Western religions must in part be blamed – are at the root of many sexual dysfunctions because they approach the issue too much from the “outside in” and pay too little attention to the spiritual dimension. At this point many CSCS members would probably sympathise with him. Whether they can make the jump from there to the virtues of therapeutic polyamory, and in doing so seemingly dismiss entirely whatever insights the mainstream Western Christian tradition may have possessed, is perhaps another matter. Yet there seems little doubt from the case studies that a genuine and healing, if temporary, love relationship can occur within surrogate partnership.

Back in the 1960s Harry Williams became notorious through his assertion, as a Christian priest and theologian, that the prostitute-client relationship portrayed in the film Never on Sunday was therapeutic both sexually and spiritually. Brown rightly insists that surrogate partnership is in its intention quite different from prostitution; the latter offers physical relief from the “outside in”, the former spiritual/sexual healing from the “inside out”. But where Williams was right was in reminding us of the ambiguity and complexity of sexual relationships in a spiritual context. I cannot help feeling that, if Brown were to explore more deeply the resources of the Christian tradition in the way that Williams did, he might be able to do more justice to issues such as biological imperatives and the sheer dangerousness of sex, and possibly not dismiss the conventional wisdom quite so readily. But I am sure that Williams would have kept an open and sympathetic mind on what Brown and ICASA are seeking to do; and so should we.

Anthony Woollard

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