THE SESSIONS, starring Helen Hunt (Cheryl Cohen Greene), John Hawkes (Mark O'Brien) and William H. Macy (Father Brendan) is a movie based on the real life story of Mark O’Brien. At the ripe age of 38 and still a virgin, O’Brien, paralyzed from the neck down and living in an iron lung since a childhood bout with polio, hired a sex surrogate to experience the emotional and physical pleasure that eluded him to this point. The experience was life changing and left O’Brien feeling “victorious, cleansed, and relieved.”
While most of us don’t have to deal with serious disabilities like Mark and the resulting physical barriers to meeting people and entering into sexual relationships, we bear the scars of past invisible wounds to our sexual psyches that can be crippling. Guilt, shame, fear, and feeling unlovable can all fuel anxiety over sex and rear their ugly heads in the ways we interact with and respond to our sex partners.
In O’Brien’s case, where his emotional baggage coupled with his physical limitations rendered him unlucky in love, he worked with a sex surrogate to gain the relationship skills, comfort, and competence he needed to be successful in future intimate relationships. While you may not ever have the opportunity to see a sex surrogate, here are seven things you can learn vicariously from O’Brien’s experience:
1) Your partner is not a prostitute. In the first session when the sex surrogate, Cohen Green, meets O’Brien for the first time, he blurts out, “Your fee’s on top of the dresser.” When you’re strictly procuring sex for money you can forgo the niceties if you wish. In fact, that might work for both as you get off quick and he or she gets to move onto another client. But in a mutual relationship based on love or attraction or infatuation or almost anything else besides fee for service, a little conversation goes a long way. When you’re with a new lover, take some time to get to know him or her and share something real about yourself. And when you’re with your long-time lover, don’t take her or him for granted.
2) Yelling isn't sexy, nor is bringing unresolved resentments, frustrations, or raging arguments into the bedroom. When Cohen Green is undressing O’Brien for the first time, a potentially very erotic moment for a 38-year-old virgin about to get laid, his shirt sleeve gets hung up on his contracted hand and he goes berserk. This scares the hell out of her and puts an abrupt stop to the action. O’Brien wasn’t really physically in pain. His fear and anxiety resulted in him verbally lashing out. No one likes to be yelled at, especially in a sexual situation. That brings me to the next point.