An Intimate Life: Sex, Love and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner, by Cheryl Cohen Greene , $15.95; Soft Skull Press; 224 pages
For forty years, Cheryl Cohen Greene has worked as a surrogate partner, a professional whose techniques give "hands on" a more suggestive meaning.
Her new memoir, An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner, offers a candid look at the personal and professional life of woman whose work has seen the ebb and flow of sexual awakening and repression in America.
Growing up Catholic in Salem, Mass., a city with unforgettable ties to the persecution of women accused of witchcraft, Cohen Greene fought to stay on the "right side" of God. As a repeat offender of "the queen mother of sins"masturbationthe teenage Cohen Greene attended confession at a different church every Saturday to avoid condemnation from the same priest. While the prescribed "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys" temporarily absolved the troubled teen of her sins, the sexual revolution of the 1960s brought Cohen Greene salvation.
As she came to accept her own sexuality, Cohen Greene built a career helping others do the same. With more than 900 sex partners under her belt, the surrogate partner is more than qualified as a sex educator.
"Everyone has a right to satisfying, loving sex, and, in my experience, that most often flows from strong communication, self-respect, and a willingness to explore," Cohen Greene writes.
While she has intercourse with many of her clients, Cohen Greene simulates all levels of a relationship, including emotional intimacy. During the six sessions Greene schedules with each client, she focuses on breathing exercises, spooning and communication. The sex component of each session reads more like a friendly anatomy lesson than a raunchy sex scene.
An Intimate Life could easily fall into the realm of sensationalism that plagues most media depictions of Cohen Greene's career, but in Cohen Greene's memoir, there are no sexual freaks or failures. Her clients are everyday people with universal problems, and Cohen Greene confronts their sexual hangups with the frank assessment of a nurse.
"I continue to be amazed at how solid education delivered without judgement can eradicate much of the guilt and shame that turns life in the bedroom into a struggle instead of a pleasure," she marvels after working with a man whose fear of sexual sin prevented him from maintaining an erection.
Most compelling was Cohen Greene's chapter about Mark O'Brien, a 36-six-year-old man who had spent most of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio at age 6. O'Brien's essay about his experience with Cohen Greene was adapted into a film, The Sessions, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
Cohen Greene's commentary on changing fears and assumptions about sexuality is smart and ever-evolving.
"My personal sexual revolution auspiciously paralleled our culture's, and in many ways was made possible by it," she writes.
When the AIDS epidemic sent many surrogate partners running from their profession, Cohen Greene remained dedicated to her work, adopting safer sex practices and even enrolling in a class on eroticizing latex.
Cohen Green's personal relationships throughout the book contrast the measured success of her simulated intimacies. The self-assured Cohen Greene watches her open marriage dissolve and struggles to explain her profession to her conservative family. But whether she is facing relationship struggles or cancer, Cohen Greene employs the communication skills she gained as a surrogate partner, moving gracefully through a turbulent life.
An Intimate Life accomplishes Cohen Greene's mission to encourage honest discussion about sex and inspire readers to enjoy their sexuality at any age. Still a surrogate partner at sixty-eight, Cohen Greene has no intention of retiring from work or her personal pursuit of pleasure.
"Along with my grey-haired friends and colleagues, I was writing a new chapter of my sex life," she writes. "Not an epilogue."