Touch Me In The Morning: Aging, Surrogate Partners and Erotic Healing

September 12, 2016

Linda Poelzl


By Matt Perry

Carol Finkelstein’s elderly father Ted was causing trouble. His sexual desires and encroaching dementia collided with restrictions at a long-term care facility, making him even more combative. He pulled fire alarms, stole floor keys and once touched a female resident’s breast. He was kicked out.

He was then welcomed into a San Francisco facility known for its progressive attitudes toward sensuality and mental health. There, Finkelstein worked with the staff to address her father’s unmet needs – including sexual ones – which underpinned his rebellious behavior.

And she hired him a surrogate sexual partner.

“I was fortunate that Ted’s neuro-psychiatrist had such an original suggestion,” says Finkelstein.

“He was always very sweet with me,” recalls Linda Poelzl, a San Francisco Bay Area-based surrogate partner whose weekly encounters with Ted over nearly seven years included touching, cuddling, kissing and intercourse. “The family was really happy it was working out so well with me… It was like I was his sweetheart.”

Although Ted no longer sees Poelzl, today the staff at AgeSong offers him human touch on a regular basis — rubbing his hands or tousling his hair. The facility’s engagement director often walks around the neighborhood with him, arm-in-arm.

Could surrogate partners be more widely adopted to help address the powerful lifetime desire for sex, intimacy and human touch? Could they further help calm the emotional turmoil of people with dementia?

For those with hands-on experience as surrogate partners — including a former international courtesan — the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes.” For academics, including those promoting healthy sex throughout the aging process, concern about the various legal hurdles and resistance from long-term care facilities produces a vastly different response: “No way.”

Kendra Holliday, a self-described “sex surrogate” in St. Louis, Missouri, has worked with a variety of clients with sex and intimacy issues that range from the physical to emotional. Holliday considers her work intimate, loving, and vastly rewarding.

One family approached Holiday about working with their 90 year-old father with dementia, commonly known to everyone as a “grumpy old man.”

Holliday could certainly relate.

“Sex is like food,” says Holliday. “If I don’t get it I feel grumpy and on edge myself.”

Holliday shared erotic touch with him, including massages and showers.

“It can be so rejuvenating,” says Holliday. “Offering a sexual person a steady diet of healthy sexual release offers improved quality of life and thus prolongs it.”

Holliday cites the vast health benefits that come from sensual healing, which can improve joint pain, arthritis, blood flow, diabetes, depression and especially anxiety — “the biggest culprit when it comes to erectile dysfunction.”

Clients in their 50’s and 60’s “are trying to make up for lost time and are seeing their mortality looming,” says Holiday. “They are very much trying to tap into this creative life force.”

Creative life force? Or sexual opportunism?

“What you seem to be proposing is the engagement of surrogates to gratify the sexual arousal of older adults with dementia,” replied one national expert when asked if surrogate partners could help soothe the emotional turmoil of dementia.

Even those who advocate for surrogate partners are skeptical of such a practice, including the head of the International Professional Surrogates Association, which trains surrogate partners and sex therapists.

“If it doesn’t involve a therapist it’s not surrogate therapy,” says Vena Blanchard, the association’s president and senior trainer, who works in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. (Poelzl works with therapists while Holliday typically does not.) Consent issues, she adds, are also a stumbling block for long-term care sites.

While countries around the world vary in their attitude towards surrogate partners, Blanchard cites her favored location: California.

While the state has no laws protecting sexual surrogates, it’s not illegal. California’s approximately 25 surrogate partners practice inside a grey area that sees them offering therapeutic benefits for those with sexual issues.

Don’t ask, don’t tell.

“There is no alternate place in the world where surrogates are recognized and treated by the state in a similar manner,” says Blanchard.

A former courtesan who is today a relationship coach for couples, Nevada City-based Veronica Monet says the shame sometimes associated with sexuality prevents it from being used more widely as a therapeutic tool.

“When we take our elderly and put them in sexually sterile environments it’s tantamount to denying them food,” says Monet, author of the blog The Shame Free Zone. “To deny that birth right, to deny this innate aspect of one’s self is to me one of the cruelest things you can do.”

Much like the sight-impaired who develop an acute sense of hearing, Monet describes the intense sensitivity felt by quadriplegics in areas immediately above their paralysis.

What does that say about older adults whose whole bodies have been deadened by lack of sensual stimulation for years — even decades?

Typically, long-term care facilities aren’t even asking the question.

“It’s not even on their radar,” says Melanie Davis, co-president of the national Sexuality and Aging Consortium. Davis warns that most long-term care facilities don’t even want to address the issues of sexuality in their facilities between residents, let alone a hired surrogate. While a handful of progressive sites dot the country, just getting others to create a policy on sexuality has proved daunting.

One facility told Davis they actually had a “privacy room” for intimate encounters.

“Do you use it?” she asked.

“Yeah, for staff meetings,” came the reply.

Prevailing cultural attitudes reveal a wildly conflicted attitude towards sex. It’s healthy. It’s violent. It’s beautiful. It’s perverted.

What’s not so conflicted is our attitude about growing old. As one aging advocate has claimed, in a society obsessed by youth, the simple act of aging means failure.

And so, as older adults age, their bodies cry out for the simple sensual engagement of human touch — including, yes, sex — that many compare to food and water as essential ingredients to living.

“If you want to kill a spirit, deny what is dear to them — freedom, sex, food,” says Holliday. “Cutting them off from their inherent needs will end their life sooner.”

Monet echoes the sentiments of many who have worked in the field.

“We’ve demonized lust,” says Monet. “We’ve demonized sexual desire.”

Like many surrogates, Holliday helps with the disabled and recalls one experience in particular with a younger man.

“One time, after sharing intimacy, I collapsed on him, all happy and out of breath,” she writes in an email. “He started crying. When I asked why, he said something I will never forget: ‘This is the first time I’ve ever felt someone else’s breath and heartbeat before.’ That made me cry, too. So beautiful.”

“Sex connects us to the divine, particularly when it’s not connected to shame and violence,” says Monet. “It’s sad to me that in America we’re still criminalizing adult consensual sexuality.”

What does the future hold?

Holliday sees sex as a natural human act. “It’s kind of like going to your chiropractor and getting adjusted.”

While hugely beneficial in private settings, Blanchard says surrogates in long-term care facilities won’t be mainstream any time soon. “If we had people going in and holding hands and rubbing feet we wouldn’t even be talking about surrogates.”

Davis thinks there are more basic battles to wage. “If the Baby Boomers are going to campaign for something, they should start with a massage.”

Yet Poelzl, who has worked as a certified surrogate partner for two decades, sees immense benefits for physical and emotional health.

“An army of surrogates could help a lot of people,” she says. “Especially elders.”



9 Responses to Touch Me In The Morning: Aging, Surrogate Partners and Erotic Healing

  1. Dorothy Reply

    September 13, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Great article!! I am an IPSA-trained Surrogate Partner in South Florida. Let me just say…this is not California….there are a small handful of Sex Therapists and Sexologists who are willing to work with Surrogates. But for those that do, being able to provide help for struggling individuals is a blessing. I only wish that I could help more….

  2. jorge villanueva Reply

    September 15, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    I am very glad somebody other than my poor self is taking on account that it’s time to consider openly the fact that the longer lives we are achieving around this part of the world we are sharing is for many men a damned dry shit because we can´t get even the tiniest form of sexual satisfaction with nobody.
    I wrote an email to a site that allegedly was of the Asociacion de Mujeres Meretrices de Argentina telling them I would gladly pay for a sexual service fitted for my age (71) and they never answered.
    And I’m very healthy but don´t feel at all strong enough for going out in the night or hiring a common prostitute that wants it mainly without much talk about special needs.Thank you.Jorge

    • Alessandra De Luca Reply

      September 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      So Jorge, you think only older men have problems? Try being a woman of “a certain age” (like over 50) and find yourself wandering around in the sexual and sensual desert that so many of us do—even, or especially so, here in So. California—where youth and beauty reign supreme. Once women reach a certain age our society throws them into a garbage bin, hoping to never see or hear of them ever again.

      And there aren’t many (or any?) male surrogates to even think of to pay for such service. Hey, I’m 60 and am told I am very attractive and look younger than my age. But that doesn’t matter. The men I know in their 50s and 60s are chasing after jailbait. If they still are strong and viable, I see them with women 10-25 years younger than they are. Where are such older women with younger men? There aren’t many because women are much more generous with men than vise versa.

      I get comments such as: “Wow, you must have been really hot when you were young.” OK, so now I’m what? Mashed potatoes? And no longer fuckable… But you, as a (the) fat and bald old man (that said this to me) consider yourself entitled to a woman 15 years younger than yourself.

      Great article Matt Perry. Thanks.

  3. Sue Merritt Reply

    September 16, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Excellent article Matt. Yet another aspect of aging that I hadn’t given thought to. Thank God we have California to look to for advances in thought and health care!

  4. Soleil Sinclair Reply

    October 2, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I’m 66 and I have noticed how much better I feel physically and emotionally when I’m being sexual on a regular basis.
    Touch, sex and human connection are essential to well being and the additude toward these needs in society today is frankly insane,
    Linda Poelzl is a voice of sanity that is badly needed.

  5. Dan Reply

    October 2, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    I’m 68 and plan to be sexual into my 100s; and thinking in church today why is the open polyamory of King David’s choice of 8 wives and 7 concubines NOT addressed more by “proper” people? Because we are afraid of this energy–sex energy. Food and hunger for it is not energy in the same way. Yes, King David was a “man after God’s own heart” and he was honest about his need to connect sexually and expand (with consent) his marriage bed over 3,000 yrs ago.

    I’ve met, hugged, and conversed with Veronica Monet and conversed as well with Kendra Holliday, read often everything these two women write; they are my heroes. A retired priest myself (OK, it’s been 30 years now) I’ve recently solicited surrogate sex for a disabled friend of mine, ala the movie Sessions, even asking Kendra for local leads and local surrogates.

    For me, it is a matter of consent between married partners. My wife and I have a agreement penciled into our Advance Directive for Health Care that if one of us becomes demented the other must go on with their sexual and romantic life; same for the one in the nursing home. Why is this not valid consent?

    Many couples today simply call this form of consent in a mature marriage “expanding their marriage bed” to include others; adding a “third”. Why can’t a skilled care facility see this? If a couple down the block has a three people in one bed night, who is going to call the cops? What law is broken if two are married and consenting to add a “third”? (Esther Perel: Mating In Captivity) For a night? For a decade?

    Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband found love in the nursing home while demented; and his wife along with the family decided to be OK with it and grant consent. CBS covered the story here:

  6. S.V Reply

    October 3, 2016 at 8:21 am

    No to prostituting women for old men. Just no! Women are not objects to be bought and sold. The elderly and disabled should definitely have the right to form honest relationships with each other. And sure, have massage therapy for people. That makes sense but causing 68% of women in prostitution to suffer lifelong ptsd is cruel and heartless.

    • Ciela Reply

      January 26, 2017 at 4:28 pm

      Sexual surrogates are not prostitutes. It is a professional, therapeutic relationship.

  7. Karen KF Reply

    October 12, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    This is so very interesting – out there, but interesting. Another dimension of aging that we all need to consider.

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