Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate
Private Practices is the story of a sex surrogate, Maureen Sullivan Ward, who teaches men with sexual dysfunctions how to improve their sexual communication, physical expression, and experience pleasure.
Maureen "Mo" Sullivan Ward approaches sex in a clinical fashion, seeking ways to make clients more comfortable and assisting them in exploring their personal fears and phobias. The documentary features two men, Kipper, a twenty-five-year-old novice in graduate school who cannot advance beyond verbal communication with a female and John, a forty-five-year-old divorcee who is grieving the reality of his wife’s twenty year displeasure with their sex life.
The beginning of the movie acknowledges the moral and ethical conflicts that may arise with the field of sexual surrogacy, but redirects the viewers to focus on the lives, not the tension, in the film as they confront an underground topic of supreme sensitivity that is sexual awkwardness and hardship.
Private Practices gives peripheral insights from the families, friends, and neighbors who observe Ward in her profession. Naturally, as the film unfolds, questions begin to surface about Ward how her work affects her personal relationships and lovemaking. Briefly, we see the complications of Ward’s own life as it delves into her family dynamics and history.
Initially, I thought the film would primarily focus on the two men and their perceived inadequacies. However, as the story deepened, new revelations came slowly and with compassion. The film is not just about John and Kipper as clients, but rather, they are symbolic of insecurities and problems that most adults face at one time in their sexual development. It is a careful dissection of sexuality and the relationships we build in our families and in childhood that lead us to falsehoods, myths, and assumptions about how we will be as partners and lovers. Ward’s role as a surrogate and her background is every bit explored as Kipper and John, which tantalizes and blurs the lines of right and wrong in these controversial therapeutic relationships.
A psychological and clinical lens frames the three lives and helps keep the story contained and moving. The slight doctor’s office feel helps navigate the explicit scenes that practice caressing in full nudity. With boundaries and directness, the clients are carefully guided, never being pushed or hurried in their process. Each story is unique, but reveals a common truth that Ward sums up with as she reflects on her journey: "We're all in the same boat." They are all searching for a place of understanding, comfort, and healing.
This film, in the field of sexual surrogacy, explores the safety, richness, futility, and dangers of sex therapy. If our societal mental disorder of sexual schizophrenia is as prevalent in 1985 as it is today, Private Practices remains a useful tool and talking point when considering the lines of human relationship and sexual frailty.