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After she had assisted several other patients, the therapist she worked with at the time introduced her to a man who'd been having problems getting and keeping an erection. They got to know each other. His name was David, and he needed an understanding partner who wouldn't rush him and wouldn't scold him if he couldn't perform. She liked him.
She really liked him. Something was wrong, actually. She told the therapist that it would be psychologically damaging to everyone involved if she continued seeing someone for whom she had such strong feelings. Patient and surrogate had a sitdown in the therapist's office. When David was told Marilyn would no longer be his surrogate, he asked her out on a date.
"I can't date one of my patients," she said.
"Why not?" he asked, pointing out that she already knew his darkest secret and didn't seem to mind. "And you just said I'm not your patient anymore."
Soon, David Yoblick didn't need a surrogate. Marilyn, his new girlfriend, knew just how to handle his little dilemma.
Volker's voice gets softer and quieter when she talks about the successes she's seen through surrogate partner therapy, like the resolution of the quadriplegic accident victim's problem.
"This young man still gets help eating and dressing and speech therapy," she says. "He gets taken to church and to the beach and different activities. And once a week, an escort comes who sits and watches a movie with him and they have something to eat, and she gives a massage with the manual sex. And he's able to ejaculate."
As for the merchant marine, he's doing OK too, she says. He's still looking for the right woman. And he's ready to connect with someone. "And who knows?" Volker says. "There are people into all sorts of what I call skanky smells."
Almost every day, as she's leaving her office, she gets a call from her favorite surrogate patient. After 30 years, she and David are still married. They see their children and grandchildren regularly.
David knows he's lucky to have found the perfect partner for him. When he tells people how they met, he says, "Thank God for my limp-dick problem."
Technically, since she is getting paid and occasionally has sex with her patients, Catherine could be charged with prostitution. The only state with explicit laws protecting therapists and surrogates is California. A police officer would have to be having a really bad day, though, to ignore the fact that this is clearly therapeutic, Volker says, and it's never happened in any of her cases.
But Dr. Walker of the American Board of Sexology says legal ambiguity is precisely the reason surrogate therapy might be in its last throes. "The controversy comes from the fact that prosecutors have decided that if you are hiring someone to have sex with someone, you are a panderer," he says. "Many clinicians, not wanting to put themselves at risk, have stopped using surrogates."
The decline has more do with technology and pharmaceutical advancements, says Volker, citing what she calls the "Viagrazation of America."
Catherine thinks it also has something to do with the emotionally draining nature of the work. Recently, she took a year off from being a surrogate. "It's rewarding, but it's also exhausting," she says. She calls the work "a roller coaster of feelings you have for and about these desperate people who need your help so badly." She knows how much of a man's identity is entwined with his sexuality, sometimes becoming an all-consuming plague on an otherwise tolerable life.
More than any other dysfunction, her patients are rapid ejaculators with anxiety issues. "I'm here to tell you, the Jewish mother is alive and well," Catherine says. "That overmothering, the control, the 'He's my son, and nobody's gonna take him away,' that has an effect on men. I see it."
One patient needed overstimulation to get aroused. He was a doctor who was able to have sex, but he needed to watch an adult movie to maintain an erection. "He needed women with unnaturally large, superenhanced breasts," Catherine says. "He couldn't get enough of anything. But he was also in his 40s, and he had never been in love. He wanted to know why he couldn't get into a serious relationship."
During an early session, Catherine was giving him a full-body, fully clothed massage. Going over his back, she pushed down below his shoulder blade, behind his lung — the same place her chiropractor had pressed on years earlier. The doctor began sobbing.
She spoke to him in a calm voice. "Stay with your feelings," she said. "Talk to me. Talk to me about what you're feeling."
He was inconsolable, she says, holding his arms over his ears as he cried. It turned out that, when he was 7, his family lived in an apartment building in New York. The building's janitor lived in the basement, where the boy would sometimes visit him. That spot on his back that Catherine touched during the massage was the same place where the janitor had put his hand when he raped him and ejaculated on his back.