Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate ★★★

Before watching this film, I had no idea what a sex surrogate was. I'd never even heard the term. In case you're clueless like me, Wikipedia describes a sex surrogate as "a member of a sex therapy team who engages in intimate physical relations or sex with a patient in order to achieve a therapeutic goal." Sex surrogacy exists in a loophole where it's legal for someone to pay for sex, since it's technically therapy; their ranks have dwindled today due to accusations of prostitution. It's a fascinating occupation, and this documentary, the first from Kirby Dick, who would later go on to make the MPAA exposé This Film Is Not Yet Rated, follows sex surrogate Maureen Sullivan and two of her clients.

One is a 25-year-old virgin ("Thank God you're not one of my 40-year-old virgins," Sullivan tells him, in a line funnier today than it was in 1986), the other a divorced man who has suffered from erectile dysfunction for his entire life. The production values are terrible; it was shot on video, which is very obvious, and the tape hiss can at times be overwhelming. But the film includes situations I haven't seen in any other, from the virgin exploring Sullivan's (offscreen) vagina, a completely new experience for him; Sullivan and her clients completely nude embracing each other and feeling each other's bodies; a dinner conversation between the divorced man and his ex-wife that is far more uncomfortable, and has better dialogue, than any such scene from a narrative feature; and Sullivan breaking down in a session with her own therapist, claiming that she never got enough love as a child. Some of it can be quite hard to watch, but it's going to be on my mind for a while.