“The Sessions” – Oscar winner – You heard it here first

Recently, I had the honor of being able to see the new movie “The Sessions” (starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy), at a film festival in my hometown.  I’m telling you right now that if this movie doesn’t sweep the Oscars, it was ROBBED!

This movie is the story of Mark O’Brien, a man who got polio at a young age and lived the rest of his life on a gurney and spent most of his days in an iron lung. He was a writer by profession and wrote an essay called “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate”.  My understanding is this essay was the inspiration for the movie.

I found myself either laughing out loud or sitting with a stream of tears running down my cheeks.  For example, at one point early in the movie Mark O’Brien tells his priest he has his heart broken and says to his priest  “I think I need a hug”. I burst into tears.  This is one of my hot buttons: we all need touch and not all touch is sexual.

Mark O’Brien was asked to write an article on sex and disability.  In doing the assignment, he visited with people who were disabled and who were having satisfying sex lives. He was entering a completely new world because at this point in his life he was still a virgin.  This underscores to me the fact that so many people have a difficult time with sexuality and here is an entire population of people who get essentially forgotten as it relates to sex and sexuality.  How many physical therapists are trained to address the unique needs of helpful sexual positions a person can manage after an injury/illness/operation?  How many home health aides know what to do or how to react when a patient gets aroused? This is where some of my sex educator friends or I can help!

Getting back to the movie, the sex therapist Mark visits suggests he could see a sex surrogate to help him with his unique situation.  He meets the surrogate who does a great job of explaining the difference between a surrogate and a prostitute (or what I prefer to call sex worker).  The surrogate simply says “a prostitute wants your repeat business” whereas a surrogate works closely with a sex therapist and has only a limited number of sessions.  The trailer does a horrible job of confusing sex therapist/surrogate which doesn’t help mainstream America understand that there is a difference.  Most often people think of a surrogate and a sex worker/prostitute as one in the same.  They work together and he finally has his first sexual experience.  His aide asked him how he felt and Mark said, “Cleansed and victorious”.  Fuck.  I WISH I could have described my own first experience that way.

You know, I’m a sex educator who tends to lean to the radical side of sex education – I believe people should be taught about all aspects of human sexuality including pleasure.  That’s what makes me radical. I also believe people with disabilities deserve pleasure as well.  This is an area that doesn’t get enough press in the mainstream.  Sadly.

I was so happy to see so many people in the audience who used assistive devices there in the theatre to watch this film.  I have hope that this movie will be immensely popular in the mainstream and bring more awareness of sex and disability issues to the forefront.

This movie is beautiful and does a wonderful job of telling a story that needs to be told on a topic that needs to be talked about.  Do yourself a favor; Go see The Sessions.

The MamaSutra

Mother of two girls. Holds a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Certificate in Women's Studies from UW-Madison. Graduate of IASHS as Master of Human Sexuality. The articles you read here have goals in two main areas. 1) I strive to normalize conversations about sex and sexuality between parents and their children. To me this means helping parents accept and nurture their daughters' budding sexuality so they grow and learn to respect their bodies and accept their whole selves as they grow into strong, beautiful, powerful and healthy women. 2) Female Sexual Empowerment. Women deserve to learn about and explore the pleasure that can be felt through a full sexual life - however each of us may define that - without guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

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