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This wonderful memior by Cheryl is a much needed look at the life of a surrogate partner who has worked in the field of sex therapy for forty years. I have known Cheryl for many of these years through our contact at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, the home of this Journal. I have had her as a guest speaker in my classes on Human Sexuality and the students are amazed and enlightened by the stories of her work and her unique life. I may also be biased by the delightful movie "The Sessions" (which I shall review shortly) which shows how she worked with one disabled client. I have also shared some of the time of her life when she was fighting cancer, successfully I am happy to report.
I believe this book and the movie should be part of every human sexuality class at the college level. It tells a powerful human story of a life filled with normal human difficulty, early lack of sexual education, and how a woman with a high libido became one of the first and best known surrogate partners, while surviving much of what the world could throw at her.
She interposes chapters of her developing life with chapters about clients she worked with and helped navigate the sexual difficulties they were having. Some of these stories are amazingly difficult for the people involved, and show how the surrogate partnership helps heal the trauma of sexual damage.
In the film, Cheryl is played by the beautiful Helen Hunt who writes "Cheryl's book allows us to share in her beautiful work. We read about sexual healing and we are healed ourselves. Give yourself the gift of reading this book and getting a glimpse of what is possible."
Born to French-Canadian Catholic parents in Salem, just outside Boston, she was deeply immersed in the Catholic Church and surrounded by evidence of the punishment of women, who were called witches, had received. Sex was not discussed, but it was clear from the culture and religion that it was really bad. She did learn that touching herself "down there" could lead her to eternal damnation without the confession and forgiveness of the priest. She had a difficult time in school and it was not until she was an adult with two children that she was diagnosed with dyslexia. Around the age of 10, having difficulty sleeping because of problems at school, she discovered masturbation and from then on used orgasms to get to sleep. This, of course, led to weekly confessions, Hail Marys and other acts of penance, but it didn't stop the orgasms. She was told by her confessor over and over again that she was letting Jesus down with her vile behavior. How many of us can relate to this experience?
Chapter 6 is called "no virgin mary". Now a senior in high school, having had sex with two boyfriends, she was off to a different parish for confession. After telling the priest she was having sex with her boyfriend, the priest responded "It's girls like you who ruin young boy's lives". Her fear turned to anger. She had not had to convince either boy to have sex. "What about my life, Father?" she asked. His response was "12 Our Fathers and 9 Hail Marys". She didn 't pray and never went back to confession.
After high school she met Michael Cohen and her life changed dramatically. He quickly won her heart and taught her things about her body she had never know. They were pushed into marriage by her father, since she was "damaged goods", by sleeping with Michael. They had two children and eventually moved to California.
You need to read the book to get the feel of her story, a life of difficulty and pleasure. A story much too complex for a brief review. You will not regret the time spend learning about this remarkable woman.
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