Sex assistants or surrogate partners are usually professionals, male and female, who help people with physical-motor disabilitiies, as well as those with cognitive/psychological problem, to have an erotic and/or sexual experience. In order to get to know a profession that is still not widely known in Italy or many other European countries, we spoke to Lorenzo Fumagalli, who lives in Switzerland and has worked as a sex assistant for several years.
Talking about the disabled people he works with, Fumagalli says he prefers to call them clients rather than patients. He says that “living one’s own sexuality is not a disease but a natural human need”.
It should be noted that his services are not free of charge and that sexual assistants take their work seriously. In fact the service can be too expensive for some disabled people and the Swiss disability benefits system does not contribute. According to Fumagalli: “This is ok to a certain extent otherwise the service would be considered as part of the disability. And as I already said, I don’t consider the need for sexuality to be part of that. However, the bottom line is that there is no financial support. “We therefore decide, in certain cases, to offer the service at a very low cost.”
In some circumstances, the sessions can even include the complete sexual relationship. But on this point Fumagalli clarifies that “before providing this kind of assistance, there is a very long and important process to go through with the client, with educators and with the client’s carers. This is especially important for clients with mental disabilities.” He continues: “Every sex assistant has his or her own limits, which can change from case to case. Complete sex is moreoever possible and much wanted by clients who feel comfortable with the assistant.” But this is not always possible because some people have limited genital functionality.
The sentimental side of things is also taken into consideration. That the client forms an attachment to the assistant is also a possibility, considering the level of intimacy that takes place. This, says Fumagalli, is one of the most difficult aspects of the job. “You need to be frank, clear, authentic and sincere. You have to explain the process and emphasise that it is a sexual service, not a search for a partner.”
Some clients complete the journey and become able to enjoy their sexuality in an autonomous way. “In my experience,” he says, “I can think of a woman who I was assisting and after some time, she thanked me for the work I had done. She was happy to be able to stop using my services because she had found a partner and had fallen in love.” This is one of the main objectives of a sex assistant. It’s certainly not possible for everyone because it depends on each client’s type of disability.