• Cover: April 18, 2014
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Patients With Benefits

Meet the real sex surrogate from "The Sessions"

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  • “I like to call myself a surrogate partner therapist,” Cohen Greene says, in a thick Boston accent that flattens her a's and eliminates her r's. “Because that's what I am, a temporary partner.” It's an accent that Helen Hunt nailed in last fall's The Sessions—the Oscar-bait film that has put Cohen Greene at the forefront of her little-known field. The movie was based on a 1990 article by poet Mark O'Brien (played by the excellent John Hawkes), a polio survivor mostly confined to an iron lung since childhood, who, in his late thirties, became valiantly determined to lose his virginity—with Cohen Greene's help. The film takes artistic license with some aspects of surrogacy; it downplays, for instance, the role usually performed by sex therapists, who form a sort of trinity with surrogate and client. But it accurately depicts Cohen Greene's unpretentious warmth, her sometimes hilarious matter-of-factness, and her unusual career skills: utter open-mindedness, intuition, and a deep well of tenderness.

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    In one scene, when we watch Cohen Greene kneel over a bed and gently kiss O'Brien on his bare chest, the gesture tells us more than any speech could. “The only other times he'd been touched were when he was handled by an aide or given a medical procedure,” recalls the real Cohen Greene, tears welling in her eyes. “I don't know where that kiss came from. He was so frail, and I was so afraid to hurt him. I had no idea it would be so profound.”

Patients With Benefits
Meet the real sex surrogate from "The Sessions"
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