The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law


The Journal of Philosophy, Science & Law: Disability Special Issue
Volume 14, July 2, 2014, pages 4-15
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Sexual Intimacy, Social Justice, and Severe Disabilities: Should Fair Equality of Opportunity in Health Extend to Surrogate Partner Therapy?

Kevin Todd Mintz*

* Doctoral student in Political Science, Stanford University,  

I. Introduction
In “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate”, Mark O’Brien, a journalist with polio, describes losing his virginity. O’Brien experienced total paralysis, spending most of his days in an iron lung. This made sex difficult, so he underwent Surrogate Partner Therapy (SPT). During his treatment, O’Brien had sex with a “surrogate partner” with sexological training, who provided him with tools to acquire a positive perception of his sexuality (O’Brien 1990). O’Brien’s treatment became the subject of the 2012 film, The Sessions.

The film’s release triggered political debates. For example, French legislators condemned SPT as prostitution (De La Baume 2013). Disability advocates also disagree on whether SPT appropriately provides access to sexual intimacy for people with disabilities. Some champion SPT as guaranteeing rights to sexual intimacy for them (De La Baume 2013). Others, however, contend that it medicalizes their sexuality, a controversy reflective of the debate concerning the “medical” and “social” models of disability (Shakespeare et al 1996). Whereas the medical model views disability as an individual pathology, the social model emphasizes societal barriers that interact with impairment, creating disability.

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