Plot: Berkeley, 1988. Thirty-eight year old Mark O'Brien has required the use of an iron lung since age six due to a bout of polio. Beyond the multitude of physical issues he has, including having a form of paralysis from the neck down (he not having use of the muscles but having the feelings of them) and thus being bedridden, he has total capacity of his mental facilities, has obtained a degree in English Literature from UC-Berkeley, and is a poet and journalist. He doesn't like it when others, especially his around-the-clock attendants, feel like he needs them more than they need him. He is a devout Catholic, which makes it difficult for his compassionate new priest, Father Brendan, to counsel Mark when, following falling in love for the first time, with the woman in question not returning the feeling of love toward him in the same way, Mark tells him that he wants to feel all that is associated with love, including sex, probably outside of marriage. To this point, Mark, who is able to have an erection but who cannot masturbate, has only associated his natural ejaculations with a feeling of guilt. As such, Mark, following discussions with a sex therapist, contemplates losing his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate, who, from her own professional perspective, is to provide him with the tools to enter into a loving sexual relationship down the road with someone else. The surrogate the therapist recommends is Cheryl Cohen Greene, who has never had a patient like Mark before. As Mark and Cheryl begin to have discussions about what surrogacy means, they enter into a multi-person relationship, which also includes his many attendants, Father Brennan and Catholicism, and Cheryl's own family of a husband and son. A question that may arise is if both Cheryl and especially Mark can keep their relationship purely professional with a finite life as it is intended.
Alternative Plot: Though a childhood bout with polio left him dependent on an iron lung, Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) maintains a career as a journalist and poet. A writing assignment dealing with sex and the disabled piques Mark's curiosity, and he decides to investigate the possibility of experiencing sex himself. When his overtures toward a caregiver (Annika Marks) scare her away, he books an appointment with sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Green (Helen Hunt) to lose his virginity.