A controversial sex therapy where men pay to get erotic “lessons” from women is having success in Melbourne, a world sex congress has been told.

Sex surrogate therapy is frowned on by most in the medical establishment, but a Melbourne-based sexologist who recently resurrected the contentious treatment says business is booming and the results are good.

Dr Brian Hickman takes on clients, mostly male, who pay $600 a session to help overcome problems ranging from nervousness to premature ejaculation by “practising sexual exercises” with a so-called sex surrogate.

The sessions sometimes include full sex “if that relates to their issue”, and are followed with briefings between the client, female surrogate and a trained therapist.

The once-popular therapy has met much opposition in Australia and is, in Dr Hickman’s words, “not entirely legal” but he says his results have been “amazing”.

A review of 30 clients, 29 men and one woman, presented to the World Congress on Sexual Health in Sydney showed a 95 per cent success rate.

“People get very upset by what we do and seem to think we’re all just prostitutes having sex for money, but they’ve got it very wrong,” Dr Hickman said.

“My results show that done properly, this therapy can be very, very effective and it’s really worth pursuing.”

The clients were all aged 20-35, single and suffering from a range of issues from difficulty holding hands or talking to women to addiction to internet pornography.

His six surrogates, mostly young women in “the arts and creative” industries, worked with them one-on-one primarily to build confidence, teach them how to touch and talk to women and, in 15 per cent of cases, have sex.

“People make a huge deal about the intercourse element but really this is only a small part of what we’re doing here,” Dr Hickman told the gathering of sexual health experts.

“We need you guys to stop shunning it and embrace it because it really works.”

The contentious practice was developed by sex gurus Masters and Johnson more than 60 years ago, and its popularity peaked with the free love movement of the 1970s.

It faded out with the emergence of HIV/AIDS and still has fierce opposition from most in psychiatry circles who say it is prostitution in disguise.

“If sex workers can be teachers in this context then teachers should change their job titles,” said Turkish psychiatrist Mehmet Sungur, who addressed the conference.

The therapy is too expensive, emotionally confusing for the client and there is “incredibly little” proof it actually works, he said.