TSHN was founded in 1996 by Dr. Mitchell Tepper, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1982. At the time, it was extremely difficult for most people – especially people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or age-related physical changes – to access sexual health care from traditional sources. Healthcare professionals rarely received sexuality-related training and were often uncomfortable discussing sexual issues, so tended to ignore their patients’ sexual health concerns. This silence caused tremendous, unnecessary suffering. Dr. Tepper recognized that the World Wide Web was a means of meeting the need for high-quality, reputable sexuality information and education for both the professional and the consumer markets.
The Sexual Health Network exists to end the silence and suffering by:
- Making general and disability and/or illness specific sexual health information available at the click of a mouse;
- Providing easy access to credentialed health professionals who are committed to sexual health, who are here to listen, who understand and have sufficient knowledge and resources to deal with complex problems of human sexuality, and who can inform and offer advice regarding sexual health and sexual problems one-to-one and in groups;
- Providing forums for objective discussions of sexual matters among peers;
- Training health service personnel in sexual health;
- Providing guidance in the selection of high quality sexual health related products.
To facilitate the company’s mission, TSHN launched one of the earliest online sexual health information websites, Sexualhealth.com, in 1996.
This site is distinguished not only by its longevity, but also by its emphasis on addressing the special sexual health concerns of individuals who have chronic conditions and disabilities including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, and cancer. It publishes articles and answers to user questions written by experts in the field of sexual health.
In November 2010, SexualHealth.com was sold to Analyte Health with the intention of Analyte Health building a telemedicine/telehealth platform to extend services from strictly information and referal to the practice of medicine. Currently the SexualHealth.com is offering medical care on demand for STDs.
TSHN draws upon the expertise of an international network of more than 60 experts who work in a variety of settings to develop online and other content that reflects the company’s commitment to a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to sexual health. Many of these experts contributed to the four-volume reference set, Sexual Health, edited by Drs. Tepper and Owens that was published in 2007.
History of Federal Funding
In 2004, TSHN received a Phase I SBIR grant to develop a Sexual Health Therapeutic Learning Tool (SHTLP). A proof of concept in the form of a working prototype was achieved. The prototype was redesigned after preliminary usability data in Phase I and the results of an NIH-funded technology niche analysis suggested that commercial success would require development of a more robust tool. This redesign resulted in an electronic health and relationship tool (eHART) that uses branching logic and algorithms to provide tailored sexual health information, education, and guidance.
TSHN’s plan calls for the development of its domain, SexualHealthNetwork.com, as an e-Health platform through which consumers, healthcare professionals, schools, universities, government agencies, and corporations can participate in a web-based community and access sexuality-related information and products, including courses and seminars, as well as online educational, counseling (“e-counseling”) and professional consultation services. Once eHART is commercialized, TSHN will be positioned to operate with a positive cash flow and move forward with its planned e-counseling and e-learning initiatives.