Dr. Mitchell Tepper brings a lifetime of first-hand experience with chronic conditions and disability to his work. After growing up with Crohn’s Disease (IBD), Mitch was baptized into disability at age 20 after breaking his neck. In September 1981, he lost his father to suicide. In April 1982 he needed to withdraw from his junior year of college for an emergency hemicolectomy when his disease was no longer manageable with diet and drug therapy. Before discharge he suffered from peritonitis that resulted in a second surgery and a temporary ileostomy. The doctor told him that the ileostomy shouldn’t keep him from doing anything he wanted. So after getting medical clearance in July 1982, Mitch went back to his summer job as a lifeguard. On July 27, 1982 he dove into the water to go fix a buoy with a wrench in his left hand and placing his right hand over his ostomy bag to prevent it from coming off. The water was not as deep as expected and he head planted firmly into the bottom of the lake resulting in a spinal cord injury with paralysis from the neck down. After eight months of physical rehabilitation, Mitch was hospitalized again in April 1983 to reverse the ileostomy and reconnect the remaining parts of his intestines. In the summer of 1983 Mitch headed back to school to finish coursework from his junior year. He graduated summa cum laude from Bryant College in May 1984 with a degree in business administration and a new romance, which lead to marriage in April 1986.
After a short career in banking, Mitch was disenchanted with the industry and realigned his priorities with his new interest in helping others navigate their way through difficult life transitions. In addition to volunteering for disability related organizations, including serving as President of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA) Connecticut Chapter and SVP of NSCIA he pursued a Master of Public Health from Yale University and then a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality Education from the University of Pennsylvania. It was through his research at Yale focusing on sexuality education and counseling in rehabilitation programs where he found his true calling as the “prophet of pleasure.”
Since then, Dr. Tepper has become an internationally recognized sexuality educator, disability expert, and pioneer in the application of telemedicine to sexual health. With no clear career paths to accomplish his mission in ending the silence around sexuality and disability related issues, Dr. Tepper used his business background and became a sexual entrepreneur by default. While working on his doctorate, he founded The Sexual Health Network, Inc. in 1996 and launched the first website devoted exclusively to sexual health, SexualHealth.com, which he sold in November 2010 to Analyte Health in order to facilitate the development of online clinics and greater ease and access to care.
On the academic front, Dr. Tepper headed up the Satcher Health Leadership Institute's Center of Excellence for Sexual Health Disabilities, Chronic Conditions and Sexual Health Program at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM). He also was an Adjunct Research Assistant Professor of Community Health and Preventive Medicine at MSM and Co-Director of MSM’s Disability Partnership with Georgia State University. At MSM, Dr. Tepper launched the Wounded Troops and Partners: Supporting Intimate Relationship initiative in May 2008 and subsequently worked with the VA to develop their Chaplains Best Practice Award Marriage Enrichment Retreats.
Dr. Tepper is an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) Certified Sexuality Educator and AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselor, and a tireless advocate. His years of research have served as the basis for hundreds of professional, academic, and public presentations, articles, and chapters. His publications include the critically acclaimed Sexual Health: Four Volumes by Praeger.
Dr. Tepper currently serves as Chair of AASECT’s Sexuality Counselor Certification Committee, on the editorial board of the journal Sexuality and Disability, and on the board of directors of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health and the Institute for the Study of Disadvantage and Disability. In the past, he has served as Board Member of AASECT, President of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of Connecticut, and on the Board of Directors of The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and The Women’s Sexual Health Foundation.
Dr. Tepper is called on regularly by the media and has been featured on CNN, Discovery, PBS and in popular press, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and AARP.
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.