More than a Clinical Sexpert: An Interview with Sharon Mitchell, Ph.D.
By SexHerald Staff
How many times have we admired the James Deans of the world—too cool to have a cause—from afar and often sighed and wondered how life seems to just flow with them. You couldn’t tell from the title, but Dr. Sharon Mitchell has built her life and adult career just doing that—from being a rebel—though, it’s less romantic than in the movies.
In a last-ditch effort to “get out of the house,” a young Dr. Mitchell (or “Dr. Mitch” to acquaintances) pursued a theatrical acting career in New York which eventually landed her in the adult entertainment sector. Foreseeing a ceiling by staying in the industry, Dr. Mitchell then proceeded to obtain a doctorate in human sexuality, founding the AIM Healthcare Foundation in resultant, making the porn industry that much safer (meaning more porn for the consumers—that’s you, the readers.) Who else can claim to be that noble?
Hardly the typical saint, SexHerald caught up with Dr. Mitchell as she was recovering from her brand-new boobs. Rebels are hardly ones to be fazed by life’s obstacles but to see what makes this phenomenal woman tick, read on.
SexHerald: I understand you recently had your boobs done. Why did you decide to have your breasts augmented now at age 50 instead of, say, at 25?
Dr. Sharon Mitchell: Number one being I’ve always liked my breasts. I’ve always liked the way my body looked. I didn’t have any real reason to get them done before. The fact is, they just started going a little bit south and I’m vain—just like anyone else. When I look in the mirror, I still want to see that 25-year-old porn star. I know that’s not possible. However, I’m really in great shape and I work out and I eat well. I just thought, ‘You know; now it’ll probably be a good time to get a boob job. It makes sense.’ Give them a little lift and definition this time in my life; it’s a good thing.
SH: How far up did you go?
Dr. Mitchell: I went up two cups. I was a 34B and now I’m a 34D.
SH: So, you started off as an off-Broadway actress and traveled with the Martha Graham company. Why did you decide to be a part of adult entertainment?
Dr. Mitchell: I was also working in television and movies. I was in the movie Cruisin’, I was in The Deer Hunter, I had some commercial work as well; I was working on a soap opera at the time. And my agent, she booked porn movies on the side. It was a really great way to make extra money back then. There was no video back then. You literally had to walk into a movie theater.
Excuse me, my macaw is screaming in the background. [laughs] I’m not torturing anyone. I have a very large macaw, Boo, who gets very jealous when I’m on the phone.
SH: Is that the only pet you have?
Dr. Mitchell: No, actually. I have Boo, I’ve got a kitty cat, I’ve got two Bouvier des Flandres dogs and two raccoons that I feed that are wild that come see me every day, six squirrels and a flock of wild birds that I feed, along with having birds.
SH: Wow. Why do you have so many “pets?”
Dr. Mitchell: I always feed the animals around home where I live. I think it’s a good practice to be Zen. You know, just to sort of make harmony in the neighborhood with the wild animals. So every morning I feed the wild animals, at night I feed the opossums and the raccoons.
SH: Going back to the previous topic, go into detail on why you joined adult entertainment.
Dr. Mitchell: It was a good way to make extra money. It was a great way to say ‘fuck you’ to the Catholic Church and my parents at the same time. I always liked my body. I was sexually open from a very young age. I started having sex with my girlfriend and boyfriend at a very young age.
Back then it was a lot different, though. These were actual productions where they kept 2-3 weeks to shoot, they shot on film, you had to wait a year for your movie to come out, you’d go to the premiere; it was very, very glamorous.
SH: Why did you decide to leave?
Dr. Mitchell: It was time. I think I had been in porn 10 years more than I wanted. I started in 1975, I left in ’95 to ’96. So, I had a good 20-21 years in front of the camera… The work was coming less and less. I was producing and directing for about 10 years; I didn’t like that. The industry had changed so much; I had just kind of lost my fascination with the industry. I had witnessed every change in the industry that there possibly could have been. I worked and traveled all around the world dancing as well, as a feature and a stripper. So, I had pretty much run the gambit… I was 38 years old and I never had a long-term goal in my life. When you work in any kind of entertainment industry, if you work on the same thing for more than 12 weeks, it’s an oddity. So I thought, ‘I’d be a doctor.’ I started school, got my doctorate and helping a lot of people.
SH: What did you write your thesis on?
Dr. Mitchell: I wrote my thesis on the AIM Foundation and the monitoring by using polymerase chain reaction testing in a controlled population. I really kind of put this test on the map in the United States. I chose this test because it tests for the inhibitory substance. So, just 10 days after exposure it will detect HIV. Also, if someone had HIV for a while and is on antiretroviral therapy, it’s going to pick that up as well. It’s a very good test for monitoring. The industry really needed a change.
There was a well-known actor—someone that I had, indeed, had worked with—who had HIV, and he was knowingly and willfully spreading HIV to women. I discovered this and uncovered it and that’s how I started the monitoring process. In the beginning, late 1997, early 1998, the program was funded by the Free Speech Coalition. Then I went on to start the AIM Healthcare Foundation in 1998.
SH: AIM is based out of California—there are two locations there. I live on the East Coast. How would I be able to get tested using the PCR-DNA test?
Dr. Mitchell: Actually, all you’ll need to do is go to a LabCorp®. You log onto AIM, pay online, and go to any local LabCorp®—we partnered up with Laboratory Corporation of America—get your blood drawn, and we provide your results within 48 hours.
SH: How many porn stars come in to get tested at the California locations?
Dr. Mitchell: Two thousand a month. We also have scholarship programs. We do a lot of research that I’ve been working on in this population in terms of background, stereotypes, spirituality. My doctorate has enabled me to partner up with a lot of universities. People have this myth that everyone comes from a broken home, they were abused, and this is not an occupation of choice; that people serve the last job on the line. That’s not true. We’re getting ready to release that research and I’m excited about that.
SH: Sounds great. Going back to the events that shaped your life, how would you describe yourself sexually?
Dr. Mitchell: I’m bisexual. The first person I had sex with was a woman, then I was also in a relationship with a woman for five years as well.
SH: What about men? When did you think you weren’t just a lesbian but bisexual?
Dr. Mitchell: I was with men about a year after I was with women. I enjoy being with men as well. I’ve just always been a very sexual person. I wrestled with my sexual identity when I was younger. ‘Am I gay? Am I straight? What am I?’ After a while, I just decided I am what I am and I didn’t really have to make up my mind and put a label on it just to be happy. I’ve just been very fortunate that I’ve had lots of great lovers in my life—both male and female, personally AND professionally.
SH: How did your family take your open view on sexuality?
Dr. Mitchell: Actually, they didn’t take it that bad—oddly enough. I would bring home pansexuals, women, men… my family quickly got used to the idea that I was definitely a sexual being. The people I was involved in were always very sweet and very nice to my family.
SH: Do you have any siblings?
Dr. Mitchell: No, I do not. I was adopted from an orphanage at a very young age.
SH: How old were you when you were adopted?
Dr. Mitchell: Two months.
SH: Have you ever sought out your biological parents?
Dr. Mitchell: No, actually, I never have wanted to but right now I’ve been writing a book and I’m kind of thinking about doing it, because I’ve never done it and I think it would be a nice piece for the book. But I really have no overwhelming urge or issues surrounding that, i.e. I don’t fit in anywhere and so on and so forth.
I feel like I’m with my family. My family would celebrate the day that I was adopted just as much as they would celebrate my birthday. I had always known I was adopted. We had always looked at it as a good thing. And, there are over 10 children adopted throughout my entire family structure. My aunts and uncles and cousins; a lot of them were also adopted. My family has adopted children from all over the world. So, I was kind of used to being around a multicultural [setting].
SH: Where were you raised?
Dr. Mitchell: A farm in New Jersey. Then I moved to New York City when I was 17. I was pursuing theater and the arts. I was emancipated; I got married at 17. I really just did this to get out of the house. I don’t really think I was in love with my first husband. He wasn’t very nice. At about six months, I just said ‘Okay, fuck this,’ and I moved to New York. I got an annulment and that was that.
SH: When did you move to California?
Dr. Mitchell: The move to California came strictly because of the industry. The industry really moved out when the video boom came in about 1982. I then moved to San Francisco and then later on to Los Angeles and to the beach. I’ve never lived on the beach and I’ve always wanted to, so I got a house on the beach.
SH: Do you ever miss New York?
Dr. Mitchell: Oh, yeah. I go back to New York three times a year. I see my family and my friends. I miss it but I couldn’t live there. I was a punk rocker, I was in a rock ‘n roll band and a series of rock bands in the mid-70s, and I was doing porn. And I had such a wonderful late teens, early 20s in New York. I don’t think any other time would compare with that. It was just amazing. I was a little movie star, I had lots of money, I had great clothes, I was in rock band, I was doing porn, I had the most wonderful life anyone could possible imagine. [laughs] I don’t think I can ever duplicate that time in New York and I always want to remember it fondly. Besides, I’m married now and my husband and I are also very happy here in California.
I got married in South Africa by a sangoma, a female witch doctor, in South Africa. Also, we had a representative of South Africa from the States so it would be a recognized marriage here in the U.S. as well. It was a 48-hour ceremony with all these different rituals and baths and counseling and voodoo and magic—it was just a wonderful experience.
SH: How long have you been married?
Dr. Mitchell: Since December 1 of last year.
SH: How long have you two known each other?
Dr. Mitchell: For four years.
SH: How did you meet him?
Dr. Mitchell: On an airplane flying back home to New York to see my family. It turns out we both grew up in New Jersey at about 10 minutes away from each other.
SH: What does he do?
Dr. Mitchell: He is in the entertainment business. He’s in entertainment management here in Los Angeles.
SH: Up until now, you’ve lived a pretty full, well-balanced life. Any regrets?
Dr. Mitchell: I think the only regret I have is that my dad didn’t get to see my doctorate and see me graduate. That was something that was very special to me and I just wish that he had been around to see that. But, I have never made a choice in my life that I don’t think has enriched my life in one way or another. I’ve probably made some mistakes here and there but in hindsight they were worth the lesson behind them. So, I have no regrets.
Dr. Sharon Mitchell9373-3Q
PH.D. in Human Sexuality
Founder of the
Adult Industry Medical
Health Care Foundation
Dr. Mitchell received her PH.D. in Human Sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. California. She completed her residency in Los Angeles, California at the AIM Healthcare Foundation.
In February 2001 Dr. Mitchell was invited by the South African Government to help write documentation that has been submitted to the Minister of Health on forming a sexworker organization for better healthcare and now has a satellite program in Johannesburg with DISA sexual health and reproductive center.
In 1999 Dr. Mitchell was invited to Budapest Hungary to teach HIV and Hepatitis monitoring programs for the Adult Industry Talent.
Dr. Mitchell is active in all forms of local and national government and is considered as an activist and educator for sexworkers all over the world. Through her, AIM has become affiliated with government health services in Los Angeles County and at the national level. She regularly speaks about HIV prevention education throughout the US, and has traveled to Hungary and South Africa to address community leaders and sex workers there. She is a featured speaker at the annual US Conference on AIDS. She organizes fund raisers and convinces companies and individuals to donate to AIM programs. Dr. Sharon is launching outreach into other sex and strip clubs, to be managed by a former strip club dancer. Long-term, her goal is to emphasize sex workers' rights and to encourage their independent decision making. And, she's developing harm reduction programs for sexually active adults, teens, and drug users to minimize behavioral risks to themselves and others.
In 1998 there was an HIV outbreak in the Adult Entertainment Industry involving many people that Dr. Mitchell had worked with when she was in movies. The Industry gave Dr. Mitchell the support that she needed to found the AIM Healthcare Foundation. AIM is a nonprofit organization serving sexworkers and the general public in areas of HIV testing, and counseling of many types, including gynecology services, STD testing and treatment and industry related educational groups and videotape informational materials. Today AIM Heathcare serves over 1,200 clients a month and is expanding into a larger full service facility (we have opened another location in Woodland Hills, California) to better serve the community. Dr. Sharon Mitchell is known an expert and as a resource in sexual health and education and has been on many television and radio shows including CNN, 20/20, O’Reily Report, OP ED Piece/NY Times, National Public Radio, MTV, HBO, MSNBC, KROQ, LA TIMES, LA DAILY NEWS, LANCET MEDICAL JOURNAL, ELLE MAGAZINE, POZ MAGAZINE. Dr. Mitchell also lectures and teaches an HIV, STD safe love class at colleges, institutions of many types.
In 1996 Dr. Mitchell survived a near fatal attack on her life by a crazed fan, which changed her life forever. Shortly after the attack Dr. Mitchell returned to college and became a certified counselor specializing in HIV and Chemical Dependency. She is now a MPH/Clinical Sexologist and has received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, California.
Dr. Sharon Mitchell spent 25 years in the Adult Entertainment Industry as an actress, appearing in over 2000 movies, as a dancer performing in venues all over the world, and she has produced and directed over 42 movies.
Sharon Mitchell PH.D.
Human Sexuality Counseling
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
While AIM Healthcare Foundation, the non profit organization that I founded 7 years ago continues to lead the industry in HIV/ STD testing and counseling, it is with a great deal of pleasure that I am notifying you about the opening of my Clinical Sexology private practice located in Encino, California. I specialize in counseling sessions for individuals, couples, groups, as well as conducting workshops. My desire is to network within a community of other experienced and respected professionals, who share my desire to create an atmosphere in our culture where in sexual concerns can openly be discussed without fear or shame, and promote healing.
Within my background in Clinical Sexology, as well as being trained in body-centered psychotherapy, lie the principles of compassion and respect, along with the practice of mindfulness. As a Clinical Sexologist my desire is to treat my clients by providing them with the most advanced and highest degree of counseling. Some examples of the tasks that are pertinent to a Clinical Sexologist are:
•Listening to and understanding the sexual concerns of the clients
•Taking sex histories and assessing etiologies
•Helping clients identify their sexual needs and pre-conditions for sex
•Offering suggestions, behavioral options, and home assignments
•Modeling communication possibilities
•Dispelling myths about sex
•Giving factual information a personal sex education
•Fostering healthy views towards sex
•Referring clients to physicians and psychotherapists when necessary
As a working professional, I also have many years of experience in drug and alcohol counseling. I am certified as a specialist in the field. Recovery is very important to me and I do know that often it is harder to stay clean and sober, than to get clean and sober. I do also understand that for some, relapse is part of recovery.
I would like to thank you in advance for sharing this information with other professionals and clients that you believe may benefit from my practice.
My office is conveniently located in Encino, California, near the 101 and 405 freeways. For clients that are referred to me by you my rates will run $75-$100 per hour. Please feel free to call or e-mail me directly with any questions or for further information regarding my practice.
Sharon Mitchell, PH.D.
Dr. Sharon Mitchell
5435 Balboa Blvd.
Encino, CA 91316
Monday through Friday, 10am-5pm
Phone: 818 905-8054