Each month we sit down (virtually) with AASECT members to find out about how they came to their work, what their current passions are in the field of human sexuality, and what they love most about being a sexuality professional. If you are interested in being profiled in a future Contemporary Sexuality let us know!
A sociologist and certified sexuality educator, Elisabeth Sheff is passionate about speaking out. Elisabeth's work involves research, education, and advocacy for sexual and gender minorities, and their families. Her particular area of expertise is polyamory and especially poly families with children. While hardly new to the field, Elisabeth chose to be certified in 2012. Elisabeth lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more about Elisabeth's work and consulting practice at: http://elisabethsheff.com
CS: When you meet someone new at a dinner party how do you describe what you do?
ES: I usually begin by saying I am a sociologist who studies alternative families. Sometimes that is enough.
CS: Can you tell us something about where you learned what you know, professionally? What education, training, and/or life experience brought you to work as a sexuality professional?
ES: Personally, I grew up with a second-wave feminist mom who was a heterosexual hippie with tons of lesbian friends and the only single parent in our suburban Denver neighborhood, so I got used to being a bit of an outsider because we had "weird friends" and considerably less money than most of the people around us. While my mother was widowed by the Viet Nam war and so was technically not one of those "bad divorcees," she still had two small children and no husband at the very beginning of the 1970s and so was an unwilling social pioneer of single parenting.
Professionally, my training has been primarily academic and self-conducted. I got my PhD in sociology from the University of Colorado (Boulder) in 2005 and spent much of my graduate education crossing disciplinary boundaries in to women's studies and social psychology.
CS: What's the biggest challenge you are struggling with right now professionally?
ES: Currently I am transitioning from academia to private consulting work and the shift has been a little uneven. While people are very interested in my work, I have not found a way to easily translate that into income. My new business, the Sheff Consulting Group, is a think tank composed of academicians and professionals who are experts in unconventional and underserved populations, from sex work, medical marijuana, and drug policy, to homebirth and holistic healing or polyamorists and kinksters.
CS: Tell us something you do when you aren't working.
ES: I am currently a volunteer for the Fulton County Court Appointed Special Advocates in Georgia, or CASA. CASAs provide assistance to neglected or abused children who are involved in the foster care or family court adjudication. CASA is a nationwide organization providing atrisk children with a voice and a source of advocacy. While serving such a vulnerable population is laudable, it is not particularly profitable, so the nationwide CASA program is always looking for funding and volunteers. To find out more about CASA, visit their national website at http://www.casaforchildren.org.
CS: What's one thing you particularly love about your work?
ES: I love to help people learn about, and come to grips with, things that they find compelling but may also think of as pathological or dangerous. As an intellectual, I intellectualize things that frighten me. Sexuality always seemed big and scary, kind of mushy, and potentially awkward (I am strangely prudish for a sexuality educator).
So while I might not want to do all of the things I heard about from respondents in my "Are You Kinky?" or "Overlapping Identities" studies, it was very interesting to hear about them and I can seehow the respondents found them so engaging. …