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Meet Nicholas Maio-Aether of Empowered: A Center for Sexuality

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicholas Maio-Aether.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I came to STL from Alaska at 19 years old, back in 2005. I had been doing sexuality education for Alaska and Hawaii all through high school but was pursuing a degree in Media Studies, specializing in Advertising, at UMSL. However, during my undergrad, I began working for Hustler Hollywood near the airport and ended up as Asst. Manager and also as a promoter featured seasonally for a couple of years on 105.7 The Point as “The Toy Boy”. Back at Hustler, I began writing a column in HH Insider Magazine called “Nick’s Picks,” all about sex toys and how they could enhance health and intimacy.

I found out the week before I graduated that I had HIV and was teetering at AIDS status. I spent the next couple of years focused on health and career, returning to school, and completing my first Master’s degree in Psychology (advertising was too cut-throat for me while battling HIV).

I decided to become a Sex Therapist and joined AASECT, then completed a clinical program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Behavior Analysis, which I focused upon sexual and socio-sexual behaviors. Once licensed as a Behavior Analyst, I next pursued a Sex Therapist title and having completed education and hours requirements, I then moved into a MAMFT program specializing in LGBTQIA+ Family Systems at Northcentral University.

While attending school and working on Practicum hours in Sex Therapy and MFT, I also opened “Empowered: A Center for Sexuality” in St Louis with friend and former business partner, Jessica Naslund. There, a staff of varying size and qualifications/backgrounds has worked tirelessly to provide sexuality-related mental health and educational services to people of all backgrounds, including disabilities and Autism. We created a place where all are welcome and Empowered still stands for that today.

The pandemic created a lot of shift, and Empowered is now down to just myself and my spouse, who serves as Business Administrator and Graphic Designer. I have moved away from direct practice in ABA, and am now providing consultation and training for Behavior Analysts who want to learn more about sexuality-related topics, while also continuing to directly serve MFT and Sex Therapy clients. I am eager to start a PhD program in Clinical Sexology this coming fall.

If it isn’t obvious already, I really enjoy learning and sex. I also have a passion for social equity and inclusion, and I’m a firm believer in the importance of autonomy and consent.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
HIV was immensely difficult at first. I was 22, still so young, and dying. My CD4 TCell count was 230 upon diagnosis and was down to 199 just three weeks later. For basis of comparison, the average human has between 900-1200, depending on their health at the time. I spent weeks sleeping most days, and this would continue to happen on and off for years. The meds took six months to get used to; 13 years ago, they were a little more harsh than now. I was eating so much to keep weight on that I had to join a food pantry to keep up with my 4-5k calorie/day diet. The nightmares and anxiety from the meds resulted in more medicine so I could sleep. I continued working full-time and going to school through all of it, but it was never easy after 22. Twice, I have been hospitalized for sepsis, once from popping a zit and once from getting scratched by a toddler. These things were not only physically challenging with longer than normal recovery but also a reminder of the mortality looming over the diagnosis. Dating again was hard, but not after PrEP came out. That really opened doors in the gay community.

I still live with it, but these days, it is a lot easier.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Empowered: A Center for Sexuality LLC?
At Empowered, I provide trainings and consultation for Behavior Analysts, along with Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT) and/or Sex Therapy. I always have pro bono clients whom I provide for in addition to my paid clients, based on need and availability. I also offer community trainings and run our free HIV+ Meetup and Support Group, POZitive. Last, I run, along with my amazing DM, Elise, our sociosexual skills group, Sex eD&D, which allows Autistic adults to adventure in a Dungeons & Dragons world while exploring sexuality and gender.

We’d love to hear about any fond memories you have from when you were growing up?
When I was a kid in Alaska, my friends and I would all hang out on a curb at the gas station, regardless of weather, and drink Slushies. This would kick off “Church” every Friday night, which included Chinese food from a local fresh Asian market and going to see a new movie at one of Anchorage’s older, more run-down theaters. I miss those days and that ritual.

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