Sex therapy takes up about half of Anne Aja’s caseload. The Newport News therapist holds certifications in marriage and family therapy and additionally in sex therapy. “It’s hard to work with a couple and not talk about sex,” she says. To gain licensure from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) took her many additional hours of courses and workshops. “You have to really know yourself and recognize your own values and how you feel about different behaviors — gay sex, old people, masturbation,” says Aja (pronounced “Asia”), who has a grown son and daughter, and three grandchildren, from her 25-year first marriage. Now remarried, she says, “It’s exciting to have similar interests. We do have a lot of fun together.” We met her in her spacious, light-filled office that overlooks water to talk about her work.
Q: What’s the most common sexual problem people consult you about?
A: “Absolutely the most common — and it’s very difficult to treat — is low libido. It can be caused by relationship problems, low self-esteem, the use of anti-depressants. … Anyone who can develop an SSRI [serotonin-specific re-uptake inhibitor commonly used to treat depression] without a sexual side-effect would be golden. You may not have an orgasm but you still need a sexual relationship.
Q ” What do people complain about?
A “A lack of romance. People put everything into working and the kids. They don’t make time for romance.” What are some romantic behaviors? “Massages, cards, walks, kissing, touching, movies, dancing. We talk about nurturing those activities. There’s usually a whole lot of romantic at the beginning. The infatuation, the chemical bonding — the lots of sex — usually lasts about a year. Then there’s the working, the paying the bills. People are over-extended.
Q ” How can people reignite a relationship?
A “People want long-lasting relationships, but the stability and predictability of a lasting relationship isn’t usually fuel for romance. Also, people are living longer and it’s unusual for a high level of sexual desire to continue. Guys tend to think of it as a ‘bait-and-switch’ but it’s kind of normal. Some of it is neurochemical. Women aren’t like men. They’re more complicated. It’s not just about blood flow. You have to make it a cognitive thing. … We look at things that brought them together. I have them make wish lists, ways that a partner makes them feel special — it could be getting your feet rubbed or taking the trash out without being asked. Some want to hear, ‘I love you.’ Or just spending time together.
Q ” How do you resolve a difference in sex drive?
A “Just communication. It’s not easy, but you get people to talk about it. Sometimes it’s just education, such as basic hygiene — they need to brush their teeth, take a shower, or their weight is a problem. … Sexual performance can be affected by not being healthy, any medical problems, by weight or alcohol use.
Q ” How has Viagra affected your practice?
A “Levitra, Cialis, Viagra — they’ve helped a lot of men to have a sex life longer. We talk about ‘medicalizing sex.’ You can have a good sexual relationship without intercourse. Be sensuous. I try to de-emphasize intercourse. … Among older people the research shows that it’s primarily men who stop having sex — because of erectile dysfunction. They don’t want to talk but they can still have a sex life and be sensual.” What are some other problems? “We live in a sexually charged atmosphere. There’s a lot more talk about sex — on Oprah, on the radio. People want more out of their relationships. They used to put up with more. The Internet is available 24/7, people are chatting, connecting with old girlfriends.
Q ” Is there any validity to “sex addiction”?
A “Patrick Carnes (author of “Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict,” 1989) coined the term 20 years ago. It’s a problem with intimacy — porn, prostitutes, lap dances. It’s all about you, alone, secret — a healthy sex life is relational. It’s often a result of childhood trauma. It’s treatable, but people have to work at it hard. It affects men and women equally. There’s a group, Sexaholics Anonymous. It can be controlled and people can still fantasize.
Q ” How do you deal with information about what some might consider kinky behavior?
A “There are lots of different groups out there. People who hurt people, or teach others to hurt people without hurting them. If both people are into it, it’s OK. There’s usually some trauma behind it … The violent stuff makes me uncomfortable.
Q ” Are there any books/media that you could recommend?
A “Laura Berman (‘Dr. Laura’) on the radio. There are many books around with a Christian orientation. For young children, parents should talk early and incidentally — naturally. If you don’t do it, someone else will. The “American Girl” books have information too. For women the books, “For Yourself” and “For Each Other” by Lonnie Barbach; for men, “The New Male Sexuality” by Bernie Zilbergeld and “Coping with Erectile Dysfunction” by Michael E. Metz.
Anne C. Aja Education: Doctorate in Education, College of William and Mary
Profession: Licensed marriage and family therapist; licensed sex therapist; partner in Rock Landing Psychological Group Where: 11825 Rock Landing Drive, Newport News Contact: 873-1736, dougdye.com/dev1/