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Canada’s sexologist, Dr. Jessica O’Reilly

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Dr. Jessica O’Reilly never planned to become a sexologist. In fact, she started out as a high school teacher and then decided to go back to school. She trained teachers to deliver effective sexual health education and her goal was to continue. At the time, she didn’t realize she could build a business in the field of sexology.

Photo by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

That was nine years ago. Today, O’Reilly is one of North America’s top sex and relationship experts. Under the brand “Sex with Dr. Jess,” she has been featured everywhere from the Huffington Post and the Globe and Mail to the Movie Network, Playboy TV and The Marilyn Denis Show and has spoken at countless events and shows.

Her work includes a heavy travel schedule, with retreats in places from New York City to the Philippines, Jamaica, Ukraine, Lebanon and one of her favourites, Istanbul. She is also an accomplished author. Her latest, The New Sex Bible, has received rave reviews and her first book Hot Sex Tips, Tricks and Licks is in its fourth printing.

“When people ask what I do and I respond with sexologist, half of them think I’m joking,” says O’Reilly. But, it’s true that not many people know what a sexologist is, or even know it exists as an occupation.

O’Reilly’s main job is to provide education in the field of happy, healthy relationships. She designs activities and workshops so people can develop and practice behavioural skills that ultimately will improve their relationships and change their lives. Sex is a part of it, but it is 80% relationship based. Studies show when you practice behavioural skills, specifically related to sex and relationships, in a classroom environment, you’re more likely to enact those skills in the real world.

A big part of the job is to help normalize a range of behaviours and to help boost people’s confidence. “I think the number one challenge when it comes to sexuality and relationships is confidence,” says O’Reilly. “Not confidence by saying ‘oh, I’m great in bed,’ but confidence in doing what feels good for you and admitting what feels good for you. I want to help people feel confident in whatever it is they desire in a relationship.”

In O’Reilly’s own marriage, she admits that when her husband goes out of his way to buy or make her food, it makes her feel loved, because she realizes he’s thinking of her. In turn, this increases her desire for him. Everybody is different. The key to being confident is having the courage to say what you want or need out loud to your partner.

Being a popular sexologist has a lot of perks, from getting glammed up for television segments to travelling the world, but O’Reilly’s favourite part of the job is the moments people tell her she positively affected their life or relationship. “That’s why I’m in this field,” says O’Reilly. “To impact people’s relationships and their life. I want them to feel better about themselves.”

Last February, O’Reilly experienced a moment that topped all of the highlights of her career, including the TEDx talk she did in Vancouver in front of thousands of people. At the time, she was in a small eastern European city working with couples. One of the couples she worked with had been happily married for 20 years, but the wife had never had an orgasm. O’Reilly sat down and spoke with the couple for nearly two hours.

The next day she received a phone call from the woman, saying she wanted to bring a gift to O’Reilly in her hotel room. When she arrived she said thank you because the night before, after their couples’ session, she had an or- gasm for the first time in her life. Hear- ing success stories like this from clients is why O’Reilly loves her job. “I feel as though 80% of the job is just opening up the dialogue and facilitating,” she says. “It goes to show if you take time to invest in your relationship, inevitably it will improve.”

The job also has its downfalls. For O’Reilly, the worst part of the job without question is the online harassment. “Being a woman online is a challenge, especially being a woman in a controversial field,” she says.”Harassment is inevitable.”

The most common form of harassment she receives is angry and threatening messages and sometimes even sexual harassment. “Being in the public eye—you have to get over wanting everyone to like you and I’m still struggling with that,” says O’Reilly. “I’m really thankful to have such a supportive husband and family, who, even if they don’t neces- sarily love all the work that I’m doing, will never judge me for it.”

What bothers her most is when people send her messages saying she’s a poor example for young women and men. “My goal is to help people feel better about themselves so they can have happier relationships with both themselves and their partners and, yes, sex is a part of that,” she says. “I talk about sexual techniques sometimes, because it’s a part of my job—but my goal isn’t for everyone to try the pray- ing mantis position.”

O’Reilly’s primary market is people who are in committed long-term relationships and are just trying to get by. “Being in a relationship is not always easy,” she says. ”People fight, mess up and hurt each other. At the end of the day it’s about who you want to sit next to and hold hands with when you’re 99 years old.”

Many couples argue about sex frequency in their relationship, but this is perfectly normal, she says. Most couples stop having sex as frequently as time goes on and they tend to think it’s a huge problem. “It is inevitable that sexual desire declines in long-term relationships and it also tends to decline with age,” says O’Reilly. This also occurs because of individual circumstances and differing sex drives, as well as other factors.

People tend to be hypnotized by television and movies and believe sexual desire is always spontaneous or natural,but in fact, sometimes you just have to be turned on first before experiencing sexual desire. By definition, arousal is the ability of your body to get turned on and sexual desire is the longing for your partner. “You need to be aroused before experiencing sexual desire,” she says. “Once you understand that, you can cultivate desire in any long term relationship. The one thing I want people to take away from my work is that you can make things work wherever you’re at.”

Pathways to pleasure

The most common question O’Reilly receives is: Am I normal? The answer is almost always yes. Everyone has different sexual and relationship desires and every couple has different circumstances and rules. “We fantasize about such a huge range of topics and we’re all afraid that we’re weird,” says O’Reilly. “We all have different pathways to pleasure and pain and we all have different levels of comfort with different parts of our body, so you have to get to know what works for you.”

Many women also wonder how they can achieve the ultimate orgasm. O’Reilly’s advice? Let go. “You need to relax and enjoy yourself,” she says. “Right before orgasm, the part of your brain right behind your left eye shuts down for a moment, which is why if you’re too busy thinking about the kids in the next room or what your thighs look like or whether your partner likes it or not—you’re not going to have an intense orgasm.”

O’Reilly emphasizes thinking of whatever makes you feel good, whether it’s a knight in shining armour or Ryan Gosling. Do whatever you need to do to get your mind into the game.

Her general advice for women is to be more selfish. For example, there is a big gap when it comes to oral sex in heterosexual relationships. A lot of women tend to give more than they get. If you want it, you should ask for it and not feel ashamed or aggressive. “I find that women are conditioned to be givers in every realm and the bedroom is no exception,” says O’Reilly. “So ask for what you want and get what you want—the rest will follow.”

At the core of all human behaviour, everybody wants what feels good, whether it’s having great sex, being in a traditional relationship, or being in a non-monogamous relationship. But, not everyone is willing to go through the tough communication or emotional strain to get what they truly desire. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, deprivation and resentment. It’s important to recognize that happiness requires struggle. You can’t get what you want just by sitting around and hoping for the best. It is up to you to take responsibility for your own pleasure and fill your partners in on what you’d like from them. Take the reins and steer. After all, it’s part of the game—you can’t win if you don’t play.

More Inspiration: You might also enjoy this article on better sex through mindfulness!

Author: Charmaine Millaire was an editor for OptiMYz magazine, she’s a graduate of King’s School of Journalism in Nova Scotia and remains a valued friend of Optimyz!


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