How to unravel notions of sex, consent, and monogamy

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz

“Sex ties in with every element of one’s life, from the emotional, political, spiritual and the religious aspects.”

-Dr. Jessica O’Reilly-

Dr. Jessica O’Reilly is the nation’s foremost authority in all things sex, passion and relationship building. Vancouver Weekly had a chance to speak with the Playboy TV sexpert about monogamy, notions of consent, and effective communication when dating.

Sex is easy; a monkey can perform sex. Anybody can learn techniques; there is no reason why I am any better at sex than somebody else. We all have the same physical ability to do the same things sexually. Yet, we do not all cultivate our ability to communicate safely and openly with a degree of vulnerability.

The challenge of any relationship is not the sex; it is still wanting to have sex after many years of being together. Desiring sex when the novelty and unpredictability have worn off can be a challenge.

It is interesting working with so many different cultures because only Westerners share the notion of “soul-mates” or “finding the one”. I am currently in the East (Hong Kong) where they understand that relationships do not work because you find the right person, they work because you invest time, energy and effort. There is immense cultural pressure to find “the one”, which is mathematically impossible. There is almost universal pressure from the West to be with one person and to live happily-ever-after, however, that weight is shifting.

The stories around relationships in fairy-tales, romantic comedies or popular media is toxic. The messages are not just heteronormative they are deeply rooted in gender stereotypes which is harmful to both men and women. We have this notion where if you wait for the right person they will come and break-up your wedding at the altar so that the two of you can run away together; it is not practical. We have this idea that if he loves you, he will keep trying by pushing and pressuring because unrequited love is a standard to which people aspire.

Monogamy vs Non-monogamy

(The book) Sex at Dawn talks about monogamy not being natural, and I think that is probably accurate. Just because monogamy may not be natural does not mean that it is not desirable or do-able. Monogamy can be a wonderful arrangement, but it is not wonderful for everyone. The more choices people have, the more successful their relationships will be. Monogamy works when you opt-in, as opposed to being pressured in or stumbling into it because it is the only choice that you ever knew existed.

Consensual non-monogamy is on the rise, I am not sure that non-monogamy is on the increase. People have always been in non-monogamous relationships, but they have done it behind their partner’s back. The data collected from over 800 studies show that 24 percent of us have cheated on our partner. However, that number is probably higher because people tend to lie.

Millennials are doing an excellent job at adding the element of consent; they are acknowledging that it is challenging to be monogamous and are signing up for non-monogamy.

I believe that millennials are better at looking at all of their options because they are accustomed to choice. When you look at work benefits or the way we educate our children, it shows that our culture is not set up for polyamorous people, they do not even build cars with more than one adult partner in mind.


We only serve to gain (as a society) if we can have more open-relationships, not regarding sex but regarding communicating openly. Practice basic human decency in relationships. If you are putting a different version of yourself out there when you are dating it should be a message that there is something about yourself that you do not like, become that version of yourself or be honest. If I am into you, I should communicate that I am into you. If you are not into me, you should inform me that you are not into me. People are busy these days; you do not want to waste ten dates with someone to find out that there is a deal-breaker.

Investing in relationships

Investing in weddings over relationships is one of the biggest mistakes that we are making (as a culture).You can get married and still not have it be the basis of your relationship. Why do you need to spend $5000 on photography and $3000 of flowers? Take that money and go to therapy or get a great counsellor. Take $100 out of your wedding fund and buy some books. No single book is the gospel but invest in the relationship. I would like to see the effort that we approach weddings with to be the same amount of energy that we approach with relationships.

Reigniting the spark

Prioritizing your relationship is a choice. One of my workshops focuses on the science of passion and the simple steps that people can take to reignite the spark in both the sexual and relationship sides of things. If you expect sex and passion to occur naturally beyond the one-year to the eighteen-month mark, then you are a glutton for punishment. You have to cultivate passion and do things that enact the neurochemicals associated with that emotion by adjusting your behaviour to make the relationship exciting. Passion and love are neuro-chemicals, but they are also behavioural. It is no surprise that chemicals inevitably shift as we get comfortable in relationships. We often stop doing the things that make us exciting and unpredictable. Sex is about getting into your head as well as into your partner’s head.

Even though we talk about sex more today than in the past it is still done in a fairly rigid or one-dimensional manner; the goal is to make sex less taboo. My job is to inspire you to talk about sex, not to teach techniques or provide you with information.

As told to Kris McDermitt exclusively for Vancouver Weekly.