We spoke to a sexologist about Tinder, porn, and of course, Fifty Shades of Grey

Photography by Chris Craymer/Trunk Archive

What your friends fantasize about sexually might make you blush—then again, it might not. With easier access to porn online and erotica novels gaining momentum, women are becoming big-time consumers of sex content. The thing is, says Toronto-based sexologist and author Jessica O’Reilly, we’re still not talking about it enough. Opening up the floodgates on sex talk is part of her mission.

Who are your clients?
“So many of the women I work with are A-types, of course, because they’re often the ones who come for help. They are so in control. They are powerhouses. They take care of a lot of people and projects—whether it be at work, with their family or in their community. So when it comes to their sex lives, they just want to let go.”

Why do they seek you out?
“Women—and men—come to see me for a variety of reasons. Most are simply looking to spice up their relationships. And while the majority are interested in tips and techniques, they often find that a dose of validation and minor lifestyle changes can go a long way. Some people are looking to resolve problems or address concerns, but most of these challenges are universal.”

What sexual fantasies are popular right now?
“A recent study [from the Université du Québec] looked at 55 fantasies of women, from threesomes and exhibitionism to sex with celebrities and extramarital partners. The ‘most desirable fantasies,’ as researchers worded it, included having a romantic connection during sex. We think we live in a time that’s ‘wild’ when, in fact, romantic emotions rank the highest.”

How do you think social networks, like Tinder and Grindr, affect us?
“For daters, these platforms create connections to a wider range of potential dates. I also see an increase in connectivity and accessibility for sexual subcultures. You’re able to find and create communities of support online that you wouldn’t have been able to before. On the other hand, when you look at Tinder, or any abrupt or incomplete communication, we normalize that instant gratification. That can cause problems in the bedroom, for sure. If you’re always getting what you want when you want it, not cultivating or working for it, that can be problematic.”

Sex toys are sold everywhere—even drugstores. Are couples getting kinkier?
“Certainly vibrator and sex toy use is on the rise. With the latest numbers, more than half of women under 60 use vibrators, and this will continue to rise over the next decade. We want everything in life to be more accessible, so we expect the sexual accoutrements to be more accessible, too.”

What if your partner has a fantasy that you’re not particularly into?
“Your relationship isn’t doomed if a partner isn’t into one or several desires. However, the reaction to that fantasy would be an indication of compatibility. Do they say ‘I never thought of that; let me mull it over’ or do they say, ‘That’s gross. What’s wrong with you?’? Compatibility is about effort. Talk about what both partners want. You can ‘broker’ one for the other. You can also set limits. Maybe you can find some thematic element you can pull out in some way.”

Has BDSM in pop culture boosted sex drives, Or is it setting unrealistic expectations?
“It does both. Fifty Shades of Grey has started some important conversations, but it isn’t an accurate representation of an ideal kinky relationship. Kinksters would say the book has taken BDSM a few steps back, with regard to consent. Anastasia protests, and Christian pushes her. In a healthy relationship, that’s not how it works.”

Is there a new form of “vanilla” nowadays?
“The word ‘vanilla’ is used in opposition to kinky, but both terms have evolving definitions. If you hang out in dungeons, most would say that’s kinky. But what if you like using a blindfold? Are you ‘kinky’ or ‘vanilla’? My fear is that when a subculture is in vogue to some degree—as BDSM and kink have become since Fifty Shades—that an elitist subculture breaks off in which self-identifying isn’t enough. I say, if you identify as vanilla, awesome. Have the best sex in the world. If you’re kinky, awesome. You can also have the hottest sex.”

Does porn pressure us to perform?
“Porn exists to entertain, titillate and make money, but it’s not educational. It’s as realistic as watching Mad Men for relationship advice. It’s fiction. It’s actors, directors, special effects. Porn is no different. When we realize that, both men and women will stop feeling the pressure to perform like a porn star.”

How often should we have sex?
“Studies show that it happens about once or twice a week on average, but I think you should be doing it as often as you want. Having said that, you shouldn’t just be doing it as often as it is convenient. If so, you’ll never do it. It’s like going to the gym: You won’t get there unless you pack your bag, carve time out of your day, get in your car and go there. You don’t expect it to happen on its own. It’s the same with sex.”

What are the physical benefits of sex?
“Studies suggest it boosts immunity—you have higher levels of immunoglobulin A after sex. If you’ve had sex within the past 24 hours, you’re able to regulate stress better. Your heart and breath rates slow down. Sex can boost mood, help reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem. Oxytocin [a hormone that increases during and after sex] helps you relax and sleep better. Sleep is associated with improved memory, better work performance, longevity, warding off the common flu—the health benefits don’t stop.”