Many years ago, my BFF at the time and I had a frank (and odd) conversation in a smoke-filled bar with a guy we had just met. Somehow, we got on the subject of faked orgasms, and he casually admitted that HE had faked it before (yep, dudes do it too !).
I said I hadn’t (which was true). When I made that statement, the guy told me with a lift of his eyebrow and a snarky smile on his face that he obviously “ was a much nicer person than me!”
I was surprised by his comment but figured that said more about him than me. Meanwhile, my BFF, whose lips were loosened by rum and coke, boasted she could fake an orgasm that would put Meg Ryan’s to shame.
I was familiar with her story. She had been married, divorced and had gone through childbirth before she ever had an orgasm. And she had faked every single one of them with her controlling and abusive husband.
I started thinking about this incident and his comment when I reviewed some of the literature on women and faking. Faking orgasm occurs in both men and women but is much more common in women (25% vs 50% respectively). Most women will fake it every now and then but some turn in Oscar-worthy performances every time they have sex.
In one large-scale representative study, while 85% of men reported that their female partners had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, only 64% of women said that they actually did have an orgasm.
The National Health and Social Life Survey (the first representative study of American sexual habits) also found a similar discrepancy between how often men thought their partners orgasmed and how often women said they did. In this survey, only 29% of women claimed they got off every time, while 44% of men thought their lover’s climaxed every time.
I think we all smell a rat here.
So, why do so many women fake it?
Women fake orgasm for a number of reasons: to protect the man’s ego, to protect their own egos, to end boring sex, and even to turn themselves on. There wasn’t a lot of serious attention paid to this subject by scholars when I first started looking at the issue. But there has been more in the last few years.
Women ARE Being Too “Nice”
My bar room buddy may have had a point! Most research studies on this subject point out that most women do it for altruistic motives. They fake to protect a partner’s feelings. However, he was a bit of an outlier among men. Muehlenhard and Shippee found that men usually fake to end an encounter, particularly if they have already come, aren’t going to come, and are too drunk to continue.
One of the early scientific papers I found (from the 90s) examined faked orgasm in women in seventy-three heterosexual college students. While most of the women in that small interview-based Australian study admitted to turning in a bravura performance on occasion, the majority of the men stated flatly that they had never been with a woman who faked.
The authors pointed out that one major factor behind this issue was that for many of the participants their own satisfaction was less important than the continuance of their relationship. According to the researchers:
“Faking orgasm, as we stated in the beginning, is clearly involved with technique: the pretense techniques of the woman and the affirmation of masculine technical skills. However, it is also interwoven with the emphasis on relationships: The “reason” women give for faking is that it keeps the man happy and, thus, the relationship functioning.”
In other words, they didn’t want to rock the boat by telling the truth.
In an interview with sex expert Pepper Schwartz, she said pretty much the same thing:
“I think its a combination of people being too embarrassed to work out an issue or too careful about shaking up the system by giving accurate feedback. Men take a lot of pride in ‘giving’ a woman an orgasm … so in the beginning, faking it could be about encouragement.”
Unrealistic Expectations About the Female Orgasm
One of the few studies to look at both men and women’s experiences with faking an orgasm pointed out that it primarily occurs during intercourse. So, confusion regarding how women orgasm probably plays a role in the issue. The majority of women aren’t reliably orgasmic from penetration alone, but the expectation that both men and women will orgasm from intercourse continues.
We have Hollywood, porn, and abstinence-based sex-ed among other things to thank for that.
You would never know from watching porn or a mainstream Hollywood film that something called a “clitoris” existed, let alone that it’s usually essential to the female orgasm.
The fact that it’s wrongly expected to occur during intercourse has another unfortunate consequence. According to Muehlenhard and Shippee “the ladies first norm” means that some women fake to end an encounter because they know their partner won’t stop banging their cervix (ouch) until she appears to come. Muehlenhard and Shippee found that both men and women faked because they couldn’t think of another way to end boring sex.
To Avoid Negative Consequences
Women also fake to avoid negative consequences associated with not being able to orgasm, for example, a partner’s bad mood or hurt feelings. My theatrically inclined friend faked for that very reason. Her husband was controlling, sexually demanding, verbally abusive, and prone to temper tantrums. She faked so he wouldn’t go off on her (thankfully, she left his sorry ass many years ago and learned to orgasm).
One interesting line of thought is that women fake orgasms to hang on to their lovers, particularly if they think their sweetie pie has a wandering eye. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior argued that faking orgasm was a female “mate retention strategy.”
The researchers connected this behavior to evolution by arguing that the vaginal orgasm acts as a way to retain the sperm of genetically fit partners — that is men with “good genes” and that men have evolved an investment in getting their partner’s off.
I have no doubt that some women fake to hang onto their partners, but given the low rate of female orgasm during intercourse (only 18% are reliably orgasmic from it) and men’s cavalier attitude toward women’s orgasm during casual hook-ups, the rest of their theory sounds debatable.
It’s Hard to Tell the Truth About Sex
Of course, one reason women fake is to protect their own egos. It’s hard to be sexually honest. Good sex requires clear communication, especially for women. But most of us carry a butt-load of shame about our sexuality as well as a lot of anxiety that somebody somewhere is doing it a lot better than we are. And having a lot more fun at it too.
My graduate research project looked at how cultural norms impact women’s ability to be sexually authentic. When you’re being authentic you let your hair down with your partner, revel in your sexual uniqueness, and lose yourself in the erotic moment without worrying about your thighs, whether you’re doing it right, or moving the “correct way”.
How easy is that to do in a culture that never acknowledges the truth about female sexuality?
Genuine female sexuality is society’s middle child — marginalized, misunderstood, and invisible. In fact, it’s very invisibility indicates the level of our fear. What we see in popular culture is a pornified travesty of female desire — that looks nothing like the real thing.
But these media images are everywhere — magazines, advertising, romance novels, movies…
We are drowning in sexual lies.
Most of us are never exposed to how real women actually experience sex outside of our own personal experience — our own little snow globe, so to speak.
Women fake orgasms because nobody wants to be a square peg in a round hole. In order to have a genuine dialogue about sex, you’re going to have to get real about who you are. There is the risk that you might not be seen as (gulp) normal. Oh, God, what will (s)he think of me for needing that? Talking about sex means that you’re suddenly “outed” to your love. What if he doesn’t like what he sees?
And he may not.
I’m not going to kid you on that one. I think too many sex educators convey the idea that communication solves all sexual problems. That if we would stop expecting our lovers to read our minds, our sexual issues would disappear.
Sometimes, sometimes not. A man who believes that his lover is supposed to climax from his penis may not be that thrilled to learn that she needs oral sex or a vibe to come. In fact, he may be threatened by her preferences.
Unfortunately, we have raised our men to regard sex as a performance and to think that their lover’s orgasm is the applause. Men and women follow a culturally determined sexual script where he does and she gets done.
Men think it is their responsibility to make a woman come hard. If he falls down on the job — he’s not a man. If she can’t respond to his performance, she’s a lame lay. Her response is her performance. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking puts a gigantic amount of pressure on both of them.
Communication doesn’t solve everything because it doesn’t always occur on a level playing field between equals who are mutually invested in the relationship. There is the issue of power. Who has it, who doesn’t. Not every woman feels sufficiently empowered to make her own satisfaction a priority in her bedroom.
I don’t think women should be slammed for faking. After all, we are merely playing our role in the game. And in the end, we are the big losers. But nobody really wins this game. Men don’t learn the truth about their partner’s sexuality, and women lose interest in unsatisfying sex.
I’d like to see the female orgasm regarded as one way of experiencing pleasure among many and as something that is co-created by both participants. I’d like to see us get rid of all our rules and “shoulds” and make pleasure our priority.
We have a long way to go.
About the Author:
Kaye Smith PhD is a social psychologist, life coach, sex educator and fine art photographer. She is also a crazy cat who drinks too much tea. Check her out at https://kayesmithphd.com/