There are a variety of reasons for women to fake orgasms. How can both partners have a more satisfying, honest sexual experience?
I think I was about 11 years old when I asked my mother what an orgasm was. I remember her saying “I don’t know.”
Not to impugn anyone with whom my mother was intimately acquainted but I can’t be sure she was lying. It could have been the “I-don’t-want-to-explain-this,” variety of lie, or the “Ambushed! Play dumb!” variety or it could have been true. For all the sex scandals we’ve seen we should know by now never to assume jack about anyone’s private life.
I had asked because orgasms were everywhere, except, I guess, in people's bedrooms. They were on book covers and TV talk shows and it seemed that this was a once-private subject, the sudden public discussion of which was making some people upset and uncomfortable, so naturally I wanted to know more. I don’t remember if my mom ever addressed the subject again but I cobbled together, with the help of various media, a half-assed idea of what an orgasm was, or at least how it sounded and naturally heard about women faking it, though not fully understanding what, I didn’t fully understand why.
One researcher has finally taken that question to academia.
Erin Cooper, a doctoral student at Temple University conducted research on women faking orgasm, which men do, too (statistics vary pretty wildly on the percentage, but whatever stats you read women’s numbers are higher) Her initial survey of 1500 women, written up by Sadie F. Dingfelder on the American Psychological Association website said that of the conscious reasons heterosexual women fake it the most common is “altruistic deceit” - in other words, avoiding hurting the guy’s feelings.
But a story by Live Science on a smaller survey of 366 women said of women who “endorse” faking it they do so for various reasons, including their own feelings of sexual insecurity, to avoid intimacy or “to get it over with,” and that for some it increased, rather than decreased, their sexual satisfaction. In an email Erin said that the smaller study “looked at fear of intimacy as a predictor of motivation for faking orgasm. So women who had difficulty in a past relationship are more likely to fake in order to avoid feeling insecure about themselves or to end the sexual encounter.”
First let’s look at the two reasons for faking it that are super easy to understand.
“Getting it over with” is a no-brainer. As fun as sex is - in fact the more fun it is - it makes you tired. Done.
Protecting the man’s ego is understandable too. Erin says that this wasn’t found to be associated with increased intimacy, but she does see it as a “relationship maintenance strategy” and I’m sure that she’s not only right but that sexual relationships are not the only sort we maintain with it. In fact, “altruistic deceit” is probably the greatest motivator ofalllittle white lies (You look great, by the way. Have you lost weight?). In fact, I think the male version of ‘faking it’ is saying “I’ll call you!” after an encounter, when they probably did not really feel quite what those sounds project.
As for faking it being some women’s way of salvaging their own egos that might sound surprising but it’s really pretty easily explained. If your sexual ego doesn’t want to let you admit to awkwardness, discomfort with your body or that you don’t know what makes you climax, well, you could easily fake it, the way people often fake being happy or knowing the story of Paul Revere. The problem is that a really well-constructed facade means they may never getreallywell-informed or find what makes them happy…or sexually satisfied.
Susan Crain Bakos, a veteran sex writer of over 25 years, author ofDaily Sex Bible: Inspirations and Techniques for the Best Year of Sex Everinventor of The Orgasm Loop,” says that faking it out of insecurity is often the case.
“It's about keeping up and image of their own and wanting to be seen as this hot number who’s really sexual and always have an orgasm,” she says.
Hook up culture isn’t helping.
“Hook up sex is mostly drunken sex and you don't get orgasms when you're drunk,” becsuse alcohol deadens the nerve endings.
“They might have looked really hot but if they were really drunk and they didn’t come…there’s nothing hot about that! You might as well be wife of 30 years who doesn't come in her quick encounter with her husband. (The hook-up girl) is wearing a hot dress and not coming. What’s the difference?”
Susan has some advice to remedy this (aside from not getting too tipsy). “I tell the young women if you want to go out and get laid you have your little bag, you have your condoms, your individual lube packets, a vibrator, something small and discreet and a vibrating cock ring for him. If you're going to do this, do it right. Get an orgasm."
And men want women to have real orgasms.
“If women only realized how much it might free them a little bit, make them more willing to tell a man what they want or relax into sexuality,” Susan says. The men who write to her for advice “are very focused on 'How can I please her? How can I get better for her?" and the AMA story corroborates this: 90% of men, it says, care if women to have orgasms.
And their desire to please may be evolutionary important to them, just as faking it might be to women.
The AMA story quotes William McKibbin, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Flint. as saying there’s preliminary evidence that “the female orgasm functions to selectively uptake a particular man’s sperm over another,” so, evolutionarily speaking, it’s better for him if he takes her there. Elisabeth Lloyd, PhD science historian at Indiana University, Bloomington, on the other hand, thinks it’s just a “fantastic bonus,” with no clear function. On the statistic that only 8% of women have orgasms through penile-vagina intercourse (without any helping hands), Lloyd also notes “Very few women can climax through intercourse alone, but in Hollywood, that 8 percent (of women) is portrayed as 100 percent.” Well-said,
As for women’s subconscious benefits of faking it, a study out of the University of New Mexico says that women have more orgasms with men whose bodies are symmetrical - symmetry being “genetic shorthand for quality” in many species - so they could be having orgasms to ensure fertility with those males and faking it with others to reassure them or mask paternity.
Back, though, to conscious reasons they might be faking it, Susan, who gets a lot of letters from both men and women, was surprised to hear that some women might fake it to avoid intimacy.
“Women are always craving much more intimacy than men,” she says. “I’m an intimacy-issue person but the number of women with intimacy issues is still not as great as those who want more intimacy,” in her experience.
But faking it lets you avoid talking about your true needs and isn’t faking of any kind an avoidance of intimacy? Wasn’t my mother avoiding an intimate conversation when she said “I don’t know?”
The avoidance of intimacy keeps real closeness at arm’s length just like the facade of sophistication keeps real sophistication far away. Susan sees that as being especially bad for young women who feel pressured to act wise about sex and so may never actually get wise or educated, about sex or how they relate to it.
“I hear these girls in the ladies room who must be all of 16, bragging about their blog job techniques and I'm thinking "Oh yeah, right. You've got to be really good at that. Who are we kidding?" I think I was really lucky because as an aging boomer we were probably the last generation that did have a little time to grow up. In fact some might say we took way too much time to grow up! But our adolescence was not as pressured and we were not as pushed to be adults in the sex world in that way.”
Slowness. Flow. Making the journey as important as the destination - I think these are important topics in a discussion about sex because who is to say that an orgasm is all that makes sex good? Of course it’s healthy and important to have them and to know how to have them when you want to, but some of the best sex I’ve ever had was orgasm-free, at least for me. It wasn’t goal-oriented. There was nothing to be “achieved” except the joy of being so captivated by one other person that aliens could drop in, abduct the cat and go home and I’d never notice. One way of having great sex is - and there are many - is being 100% in the moment, a state of mind that’s often tougher for me to get to than orgasms are.
Maybe just like the slow food movement I should head up a Slow Sex movement - but I think the adherents oftantric sexbeat me to it…by about 6000 years (which isn’t to say tantric sex is non-orgasmic).
Susan, conversely, thinks orgasm is very important.
“I’ve always had orgasms often and easily so I have a mental block imagining I could have a good time without orgasms,” she says. “However I do hear other women claim it’s not so much the orgasm, it’s the closeness, the intimacy, the lovemaking. If that’s true why, in marriage, do so many women turn off sex?”
I had to give that one some thought - growing apart, attraction to others and and themellowing of chemistry from mad, romantic love to a more companionable love.
As far as faking itincreasingsome women’s satisfaction, Cooper adopts a ‘whatever works’ attitude, saying, in essence, if it makes them happy, who are we to question it? Fair enough. Everyone has their own pace and just as Susan and I differ on what’s important to us privately not everyone’s path to happiness will be - or need to be - the same.
I’ve faked it. Not often, but I remember two instances. One of them might not really count: a lover asked me afterwards if I’d climaxed. Well, you know that old bromide “If you have to ask you can’t afford it?” If you have to ask she probably didn’t.
The other time was when I was younger, before I’d experienced the real thing, though thanks to my earlier research (like watching R-rated movies) I knew what it was supposed to sound like. I just got the idea it was supposed to happen at a certain moment, that it was expected, like a call and response thing. Like this:
…only with slightly less soggy players.
It’s hardly surprising, in the long run, that we fake it in bed - we’re actively encouraged to fake all kinds of things in life. Game face. Poker face. Put on a happy face. Fake it til you make it. Never let ‘em see you sweat. And my favorite, from Joe Franklin, “The key to success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”