All the telltale signs of ecstasy are there: eyes are rolling back, moans are coming more frequently, toes are curling and the body’s jerking. The explosion is about to happen and you’re more than ready for it. You put in work and it’s about to pay off. Your lover’s body spasms and you mentally dust your shoulders off because you did that, right? Not so fast. Believe it or not, women and men (yes, men!) fake orgasms more often than we think. Everyone’s first question is usually, “But… why??” Well, there are several reasons why people pretend to have orgasms, and it isn’t always about you.
In the past couple of decades, there’s been an exponential growth in access to sexually explicit imagery, both in print and film. These portrayals almost always have a sexy beginning, a roaring middle, and a delightfully satisfying end. As I wrote previously, 90% of men orgasm each time they have sex (compared with only 25% of women), and 75% of women require stimulation aside from intercourse. Clearly, getting off is easier for men than for women, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever struggle with it.
For most folks, women especially, a partner’s orgasms represent sexual fulfillment and without them, we’re are often left feeling like we just aren’t good enough lovers. We might experience pressure to satisfy our lovers’ egos every now and then, so we default to faking it.
Temple University released a study in 2010 revealing that about 67% of women have faked an orgasm at least once. Top reasons? Fear of exposing their vulnerability to their partners, and a general insecurity about their sexual skills. Some women fear becoming too emotionally connected to a partner if they cum, so they fake it; not only to stroke their partners’ ego a bit, but also to deflect attention from their vulnerability.
On a more physical level, many women feel like they don’t measure up to the sexiness and talent of women they see in X-rated movies, so they mimic what they’ve seen in the films. Unfortunately, too many women have never experienced an orgasm, so they wouldn’t necessarily know what one feels like. They become so used to faking that they don’t bother working on learning what it would take for them to achieve orgasm alone or with a partner.
I’ll be honest. I used to pretend a good 80-90% of the time, because I simply couldn’t orgasm during sex. An early reliance on sex toys combined with my emotional self-protection created a barrier between me and reaching that peak. I’d gotten so used to faking that I wasn’t sure I was even capable of experiencing a real orgasm with a partner without the aid of a vibrator.
Eventually, I let my emotional guard down a bit and eased up on the toys. I learned how to cum with a partner and I’ve never looked back. An orgasm isn’t the end all, be all, however. If I don’t feel it, it just doesn’t happen. And it’s important that my partners understand that doesn’t automatically mean they aren’t good in bed. It just doesn’t always happen for me or, frankly, millions of other women out there.
While women are more likely to put on a show, they aren’t the only ones doing it. In April 2013, Harvard Professor of Urology, Abraham Morgentaler, MD, released a new book, Why Men Fake It, based on discussions with his patients over several years. In his book, he explores various reasons why men fake orgasms. He found that men who faked it felt it was the “right thing to do” because orgasms were expected. Condom use can hide the lack of evidence, as few women are checking condoms post-ejaculation for semen, so it’s not entirely difficult for a man to pretend.
I spoke with a few men, and they agreed their primary reason for faking has been because they didn’t want the woman to feel bad. Drew says he’s faked it to provide the women with some relief. “I’ve faked it before they got sore or tired of the constant grind,” he admits. Knowing they expected an “end,” he pretended to be done so they wouldn’t feel bad about not being able to keep up with his stamina. Reggie says he did so to protect a young woman’s ego. “She just wasn’t very good at sex. But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings,” he says.
Another reason men pretend is because of erectile dysfunction, fatigue, or other emotional and physical barriers. Dr. Morgentaler discusses the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in older men and how they’ve come to feel that their manhood is rooted in their ability to ejaculate. Because of medical issues, they feel compelled to fake it.
Brandon* experienced some physical issues and says, “For years I couldn’t orgasm during sex, and I realized the women took it personally.” Regarding women’s expectations, he says, “I’m not sure if they expected it. I just assumed that they did. I was too embarrassed to talk about it. I was just really nervous. I could never really fully get into it, and I wasn’t confident in my abilities.” Some men are just tired, and while they want to please their partners, they just don’t have it in them to keep going until they reach a climax.
Though the explanations vary, they all boil down to not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings. We’ve allowed erotica and porn to heavily influence our perceptions about what should happen during sex, and we feel obligated to perform accordingly. The truth is, sex can be extremely pleasurable without either partner achieving orgasm. It isn’t always about placing blame on the other person not being good enough; sometimes, people just can’t.
As long as communication remains open between the partners and there’s willingness to explore as many sexy options as possible, orgasms shouldn’t be the primary focus. Enjoy each other naturally and let orgasms happen organically rather than relying on pretense. In most cases, the means more than make up for the possible lack of an explosive end.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.