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Why She’s Faking an Orgasm

It’s not you, it’s her. Well. Sometimes it’s you…

What’s worse: never being able to get a woman off, or spending a lifetime believing you brought every woman to incredible climax, only to learn they had all faked it? Luckily, the truth is somewhere in between: There’s a good chance you’ve gotten a woman off at some point, maybe a lot of points. And there’s also a very good chance most or all of them have faked it at one point or another.

That sucks, because feeling like a good lover is probably a high priority for most people, but especially men, whose very sense of masculinity is tied to their ability to be a tiger in the sack. And that’s exactly why women have to fake it.

One widely cited survey found 80 percent of women admit to faking orgasms at least half the time, and another 25 percent fake it 90 percent of the time. But even though that survey was just 71 women (aged 18 to 48), the reality of frequent faking is borne out in repeated surveys.

If you dive deeper into that 2010 study, as sex writer Brian Alexander did for NBC News, there is more information about how exactly women do this. They use vocalizations during sex to signal that they are really, really into the sex, but also with the explicit goal of getting you to go ahead and finish up.

The women also explained why they do it — “because their men are so goal-directed they won’t stop until a woman climaxes,” the researchers wrote. Of course, there are other reasons why under that umbrella reason. You can read any number of explainers on why women fake orgasms. She couldn’t relax. She doesn’t like you. She really likes you. The sex wasn’t good. The sex was perfectly good but you still weren’t doing the exact thing she needed. She was under the weather. She was tired. She didn’t want you to think she was incapable of having them.

But they all amount to the same thing: Faking orgasms happens because for whatever reason, this woman needed you to think you made her come. That is also directly related to the orgasm gap — the fact that you are more likely to come than she is.

That really explains nearly every facet of the faking: She’s less likely to come; you’re very likely to need her to demonstrate that you did your sex job right. In other words, the moans and shrieks of ecstasy came less out of her actual arousal and more out of the desire to excite you into wrapping it up so you get a self-esteem boost.

The reason for all this play-acting is cultural and biological. We tend to define intercourse from start to finish as from boner to wad-shot. Furthermore, it’s much more obvious when men get off, because men typically ejaculate and lose their erection after orgasming. With women, it’s not so clear. They typically don’t shoot liquid, or become measurably less engorged in the same quantifiable way, unless you happen to have a lot of electrodes and sophisticated equipment lying around to find out.

So then, the idea here is the vocalizations are the stand-in women use to show they’ve come. By making clear sounds that appear to go from mildly aroused to oh my god is her equivalent of liquid and boner loss.

Where does this leave us? Fucked without coming, that’s where.

Men’s sites offer guides on how to CSI this shit — like here’s how to tell she’s faking it. Here’s what to say when you are pretty sure she just faked it. In that recent guide at GQ, Sophie Saint Thomas offers good advice: She basically says that you, as a man, should create the kind of environment where a woman feels good about relaxing with you and telling you what she needs to get off. You also need to make okay for her to not have to produce an orgasm every time as a measure of your ability. We won’t solve the problem if we don’t focus more on communication and less on fake orgasm detection methods.

That would mean learning to treat our lovers as individuals we need to figure out how to please, and not as performance reviews for our own sexual careers. That takes time. The best sex comes with some kind of communication about said sex. It may not be long, diagrammed talks about how to get each other off expressed in PowerPoint presentations, and of course some sexual rapports take far less work than others. But good sex definitely comes with a curiosity and openness, and the knowledge that while some sex principles are the same, the particulars can be very different.

At the risk of reducing this to a car analogy, here’s one I really believe: Good sex is a lot like driving a stick shift. The mechanics don’t take much to learn: move the gearshift at the right time; engage the clutch in the right place. Because I understand the principles, I can competently drive any stick shift in about two seconds. But I spent months learning how to drive a stick, didn’t get truly expert at it for years, and I still have to learn the art of driving a new one. Yes, the basic principles are the same, but what’s not is noticing how hard or gently you gotta guide the stick and pedals around to rule that thing.

I don’t think female sexuality is anywhere near as complicated as it’s made out to be; it’s just different from men’s, and devalued. For most women, the golden trio of moves will get her off most of the time (exceptions noted). Still, you gotta learn how to do them with each woman differently.

Of course, we now know that men fake orgasms, too, and even though they fake it far less — 27 percent of men in one study, compared with 67 percent of women — it’s for reasons not dissimilar from women’s. It’s just hard for all of us to talk about why and how our sexual needs aren’t being met. This means that both men and women fake it because there is an unrealistic expectation that sex be great, and by great, we mean it ends with mutual orgasm.

If we could go into sexual experiences knowing that it will take time to understand this specific person—and that we shouldn’t expect to get every move right from the word go—that would be a start.

Even that won’t guarantee that no one will ever feel they have to fake it again. But it would be a much healthier situation if we could reduce the fake orgasm to the equivalent of the occasional white lie, instead of the massive culture-wide charade it still is.