In the classic film “When Harry Met Sally,” Meg Ryan’s character famously claimed that “most women at one time or another have faked it.” And she was right. Studies have consistently found that a majority of women report that they have faked at least one orgasm before. But women aren’t the only ones faking it. In fact, a recent survey of college men published in the Journal of Sex Research found that 25% of guys had done it before too!
Clearly, there’s a lot of faking going on in the bedroom. So why is it so common? And is the effort and energy we put into pretending all of these orgasms really worth it?
Survey studies have uncovered dozens of distinct reasons for faking orgasms, including: “I was too drunk,” “I wasn’t really into her,” “I just wanted sex to be over,” and “I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
However, every single one of these reasons originates from the same underlying belief, which is that sex isn’t really sex unless you have an orgasm. When there’s penetration without orgasm, people usually leap to the conclusion that there’s a problem: either someone isn’t doing their job right, or they have a sexual dysfunction. In other words, sex without orgasm is interpreted as a sign that something is wrong with you, your partner, or your relationship. With so much emphasis placed on orgasm as a sign that everything is OK, it’s no wonder so many people fake it.
This view that sex is defined by orgasm is very common and it creates what psychologists call the orgasmic imperative, or the idea that people feel pressured to reach orgasm every time they have sex and to make sure that their partner reaches orgasm as well. Ironically, the orgasmic imperative actually makes people less likely to have a natural orgasm and increases the odds that some of us will fake it. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but when people get so caught up in the idea that they have to “achieve” something during sex, this can create distraction and/or performance anxiety, which interferes with one’s ability to respond sexually.
When people fake an orgasm, no matter whether the motivation is selfish (“I really just want to sleep”) or selfless (“I want him to know I appreciate the effort”), the end result is that it serves to reinforce the orgasmic imperative. This virtually guarantees that more orgasms will be faked down the line. For this reason alone, I would argue that faking orgasms is almost never a good idea and, instead, is counterproductive. Sure, a fake orgasm might give you and your partner temporary relief in that moment, but it furthers an unhealthy sexual narrative that dictates what you must achieve every time you have sex.
Fake orgasms have other downsides, too. For instance, they can discourage your partner from trying new things in bed, while simultaneously rewarding your partner for less-than-satisfying sexual technique. What this means is that in your next sexual event with that same partner, things may not be all that different because your partner now has a mistaken impression of what gets you going between the sheets. To the extent that this happens, you might find that you’ve created a situation where you feel a need to fake it again and again. This is especially important to consider given that most orgasms are faked with a dating or relationship partner, as opposed to a one-night stand. That’s right—most orgasms are faked with our regular sex partners! Seriously, if you know you’re going to have sex with the same person again, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to be honest and tell your partner how you really feel instead of resorting to deception?
Plus, how do you think your partner will feel if they realize you’re faking it? I know you may think your acting is pretty good, but a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that both men and women in committed relationships are surprisingly accurate when it comes to detecting their partner’s level of sexual satisfaction. So, when it comes to faking orgasms, it’s possible that you might not be fooling anyone but yourself.
It’s time that we stopped defining sex by the presence of orgasm and instead just learned to relax and enjoy ourselves in the moment. The key to true sexual satisfaction isn’t the presence of a few real or fake muscle contractions, some heavy breathing, and (maybe) a little screaming — it’s mutual respect and understanding, as well as open and honest sexual communication.Justin J. Lehmiller, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality blog. He teaches college-level sexuality courses and has published research in some of the top journals on sex and relationships. Follow Dr. Lehmiller on Twitter @JustinLehmiller, or email him at email@example.com.