Understanding Fake Orgasms

A new study examines relational qualities and explanatory traits.

Posted Aug 14, 2019

My research career has primarily focused on understanding deceptive affection–that is, those times we express affection that we do not feel in the moment (or when we withhold felt affection). Most recently, we argued that pretending to orgasm was a form of deceptive affection (Horan & Booth-Butterfield, 2019) and conducted a study to better understand it (Denes, Horan, & Bennett). Before fully discussing this new study, I invite interested readers to consult a previous entry on fake orgasms or deceptive affection.  

Pretending to orgasm, colloquially referred to as faking it, is not uncommon. A 2010 study found that one-quarter of the men and one-half of the women studied had faked orgasms. In our new study, we aimed to understand how (in)authentic orgasms related to relational quality indicators (e.g., trust, closeness, and commitment), and how trait affectionate communication might explain findings.

We conducted two studies to better understand fake orgasms. In both, we instructed participants, who were in sexual relationships with another person, to complete self-reported measures within two hours of their sexual activity. Our first sample consisted of 319 participants, and our second included 139. Generally, our goal was to understand how the experience of orgasm related to relational quality indicators.

Results of our first study generally revealed that reports of relational quality indicators were higher for those who experienced an authentic orgasm compared to those who reported pretending to orgasm. Results of our second study revealed that trait affectionate communication helped explain our findings. Trait affectionate communication refers to the general tendency for someone to regularly be affectionate. As we summarize in our study: 

     “… for individuals high in trait affectionate communication, pretending to orgasm is associated with higher ratings across the relational quality indicators, perhaps suggesting that such behavior is rooted in larger tendencies to show warmth and affection to others. Interestingly, the comparisons between those who pretended to orgasm and those who experienced orgasm were nearly opposite … Individuals high in trait affectionate communication who pretended to orgasm reported the highest scores for all three relational quality indicators, whereas individuals low in trait affectionate communication reported the highest scores for closeness and commitment when experiencing an authentic orgasm, and the highest scores for trust when they did not orgasm.”

Clearly, the authenticity/deception of an orgasm is a complex experience explained by a multitude of factors. Our new study adds to the conversation about this topic.

We have previously argued that pretending to orgasm is a specific form of deceptive affection. Like other forms of deceptive affection, we have argued that this tends to function as relational maintenance and/or face-saving. That said, it is likely that higher instances of regularly pretending to orgasm are indicative of underlying issues that warrant attention.


Denes, A., Horan, S. M., & Bennett, M. E. (2019). “Faking it” as deceptive affection: Exploring the authenticity of orgasm and relational quality indicators. Personality and Individual Differences. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2019.06.013

Horan, S. M. & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2019). Angry hugs and withheld love: An overview of deceptive affection. In T. Docan-Morgan (Ed.), Palgrave handbook of deceptive communication(pp. 535-550). Farmington Hills, MIPalgrave Macmillan

Muehlenhard, C. L., & Shippee, S. K. (2010). Men’s and women’s reports of pretending to orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 552–567. doi:10.1080/00224490903171794