Whether it was one time during a hook-up, a few times when we were younger, or a more regular pattern in a longer-term relationship, most women report having faked an orgasm. But sex research continues to suggest that faking orgasms has a negative impact on our sexual satisfaction. After all, if we're acting as though our partner's touches and techniques are more enjoyable than they really are, we aren't only steering our partner down the wrong path in terms of what they think we like, we're missing out maximizing our own sexual pleasure.
So how common is faking orgasms among women? And, is it possible, given the increased attention on the downfalls of orgasm-faking and the much overdue focus on female pleasure-taking, that we're seeing a shift in terms of how many women are faking their orgasms?
In a new study just published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Debby Herbenick and colleagues explored prevalence rates of women who reported faking orgasms at some point in their lives, as well as those who reported no longer faking orgasms. They specifically focused on the potential role of sexual communication and sexual satisfaction.
The study included 1,008 women between the ages of 18 and 94 who responded to a confidential Internet-based survey. The women were mostly heterosexual and they all lived in the United States. The results indicate that 58.8 percent of participants reported faking an orgasm at some point in time, but two-thirds of those who had ever faked an orgasm in the past indicated they no longer did.
Reasons for Faking Orgasms
The most common reasons women gave for having previously faked an orgasm were:
- They wanted their partner to feel successful (57.1 percent).
- They wanted sex to end because they felt tired (44.6 percent).
- They liked their sexual partner and didn't want them to feel bad (37.7 percent).
Reasons for No Longer Faking Orgasms
The most common reasons for no longer faking orgasms were:
- Feeling more comfortable now with sex, whether or not an orgasm occurred (46.6 percent).
- Feeling more confident with themselves as a woman (35.3 percent).
- Feeling like their partner accepts them and is happy with them, even if they don't have an orgasm (34.0 percent).
Communicating Sexual Needs
The authors hypothesized that lack of sexual communication may be partially responsible for orgasm faking. After all, if we can clearly tell our partner how and where we like to be touched, and if they are receptive to hearing our likes and curiously asking questions, we have a better chance of experiencing sexual pleasure. In contrast, if we don't feel comfortable talking about sex with our partner, or have a partner who isn't open to hearing what we like or want, there is less of a chance that our needs will be met.
The results of this study support this logic. Specifically, when the authors looked at women who reported that they have faked, and continue to fake, orgasms, these women indicated that they found explicitly talking about sex with a partner to be embarrassing and were less likely to agree that they and their partner are able to talk about what makes sex more pleasurable for them. The authors noted that the youngest age bracket (women 18-24 years old) were significantly more likely to say they didn't know how to ask for what they wanted.
Over half the sample in this study (55.4 percent) indicated that they wanted to communicate with a partner regarding sex but decided not to. When the authors asked why they did not communicate about sex, these women were most likely to indicate that they did not want to hurt their partner’s feelings (42.4 percent), that they did not comfortable going into sexual details (40.2 percent), and embarrassment (37.7 percent).
Finally, the authors found that women who "strongly agreed" with the statement "I feel comfortable using the word clitoris" were significantly more likely to report higher levels of sexual satisfaction compared to those who "strongly disagreed" with this statement. These women were also less likely to still fake orgasms. Women who were less likely to fake orgasms also strongly agreed with the statement "my partner and I are able to talk specifically about what makes sex more pleasurable for us."
Faking orgasms is a commonly reported experience for many women. Many women have not been encouraged to prioritize or advocate for their sexual pleasure and many of us still struggle to use anatomically correct language for female genitalia. The results from this study suggest that women who are more comfortable talking to their partners about their sexual preferences and feel comfortable using correct terms for their sexual anatomy (i.e., clitoris) are less likely to fake orgasms and more likely to be sexually satisfied. The context of having a sexual partner who doesn't put pressure on women to have an orgasm, and who is receptive to communication and feedback, is also a key component in creating a more comfortable place for women to vocalize their sexual wants and needs.
Herbenick, D. & Eastman-Mueller, H., Fu, T. Dodge, B., Ponander, K. Sanders, S. (2019). Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Communication, and Reasons for (No Longer) Faking Orgasm: Findings from a U.S. Probability Sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48, 8, 2461-72.