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Robert P. Burriss Ph.D.

The 5 Reasons People Fake Orgasm

Why do men and women pretend to enjoy sex more than they really do?

Why would anyone want to fake an orgasm?

In the film When Harry met Sally, way back in 1989, Sally (Meg Ryan) made it abundantly clear that a primary reason why women fake orgasm is because men like Harry aren’t as exciting in bed as they think they are. The clear implication was that women fake orgasm to bring a disappointing sexual encounter to an end.

But human relationships are complex, and there are surely other reasons that women fake orgasm. And what about men: Do they also fake orgasm? And if so, why? And what about faking that falls short of a full-blown fib? Why might a person who actually does achieve climax nevertheless feel the need to…embellish?

Peter Jonason, a psychologist at Western Sydney University in Australia, decided to find out. He recruited 650 volunteers to complete surveys about their history of fakery and various aspects of their sexual psychology.

He presented each volunteer with an exhaustive list of 37 potential reasons a person might fake an orgasm, and the volunteers indicated which reasons applied to them. Their answers clustered together into five groups—which can be seen as the five overarching reasons for faking an orgasm.

  1. The most popular reason for faking orgasm was to provide positive feedback—to convince a partner that he or she had done a good job. Well done, Harry: You’re not an absolute dud in the sack (except actually, you are).
  2. The second-most-popular reason is one that Sally would recognize—sexual boredom. When sex is dull, these volunteers follow Meg Ryan’s lead and fake it until it’s finished.
  3. Reason number three: to enhance enjoyment. These volunteers reported that simulating satisfaction would arouse their partner, thereby leading to a more fun experience for everybody: Essentially, fake it till you make it (for real).
  4. The fourth-most-popular reason was to avoid the unpleasant consequences of a disappointing lovemaking session. No one asks, "How was it for you?” with the hopes of hearing, "It was appalling and also tedious." Some will claim the earth moved, even if it didn't, to sidestep conflict in favor of a post-coital cuddle.
  5. The final cited reason was to deceive a partner. Some of these dissemblers might be planning to cheat on their partner. If so, then what better way to allay suspicion of their designs than convincing the partner that their relationship still has a sexual spark?

Spotting a Forgery

Do different people have different primary motives for faking? There were gender differences in the study: Men and women didn’t seem to fake orgasm for the same reasons. Men were more likely to fake to avoid conflict while women were more likely to fake to enhance sexual pleasure, but also to provide positive feedback and because they were bored.

The gender difference was more pronounced in cases of full-on fakery than episodes of exaggeration, or what Jonason calls “quasi-pretending." When men and women quasi-pretended, they tended to do so for similar reasons. But women who play-acted all the way through climax were more likely than men to do so to enhance pleasure, provide positive feedback, and alleviate boredom. It remains possible that men are similarly motivated, but less confident in their acting ability, given that the male orgasm is more difficult to fake.

Source: Photographee eu/Shutterstock

People high in narcissistic traits tended to fake for pleasure and deception, while those higher in psychopathic traits faked for all of the most-cited reasons except for providing positive feedback to a partner. Women were more likely to quasi-pretend if they were attractive. Men were more likely to fake if they had more sexual experience or were more interested in flings than long-term relationships.

Jonason concludes that, although he identified five primary reasons for faking an orgasm, it might be possible to boil these down further to two broad reasons: Some fake because they are concerned for their partner and their relationship, while others fake for more selfish reasons.

He also suggests that his research indicates that the common idea that only women fake orgasm is untrue, and that, "by including … 'quasi-pretending,' it appears that men may actually pretend more than women do." Harry seemed surprised when Sally faked her orgasm, but what if he had been fooling her all along?

References

Jonason, P. K. (2019). Reasons to pretend to orgasm and the mating psychology of those who endorse them. Personality and Individual Differences, 143, 90–94. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.02.026

About the Author

Robert Burriss, Ph.D., is an evolutionary psychologist at Basel University in Switzerland. He produces The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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