Faking It: Why Pretend an Orgasm?

It's a common practice for men and women, for various reasons.

Posted Oct 05, 2017

Jon Sullivan, from Wikimedia
Source: Jon Sullivan, from Wikimedia

A serious medical and clinical problem is orgasmic dysfunction: “a condition that occurs when someone has difficulty reaching orgasm, even when they’re sexually aroused and there’s sufficient sexual stimulation.” Also referred to as anorgasmia, this condition does not include instances in which individuals are purposefully withholding an orgasm but pretending to have one.

That very different state has been referred to in pop culture as “faking” an orgasm. Perhaps the most famous portrayal of this was on the September 16, 1993 episode of Seinfeld: “Jerry gets a shocking revelation when Elaine reveals that she faked every orgasm while they were dating. Jerry then pleads with Elaine to get a second chance in bed.”

Others in the mass media were quick to suggest “skills” for those who felt the need to fake their orgasms. Most targeted women—in part, to give them a sense of sexual power. One example is Kat George, who created a six-part, tongue-in-cheek list of instructions:

  1. Baby, Arch Your Back: Writhe around, push your hips up (or down if you're on top)
  2. Pout: Your lips, half close your eyes, and maybe flip your hair
  3. Flex Your Vocal Chords: Yelp, “I'm coming, I'm coming!” in a husky tone
  4. Shake It Like a Polaroid Picture: Heave your bosom dramatically, maybe rubbing them as well
  5. Punch Him in the Face: An accident, of course, in the heat of the moment
  6. Pant: Slap your forehead and say “Wow!” and “Oh my God!” and breathe deeply

Not to be outdone, Gareth May offered a list of instructions for men:

  1. Very important to use a condom so that you can whip away the evidence before your partner inspects it
  2. A little moaning (don’t overdo it)
  3. Say something like, “I’m coming!” and escalate the moaning
  4. Don’t do the missionary position because then you’ll have to do an “orgasm face” and that’s difficult

However, as clinicians and researchers, we have a greater interest in the reasons individuals attempt to fake an orgasm, and how common this behavior is. Although a fair amount of research has been conducted on fake orgasms, we don’t really know how prevalent it is among women and men.

Prevalence is, in part, determined by whether our question asks “ever,” “occasionally,” “frequently,” or “always.” We usually assume that women fake it more than men because (choose your best guess) men come too quickly, men have more difficulty hiding it, or women are less interested in sex. Many others explanations have been proposed.

One study by Muehlenhard, about a decade ago, concluded the following regarding prevalence:

“18% of the men and 48% of the women checked … that they had pretended orgasm. Another 16% of the men and 23% of the women checked … that they had not pretended orgasm but had done something similar.” This is the “ever” pretend option.

A 2017 study by Goodman et al. concluded, after reviewing the literature, that “25–60% of both men and women (higher frequency among women) report pretending an orgasm at least once in their life.”

In terms of the “why” question—their primary goal was to develop a measure of pretend orgasms—various factors and reasons “affect a person’s decision to pretend an orgasm.” They found six primary reasons:

1. Feels good: “It is exciting and satisfying.”

2. For the partner: “I do not want to hurt my partner’s feelings” and “I want my partner to have an orgasm.”

3. Not into sex: “Sex is taking too long and I want to be finished” and "Sex is not enjoyable."

4. Manipulation and power: “It is a powerful tool I can use to get other things I want from my partner.”

5. Insecurity: “Don’t want my partner to think I am a bad sex partner.”

6. Reassurance and feel loved: “It is a way to express love to my partner” and “Important way of feeling close to him or her.”

These reasons make realistic and expedient sense when considering casual sex but are more difficult for me to fathom within the context of an honest and loving relationship. Of course, I realize that committed relationships vary in their dynamics and there may well be times when it is prudent to fake it. I would hope, however, that this would be minimized as the relationship develops greater trust and honesty.

References

Goodman, D. L., Gillath, O., & Haj-Mohamadi, P. (2017). Development and validation of the Pretending Orgasm Reasons Measure. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 1973-1991. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0928-7

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