According to Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally, “Most women at one time or another have faked it.” By “it” she was, of course, referring to the seemingly elusive female orgasm. And she’s right—studies consistently show that somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of women have faked a climax at some point in their lives.1 This probably does not come as a shock to most of you, given the frequency with which female feigning comes up in the popular media, from relatively tame TV shows like Seinfeld to the more adventurous Sex and the City.
What may surprise you is that men fake orgasms at least some of the time too. In fact, a recent study found that one in four male college students admitted pretending to orgasm at least once.2 It makes sense that men fake it less often than women, given that men are much more likely to achieve orgasm in the first place and because, well, men produce more physical “evidence” when it happens, making it harder to fool a sexual partner.
So why would someone pretend to climax? People report a variety of reasons for faking it, from the understandable (e.g., lack of sexual experience) to the unfortunate (e.g., lack of attraction to one’s partner). However, we must take gender into account when discussing motivations for faking because men and women are similar in some ways, but very different in others.2
For instance, the sexes are equally likely to report having had a false finish because they felt an actual orgasm was unlikely to happen (e.g., they were overly intoxicated or it was just taking too long). In comparison, men are more inclined to say they faked it because they just wanted sex to end (e.g., they were tired), whereas women are more inclined to say they did so because they wanted to avoid hurting their partner’s feelings or because they wanted to improve their partner’s self-esteem. In other words, women are more likely than men to have “sympathy orgasms.”
To sum it up, both men and women fake it, but women do it more often and frequently see it as a way to protect their partners’ feelings. When men fake it, they are more likely to see it as a way to exit an undesirable or uncomfortable situation. Thus, no matter who fakes it, the resulting “show” would appear to benefit men (or their egos) more than it does women.
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1Wiederman, M. W. (1997). Pretending orgasm during sexual intercourse: Correlates in a sample of young adult women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 23, 131–135.
2Muehlenhard, C. L., & Shippee, S. K. (2010). Men’s and women’s reports of pretending orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 552-567.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller's research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.