Fake orgasms have a bad reputation. They’re “not as harmless as you think” nor “as benign as you might like to believe.” They “let down other girl-women” (or put more forcefully, are “the biggest dick move you can pull on another girl”) and deceive men who “have a right to know” the truth. Faking, the story goes, is used to appease male egos by women too timid to demand the orgasm they deserve. This explains why never faking it can be a point of pride; it’s taken as a badge of erotic expertise and social liberation. Whatever the push factors are behind a woman’s sexual chicanery, no matter how strong the urge to imitate climax may be, the bottom line is that “faked orgasms are a sin.”
Such attitudes attest to the way fake orgasms are regarded as the sole domain of heterosexual females, the crutch of the sexually unsatisfied woman who damages her romantic relationship by deceiving her clumsy and clueless male partner. This scenario makes sense to most of us because it affirms a slew of prevalent cultural beliefs: women’s genitals are complicated and confusing, men orgasm easily while women require more time and intensive effort, women are dishonest and a little cowardly, etc.
The only problem is, none of it’s true.
In reality, fake orgasms are not the kiss of death for a relationship, men do it too, and, as a recent study breathlessly announced, women sometimes imitate orgasm to improve their own sexual experience—not that of the guy they’re with. It’s time the public image of the fake O got a makeover.
Let’s start with the gendered aspect: faking is not an exclusively female phenomenon. Even medical professionals sometimes find this startling; prominent urologist Abraham Morgentaler wrote an entire book inspired by one of his patient’s shocking (“”) confessions. But it’s becoming a more familiar idea, thanks in part to surveys like last year’s from DatingAdvice.com, in which almost a quarter of male respondents admitted to putting on their own Oscar-worthy performances. Still incredulous? That might be because you think all men have penises, male orgasms always involve ejaculation, and a lack of ejaculation is impossible to disguise. Not so on all counts: Trans men may or may not have penises, plenty of men orgasm without ejaculation due to medication or previous surgeries—or because they’ve trained for it!—and it’s easy to hide a dearth of ejaculation even without a condom.
If men can fool women, maybe it’s time to consider that women can fool each other. I’ve been intimate with about twenty different women and I wouldn’t want to bet money on whether or not any of them came. That’s because—surprise, surprise—we’re all different. I might think I have a good idea of what’s sincere and what’s not but even as a fellow woman, I have no assurances. I just have to take her word for it and focus on being attentive and responsive—not on grilling her about her experience. In a world where some people get off from the power of thought alone and individuals with serious spinal cord injuries can have “phantom orgasms,” who am I to presume I’ve got orgasm-detecting super powers? Women mock men who insist no one’s ever faked it with them; we shouldn’t get a free pass to be similarly arrogant about our own histories.
Perhaps we can also do away with the related sexist conviction that one woman is responsible for teaching anyone to “pleasure” all those who come after her. Genital pleasure is not a one-size-fits-all situation. It’s unlikely that many women are going to enjoy, say, jagged fingernails on their most sensitive parts, but the idea that there’s a right way and wrong way to sex up a woman—meaning any and every woman, interchangeably—is a new take on old sexual conservatism. There is not one guaranteed way to elicit orgasm from a woman, man, or anyone. Telling a partner “everyone LOVES this” is surely not more useful than inadvertently “teaching” them by faking it. (Anna Breslaw cleverly flipped this part of the fake orgasm script by pointing out one might fake it to affirm a partner did everything right, in spite of the fact that orgasm was elusive.) Does a woman who likes spanking “betray” other women by telling one man as much, when his future hook ups might find it uncomfortable or offensive? No one should be expected to go into sex with the pressure of providing a service to all other human beings while they do it.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with most discussions about fake orgasms is the way they conflate orgasm with pleasure. One can have intensely hot sex that doesn’t involve coming. In fact, some people even want it that way. And while public advice seekers are often women who’ve fallen into a rut of faking it every time they’re intimate with a certain guy, I’d bet most people deploy fake orgasms only sporadically within committed relationships or as warranted during mediocre hook ups. In the context of good sex, faking general enjoyment should be more troubling than faking orgasm. The two are not synonymous.
What most people expect and want from sex—physical and/or emotional intimacy, pleasure, passion, affirmation, excitement, amusement, distraction, procreation—are entirely possible without orgasm and aren’t negated or precluded when a fake orgasm is thrown into the mix. In fact, those aspects are usually cultivated, heightened, and more fully felt during the non-orgasm moments that constitute the majority of a sexual encounter. Yes, orgasms can feel great, but they’re incredibly brief and usually signal the end of the action. (Contrary to common male expectations, not all women are multi-orgasmic, lots of us need refractory periods just like most men do, and many are satisfied by coming once. And contrary to everyone’s assumption that an orgasm automatically means transcendent bliss, orgasms can sometimes be disappointing or even uncomfortable.) An orgasm is not proof of great sex.
My sex utopia is not a place where no one fakes it but rather a place where sex is less numbers-oriented; where we don’t measure our own sexual prowess by charting our partner’s orgasms; and where the language of “giving” someone an orgasm is done away with altogether. Instead of asking, “Did you come?” we ask each other, “Do you want more? Is there something else I should do?” Right now, orgasm is overemphasized. And the pressure to have one is almost certainly a big reason why it’s sometimes so elusive. Like trying to force yourself to fall asleep, obsessing about coming usually has the opposite of the desired effect.
It’s not about “deserving” an orgasm, as some columnists frame it, because an orgasm might not suit your desires in that moment. (If you’re already stuffed from a big meal or simply not hungry, you don’t “deserve” more pizza.) It’s hardly progressive to shame someone out of faking it by appealing to a screwed up idea of sisterhood or to create anxiety about what a sexual partner has the “right” to know about someone else’s internal experience. Whether it’s to intensify your own arousal or cut short a tedious encounter, fake away, baby. You deserve it.