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A woman would weigh the pros and cons of faking vs. fixing, leaving vs. staying, but the longer she puts on a show, the harder it is to course-correct. Some women accept it as a normal dynamic in relationships because it bolsters their partners’ self-esteem.
Cate, 31, remembers a Valentine’s Day date night with her ex, early on in their relationship. “It was super romantic,” she recalls. “We had a multi-course dinner with champagne, flowers, and candles. It was the first time we had sex, and despite the sexy vibe I just couldn’t get aroused.”
She certainly tried. And he tried. But even though he was totally her type, their physical connection was not an insta-wow, and sex was failing to get her quite there. “At some point, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen for me,” Cate says. “But he wanted me to orgasm. Because I didn’t want to disappoint him, and also because I eventually just wanted it to be over, I faked it.”
As most women know, Cate’s not alone. According to a study in the Journal of Sexual Research, 67 percent of women fessed up to having faked a climax. Men fake it too, though less frequently; the same study puts that number at 28 percent. Yes, the Orgasm Gap — a.k.a. the reality that men come a lot more frequently than women do — is alive and well, thanks to an enduring social and cultural focus on male pleasure. Researchers have found that 91 percent of men orgasm almost every time they have partnered sex, compared to just 39 percent of women.
Why Women Fake It
“When the multi-layered, sometimes-elusive female orgasm is linked to a man’s feeling of sexual achievement instead of a woman’s experience of pleasure, it can be difficult for that woman to enjoy the sex at all.”
Roselyn, 28, knows her body well. She says that it generally takes a while for her to get comfortable enough with a new partner to reach orgasm. Early in her sexual life, she assumed she’d take the pressure off and enjoy the encounter more if she told new partners this. “But if I did give some kind of warning, I would notice men making it their mission to make me orgasm — which made it even more impossible because of the added pressure,” she explains. “I have found that it’s easier to fake it sometimes, rather than make the sex uncomfortable.”
While an orgasm marks the peak of physical pleasure, there are also emotional components tied to it, like intimacy, self-esteem, and ego — especially, perhaps, for men. In a study in the Journal of Sex Research, men were asked to imagine a variety of sexual scenarios; they reported feeling more masculine and having higher sexual self-esteem when they envisioned their female partner reaching the big O. “At least subconsciously, women have been taught that a male partner takes it as a direct insult to his manhood if he can’t get her to climax,”
Some says they feel like the happy times with their men outside of the bedroom outweighs the reluctant performances they put on between the sheets; after all, relationships are a combination of pros and cons, some reasons.
As “people-pleasers,” women are conditioned to make the best of situations, says clinical sexologist and certified sex coach. The faking charade is generally not ill-intentioned. “They don’t want their partners to feel like they can’t provide them with an orgasm,” she says. “A couple of moans later and they feel they’ve helped create a bond with their partners and assure them of their prowess.”
Feigning pleasure is most problematic in that exact scenario — when it’s a habitual action. “At best, your partner thinks they are more sexually skilled than they actually are, but there are even more downsides,” said a sex therapist. “An orgasm is an indicator to your partner that what they are doing feels good and that they should keep on doing it. So, if you’re faking your experience of pleasure, you are reinforcing their behavior in a way that does not actually satisfy you.”
Chances are, he’s not even going to notice that your dramatics are just that. Most men still assume the female orgasm works just like theirs. “Men have a very hard time faking an orgasm, and their bodies react differently to vaginal intercourse, allowing them to climax the vast majority of the time. Women, however, are not always guaranteed an orgasm without additional clitoral stimulation.” According to recent studies, fewer than 25 percent of women are able to climax from penetration alone.
Faking orgasms deprives you from receiving pleasure and your partner from knowing how to turn you on and touch you just right. “If you’re faking your enjoyment, you’re not being authentic during a sexual encounter, and research consistently finds that authenticity is a key component of great sex.” Eventually, this can lead to resentment in your relationship, if your partner is orgasming all the time and you never do.
That said, it’s a difficult lie to fess up to without breaking your partner’s trust. It can be “really damaging to someone’s self-esteem” to think they’ve been authentically connecting and pleasing you during intimate moments, only discover the opposite is true. So, the great cycle of faking is born.
How to break the news without breaking up
What started as a little white lie is now an elaborate charade. So, how do you begin experiencing orgasmic sexual pleasure without hurting your partner’s feelings?
All the experts actually recommend you don’t start with the most direct approach. If you just lay it out there and state that you haven’t been orgasming, your partner will likely take it as a betrayal — feeling misled is an even harder pill to swallow than the ego bruise.
Instead, start with research. To be a top-notch teacher, you’re going to need to become the foremost expert on what it takes for you to come. Experimenting with different types of stimulation — without a focus on reaching orgasm — will not only make you a better coach, it’ll likely rev your sex drive altogether, as a result improving your sexual experience within your relationship. According to a study, even just taking time to think sexy thoughts can release testosterone, increasing desire.
Next, suggest a new approach to sex with your partner, expanding your repertoire and slowing things down. Instead of wondering why it’s suddenly taking you so much longer to come, your partner may be intrigued by the idea of exploring together. “Say you’ve read that you need more clitoral stimulation to have even stronger orgasms, and it might take a while to really get there,” sex therapist suggests. “Try the 20:20 approach, which is 20 minutes of foreplay, slowly removing clothes and warming up, along with 20 minutes of direct clitoral stimulation to reach climax.”
Use some gentle, in-bed guidance while you experiment together. Focus on your experience of sexual sensations. “Pay more attention to what you like, and what isn’t working so well, and then use positive reinforcement accordingly.” If your partner does something that actually feels good, tell them directly. With words! “Like, ‘It feels great when you touch me like that, coupled with nonverbal indicators like moaning or heavy breathing. “If they start doing something you don’t like, guide them back to the sexual activity that was working for you.”
If your partner isn’t picking up on your cues, though, you may need to be more direct outside of the bedroom; after all, they either didn’t notice that you’ve been faking it all this time or they don’t care, which is worse. Rather than using the phrase “faking it,” you might choose to say that you feel like you’re not reaching your full sexual potential. “Approach the conversation, not by stating your partner has been doing something wrong this entire time,” but from a place of wanting their help to make things better between you sexually.
Often women are surprised by their “very patient and supportive partners, who are eager for them to work toward their sexual goals.” But if they’re not open to feedback, or you cannot communicate about sex, you have to ask yourself whether this is the right partner for you. Because even worse than feeling perpetually unsatisfied in bed is discovering that your partner doesn’t care that you are.
*Names have been changed.