Why Women Fake Orgasms, According To Science

For years, female pleasure was an unmentionable, shoved into the same shadowy territory as menstruation and masturbation. Now, thanks in part to science and feminism opening up dialogues about desire, it's far less taboo to research and discuss why women fake orgasms

If you frequent women's lifestyle publications, this topic is about as common as listicles of sex positions for maximum female pleasure. The so-called "orgasm gap" has finally been unmasked, and women are more free to take sex into their own hands (sometimes very literally, if you get my drift). 

Here's what we know: according to a recent Cosmopolitan survey, half of women orgasm most or every time they have sex with a male partner. (This is one of the better stats, because previous surveys offered much lower rates). Of those who are not able to come, 38 percent blamed "not enough clitoral stimulation," 35 percent blamed "not the right kind of clitoral stimulation" and 32 percent blamed being too in their own heads or focused on their appearance. 

Given this state of affairs, it's not difficult to see the makings of "faking it." But why, exactly, do women do it? (Men do it too, btw, just way less.) Here's what drives some to engage in a faux climax or two:

1. As Mate Guarding Behavior

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In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, 453 women ranging in age from 18 to 46 were surveyed about their sex lives. 54 percent admitted to faking an orgasm, and many linked it to what researchers called "mate-guarding behavior." Basically, some women pretended to get greater pleasure from sex to keep a guy from straying. The more a woman believed her man would cheat, the more likely she was to fake it. My outraged feminist reaction to all this? I've been in this tenuous position, and male fragility is real. 

When coddling a man's sexual ego by faking it is easier than discussing pleasure with him OR inspiring him to bone up on his bedroom skills to keep YOU from straying (show me a study about that subject, please), we have a gender-based communication breakdown that needs to be addressed. I know the spiel about men being hard-wired to spread their seed and women wanting to lock 'em down and raise babies. However, human behavior isn't simplistically based on binary biology. We're not just nature but also nurture, and part of that means being raised in a culture which focuses far more on male pleasure than female pleasure, and that culture undoubtedly has an influence on statistics like this.

2. To Increase Sexual Excitement

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Ah, finally a stat to counter the dominant discourse about faux climaxing. Sometimes, faking an orgasm can actually help women become more sexually excited, and increase their own chances for coming, found one study published in the Journal of Sexual Archives. "Deciding to fake orgasm for this motive may have little to nothing to do with a woman’s partner and his sexual experience," one of the study authors, Erin Cooper, told The Huffington Post. Have at it, ladies. No shame in doing whatever you can to get yours. (It's also worth adding, climaxing doesn't mean you've 'won' sex. An orgasm doesn't have to occur to experience of pleasure.)

3. To End Bad Sex

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According to new research presented at the British Psychological Society's Psychology of Women conference, women also fake orgasms to end bad sex. Study author Emily Thomas explained that many women they spoke with did fake orgasms to increase their own arousal, but there were plenty who also did it to hasten the end of an encounter. "Within these accounts, we were struck by the degree to which women were connecting the practice of faking orgasm to accounts of unwanted sex," she said. Sometimes, sex you consent to initially is just not pleasurable, and faking an orgasm can hurry up the not-so-awesome process. However, although the researchers said none of the 15 respondents mentioned the word rape, they did report that some accounts slipped into the murky waters of coercive sex. 

As I remember from my late teens and early 20s, long before consent was such a ubiquitous buzzword — or even a concept I had heard of — faking an orgasm to get through sex was just easier than saying no, particularly if it was with a long-term partner or a friend. I know now that is just not OK, and it is clearly still happening, because the women interviewed were all between the ages of 19 and 28. Granted, that is a small sample, but with one in four women reporting unwanted sexual contact in college, faking an orgasm can unfortunately also be indicative of a widespread and deeply troubling issue.

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (3)

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