In 13 years of pretty consistent sexual activity with many partners (sorry, mom) and probably thousands of orgasms, one unusual thing has remained true: I've never lied to a partner about having an orgasm.
It was never something I consciously took a stance on; I didn't do it to make a political point about women's rights (although since women's rights are having a major cultural moment right now, both in the streets and, as a result, in the sheets, it does seem a bit relevant). It's also funny that things worked out that way, because I used to be such a people pleaser who wanted everyone to like me — and most of my confidence as a teenager and a young adult in college came from the male gaze.
But it's true, and it puts me in the minority: according to one 2010 study, 80 percent of women sometimes fake orgasms during vaginal penetration.
My first experience at age 14, with a partner who was deeply invested in my pleasure, may have set the bar for me — I'll admit, I felt a smidgen guilty that he had that hand going at what felt like 100mph for so long, but I just couldn't look him in the eye and lie. From there on out, it just never seemed necessary. In my experience, men and women alike love the idea of getting you there. Seems obvious, right? You're always happy when you're partner makes a silly face or lets out a fun noise and you know they're feeling pretty darn good right about then.
But what's less obvious is the reasons that women feel compelled to fake. Sometimes, women aren't communicating. Or they are, but whoever is on the other end still isn't getting it, and they "fake it" just to get it over with and avoid having to give any further "instruction," or to keep the "good vibes alive" after they realize it's just not going to happen in that particular session. And, there are likely many other reasons women fake orgasms that I don't know, because I am not them — so I asked a reformed faker for more insight.
"I faked a lot when I was younger, because my self-esteem was incredibly low, and I thought that if I was honest about how much effort it actually took to get me off, guys would decide I wasn't worth the trouble & dump me," said Gabrielle, 34. "I had a very difficult time conceiving of a male partner who would value me enough to put a lot of effort into my own pleasure, which then seemed to attract partners who felt that exact way for many years."
I consulted Dr. Deb Castaldo on the matter to learn more about why so many women fake. “The need to fake an orgasm usually stems from poor communication, lack of trust, and lack of emotional intimacy between the couple, Dr. Castaldo told Bustle. "Most likely, one partner is growing weary, the other partner is not tuned in enough, and the couple is uncomfortable opening up to one another to share suggestions and feelings during the sexual experience."
Great sex, she continued, requires that partners closely tune in and focus on giving their partner's pleasure.
“If you are keeping your feelings, likes, and dislikes secret from your partner, you are denying him or her the opportunity to learn about your sexuality and how to please you, and this can happen at any stage of relationship.”
So rather than doing something selfless, faking it can actually be selfish — because you’re depriving your partner of not only the chance to gain the actual satisfaction of getting you “there,” but to develop the bond that forms during those moments of intense communication and trust.
So if you're someone who has struggled with faking, how do you quit? I'm not an official expert in breaking the cycle of faking, but I do have enough experience being honest in bed that I can offer some tips.
In my own life, when I could not orgasm, I’d either say, “It’s okay, go ahead!” or if he was attempting the noble deep sea dive, I would say “You know what, something is totally weird with me tonight, don’t even worry about it!” And everyone was fine.
If you just can’t — if the person just isn’t getting it, if it’s not going to happen today for whatever reason — just say that. Be delicate about it—you don’t have scream “No, you idiot, what’s wrong with you?” — but you also don’t have to fake scream and pant and flail around because you feel like it's important to seem "uncomplicated," or because you want someone to like you.
On the rare off day that we can’t make it happen together, I will very simply say “Going to do it myself, be back in two minutes” and nobody is offended except our rescue dog, who is impatiently counting the seconds until he can go back to being wedged in between us in bed.
When you’re with someone else, there's no reason to be afraid to ask for what you want. Stay mindful of your tone, give very specific directions, and don’t give up. Check in, saying things like, “Are you tired?” or “Do you want to take a break?” or “Can I show you what I like?” and if hours have gone by with a futile result, take a food and bathroom break and reconvene after that.
Stay honest about your needs and communicate them kindly. If you find yourself in a position (literally) where you can’t be honest with the person whose tongue, penis, or other body part is making contact with your vajay, then maybe there shouldn’t be any contact at all.
What you like and need will change over time, and you want to be with someone who’s up for riding that learning curve all night long.