Though I only watched the movie once six years ago, that scene in Amelie where the protagonist wonders how many orgasms are taking place at that moment — and then there's a montage of screaming women — stuck with me. This scene exemplifies how people think of the female orgasm: as synonymous with noise. A lot of noise.
This was news to me. I'd always masturbated silently, not just because my parents were in the next room when I first learned to orgasm but also because no sound came out naturally. But I quickly learned from porn and Hollywood that my partners would expect something different.
So, I made a conscious effort to moan while they were pleasuring me. When I got lost in the sensations and forgot to make noise, partners would remind me. "You have to exaggerate a little," one said. But now, I realize I don't have to do anything for my partners, especially if it takes away from my own enjoyment.
Women are taught that their role in sex is to please others, whether that's by doing sexual favors, looking sexy, or sounding sexy. I'm over it. It's great to go out of your way to please your partner, but not when it means being disingenuous. How am I supposed to enjoy an orgasm if I'm busy thinking about what it should sound like?
I'm not the only woman who has felt pressure to pretend she was noisier than she was. "I have had a few partners insist I 'make noise' or 'talk to me' and when I was younger, I would oblige even when I didn't really want to," Jordan, 43, tells Bustle. "Now, I've accepted that silence is reflective of who I am and where I go during sex and I don't have to try to be any other way."
Mariam, 43, echoes this, telling Bustle, "I have had lovers who were concerned that my being quiet was an indication that I hadn't come and would tell me to 'loosen up'. I did feel a little pressure when I was younger to express myself more loudly, but it never felt authentic to me."
The stereotype that women are all loud when they orgasm isn't true for many of us — and when it's true, that's often because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women are taught that their noises, like their sexuality as a whole, exist for their partners' pleasure. Perhaps that's why a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women were more likely to vocalize during their partners' orgasms than their own. So, when we do live up to the expectation that we're super loud in bed, it's often because of the pressure to cater to the male gaze (or, in this case, the male ears). And it's at the expense of feeling present in our own bodies.
"The noises you make when you orgasm are as unique as what kind of pleasure gets you to an orgasm," sex educator Kenna Cook tells Bustle. "Porn and Hollywood scenes have sold women the false notion that good sex has to be heard by everyone in a two-block radius. The louder the moans and groans, the more pleasure a woman must be feeling, right? Wrong. There is a very performative aspect to loudly coming, which can cause a lot of anxiety for women who are silent and who may fake loud orgasms to feed their partner's ego."
On the other hand, some people find that vocalizing makes orgasms more enjoyable, and others like being able to communicate with their partners that way. That's OK, too, as long as they're doing it because sex is better for them that way.
But as for me, I now try not to feign any sounds during sex. If I want to communicate what I'm experiencing to a partner, I'll say out loud, "that feels good" or "I'm coming." That not only feels more genuine but also gives them a clearer idea of what's going on. A fake moan could mean anything, but words leave no ambiguity.