Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: How Many Women Fake Orgasms And Why Do They Do It?

August 17, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week, we’re talking about fake orgasms. Students in my Human Sexuality course typically ask the following two questions about this topic every semester:

How common is faking orgasms among women?

Why would a woman pretend to orgasm?

Research has found that the majority of women have “faked it” at least once in their lives. Specifically, most studies on this topic have reported that somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of women have had at least one make-believe climax [1]. Men sometimes fake orgasms too [2], but far fewer guys have ever attempted it due to the fact that it is harder for men to falsify the “evidence.”

In terms of reasons for faking it, women have given many different explanations. However, a recent study found that they typically fall into one of five categories [2]:

1. Orgasm was unlikely or was taking too long (e.g., they had consumed too much alcohol, their partner was unskilled or lacked experience, or they were engaging in a sexual activity that does not usually produce orgasm for them)

2. Desire for sex to end (e.g., they were not really “in the mood,” they were bored or sleepy, or they knew that their partner would not stop unless a climax occurred)

3. Their partner’s orgasm was imminent (i.e., the partner was about to orgasm, so they felt pressure to finish as well)

4. They wanted to avoid a negative consequence (e.g., they did not want to hurt their partner’s feelings or they wanted to avoid having an awkward conversation afterward). This was the most commonly reported set of reasons women faked it.

5. They wanted to achieve a positive consequence (e.g., they wanted to make their partner happy or make them feel as though they “did their job”)

In this study, women never reported faking it because they didn’t want an orgasm themselves—they always faked it for one of the above reasons.

Keep in mind that this is just one study and there are other possible explanations for why a woman might fake it. For instance, other research has suggested that at least some women fake it as a way of keeping their partner from cheating [3]. That is, some women may pretend to climax in order to make sure their partner is sexually satisfied so that they do not leave the relationship.

As you can see, fake orgasms are very common among women and they serve a number of different functions. If I can close by offering one small piece of advice on this topic, it would be that if faking is just a one-time or very occasional thing, it’s probably not a big deal; however, if you find yourself faking it regularly, this could create problems in your relationship. For one thing, continuous faking will not give your partner any incentive to try new techniques because they will think you’re content. So if the reason you weren’t reaching orgasm was because the sex wasn’t very good, faking isn’t going to change a thing. Moreover, if your partner eventually finds out that you’ve faked all of your orgasms, they may feel far worse than if you had simply been honest in the first place. Finally, with routine faking, you are actively contributing to your own sexual dissatisfaction. Keep in mind that your partner isn’t the only one who deserves to be satisfied. If you want to achieve true sexual satisfaction, open and honest communication about your sexual desires and needs is key.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Wiederman, M. W. (1997). Pretending orgasm during sexual intercourse: Correlates in a sample of young adult women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 23, 131–135.

[2] Muehlenhard, C. L., & Shippee, S. K. (2010). Men’s and women’s reports of pretending orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 552-567.

[3] Kaighobadi, F., Shackelford, T. K., Weekes-Shackelford, V. A. (in press). Do women pretend orgasm to retain a mate? Archives of Sexual Behavior.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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