3 Reasons Women Fake Orgasms
New study explores how beliefs about gender are associated with faking orgasms.
Posted Sep 15, 2019
This is a guest post co-authored by Dr. Emily Harris.
In a recently published study1 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on the reasons why women fake orgasms, the researcher ended up in a number of conversations with women about whether or not they "faked." Some women said, "Of course, who doesn’t fake?" while others were shocked at the thought—"Women should demand an orgasm!" they said.
When digging a little deeper, many of these women grounded their actions in their beliefs about gender. Narratives of "men should," or "men do," and "women have to," or "women should" frequently emerged. Of course, if a partner does not know a clitoris from a thigh, then the likelihood of a woman faking her orgasm will skyrocket. But there is more than simple pragmatics that determines when and who fakes an orgasm.
1. Faking to Keep a Partner
Evolutionary psychology explains the phenomenon of faking orgasm as a "mate retention strategy," whereby orgasms are valued by men, and so women in heterosexual relationships will fake their orgasm to satisfy their partner2. In doing so, women are hoping to "retain" their partner.
Support for this explanation was found in this most recent study—the women who thought their partners were more likely to cheat on them were more likely to have faked an orgasm with their partner.
2. Faking to Sexually Satisfy a Partner
But what role does gender play? In the study, researchers looked at how specific beliefs about gender and sex might be associated with faking an orgasm.
They found that if a woman thinks that, in general, men need their partner to orgasm to be sexually satisfied, she is more likely to fake her orgasm. This is perhaps not surprising, but it is worth discussing because it is wrapped up in the idea that men should care about their partner’s pleasure.
Most feminists would agree that a man should know a clitoris from a thigh, and of course, most heterosexual men do. In addition, most feminists would agree that men shouldn’t be selfish in bed—they should be attuned to what their partner wants.
However, what this recent finding shows is that there is a difference between wanting a partner to experience orgasm for the sake of their own pleasure, without pressure, and needing a partner to orgasm in order to feel satisfied. And this difference can be the difference between a real and a fake orgasm for a woman.
3. Faking for Lack of a Reason Not To
In addition to these specific beliefs about gender and sex, the study also measured broad gender attitudes that have nothing to do with the bedroom, but that can guide our interactions with others based on their gender. For example, a "hostile" gender belief is that women are overly sensitive and defensive. A more traditional gender belief is that women should be doted on, and cherished by men. These beliefs can operate in the back of our minds to guide how we interact with men and women.
In this study, it seems that women who have hostile beliefs about their gender (that is, they reject feminism) faked their orgasms more frequently. On the other hand, women who held more traditional beliefs about women (that is, they reject feminism, but also think women should be revered) faked their orgasms less frequently.
These findings suggest that
A) If women reject feminism, they don’t have as many reasons not to fake orgasm, so they go ahead and fake.
B) If women think that they should be revered, angelic, and pure, then faking an orgasm doesn’t make much sense, because an orgasm involves making funny faces, and maybe funny sounds.
What Can We Conclude About Faking Orgasms?
The take-away from all of this is that faking orgasm is common, and it’s more common when women think their partner might cheat on them, when they feel pressured to orgasm to satisfy their partner, and when they have no reasons not to (i.e., conflicting beliefs about women’s right to genuine sexual pleasure). And all of these psychological processes develop over time, as we interact with people in and outside of the bedroom.
This research is in its infancy—we still have no idea how gender beliefs operator for folks who aren’t women, and aren’t heterosexual! Are men more likely to fake their orgasm if they think it’s natural for men to orgasm every time they have sex? Are lesbians more likely to fake their orgasm if they think women should be able to get other women off? These are exciting questions for future research to explore.
Emily A. Harris, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral research fellow in the psychology department at Queen’s University, Canada, who takes a social psychological approach to study how gender ideology, sexism, and heteronormative structures impact sexual behavior and experiences. Her work has shown that traditional gender ideologies that position women in positive, but restricted, roles are linked with orgasm, and faking orgasm.
Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock
1. Harris, E. A., Hornsey, M. J., Larsen, H. F., & Barlow, F. K. (2019). Beliefs About Gender Predict Faking Orgasm in Heterosexual Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1-15.
2. Ellsworth, R. M., & Bailey, D. H. (2013). Human female orgasm as evolved signal: A test of two hypotheses. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1545–1554. https ://doi.org/10.1007/s1050 8-013-0152-7.