The Doctor is In!

All About the Female Orgasm

By Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT on Aug 2, 2010 at 11:15 AM

It's been nearly fifty years since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, (and practically fifteen years of hanging around with the women of Sex and the City), so why is it that many women still fake orgasm on a regular basis? Is this happening more frequently than in the past? And, if so, is faking necessarily a bad thing?

24 replies

Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT | Aug 2, 2010 at 11:23 AM | Reply | Report

For years, I was functionally "ill-cliterate" -- I didn't know the first thing about how to really pleasure a woman and porn and the tall tales of the locker-room didn't help. But the main thing that contributed to my sexual ignorance was women who faked it in order to protect my ego. Finally, in college, I had a girlfriend who had the courage to set me straight. She didn't break it to me in the loveliest ways, and I do think we should always try to communicate our criticisms constructively, but if a woman fakes it and doesn't tell a guy isn't it sort of like if a tree falls and there's no one there to hear it? Although I guess in this case what's getting heard is a whole lot of moaning. But I think men want the truth, and it's never as simple as "yes I had one" or "no I didn't" -- the conversation becomes a broad one about pleasure. But it sure beats, "...uh, was it good for you?"

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. | Aug 2, 2010 at 12:14 PM | Reply | Report

I think generally our culture assesses women's sexuality in terms of men's sexuality, so we're seen as "functional" and "normal" to the extent that we're like men, but the majority of women AREN'T - women take longer to have orgasms, only a minority are reliably orgasmic from intercourse, women vary more from each other than men do (what works for one partner won't necessarily work for the next one!), and emotional context plays a larger role in women's desire, arousal, and orgasm than it does for men's.

My hope for the future is that men begin to think about women's sexuality as unique to each individual woman, and listen when women communicate what they need.

And of course it'll be easier for women to communicate their needs when they, too, know that even though what works for them is not what you see in porn or read about in women's magazines, it's still healthy and normal.

Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT | Aug 2, 2010 at 12:48 PM | Reply | Report

I think you're totally right, Emily, but what type of women is more likely to fake it than not? Is it a woman with low self-esteem? My wife swears that she has never faked it and is actually annoyed and angered by the question, because she doesn't think of herself as the sort of person that would ever fake anything, much less orgasm. Are older women with more sexual experience less likely to fake? Or just more likely to get settled into a pattern of faking? Are younger women more likely to fake, or less likely to based on a culture of self-empowerment? Is it more average that a woman will occasionally fake it, as opposed to always? I guess I would love to get more specific in this conversation about faking and how/why it manifests. Who fakes it and when and why?

Kristen Mark, Ph.D. | Aug 2, 2010 at 1:35 PM | Reply | Report

I have had my fair share of times where I've faked it (sorry...), so I can answer some of your questions based on my experience, Ian. I would estimate that I fake it about 20% of the time. The context of that 20% usually consists of some sort of expectation I feel from my partner (as Debby said, pressure). I know he will leave feeling inadequate (which he isn't) if I don't have an orgasm. But just isn't going to happen! And that's okay...for me. It's hard to get him to believe that its okay, so it becomes easier to just fake it.

I have found that the main problem that comes from faking it is getting into the pattern of becoming a "reliable orgasm-er" to a partner. Once your partner sees that you are reliably orgasmic the first few times you have sex (and those first few times are usually real orgasms), they expect it in the future, and are disappointed without it.

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. | Aug 2, 2010 at 7:11 PM | Reply | Report

I've faked it too, Kristen. If even us "sexperts" fake it, geez... maybe the people most likely to fake it are those who know enough about the physiology to do it well!

I'd be inclined, Ian, to say that women who are less orgasmic from intercourse are more likely to fake it, but then again I am and I have.

I'd also be inclined to say that it's women who have sex with men (as opposed to with women), since the presumption might be that (1) men put more pressure on women and (2) men are easier to fool, but I know that's not true either. Plenty of lesbians have told me they've faked it too.

So who's most likely to fake it? Women are. Specifically, women in a culture that tells them (and their partners) that orgasm is a marker of sexual proficiency and satisfaction.

I think Heidi's comment about "fake it til you make it" is important too! Sometimes going through the motions quite literally can get you there.

Kevin | Aug 2, 2010 at 12:39 PM | Reply | Report

My lady friend and I enjoy a very robust sex life. She and I have discussed the articles about women faking their orgasms and she claims she never fakes them, but I suspect otherwise. I think she has never had a "real" orgasm in her life and it's about time she had them.

I feel that she is afraid to give up control over herself in order to really enjoy an orgasm. She tells me that she enjoys the "orgasms" she has, but I tell her it's like hitting singles and doubles. I want to hit lots of out of the park home runs with her.

How can I get her to let go and just allow an orgasm to run its course? I'm not afraid of her emotional or physical reactions to orgasm. We have been together for nearly a year, so I encourage her to trust me and to enjoy herself. Your advice?

Kristen Mark, Ph.D. | Aug 2, 2010 at 1:51 PM | Reply | Report

Kevin, you should really place trust in your 'lady friend' when she tells you that she isn't faking it (and that's coming from a woman who has faked it before). She sounds like she is satisfied with your sex life, so rather than challenge her knowledge of what an orgasm is, perhaps you'd be better off approaching it in terms of intensifying the overall sexual domain of your relationship. You can work together to intensify your overall sexual experience, and by doing that you may find she'll gradually let go on her own terms (without the pressures of intense orgasm looming).

Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., MPH | Aug 2, 2010 at 12:58 PM | Reply | Report

I think women fake for a variety of reasons. Some women fake because they don't know how to orgasm or it's very difficult for them to do so (at all or in front of a partner) and faking may help them to feel "good" at sex.

Other women may fake due to enormous pressure from a parter. I have heard from more than a handful of wonderful, smart, sweet, successful men who have been told that not all women can orgasm at all or easily during sex but who can't help but to feel like failures if their partners don't orgasm easily. Even if they don't mean to pressure their partner, some women may fake in order to help their partner feel reassured or successful at sex.

I happen to not be a big fan of faking myself, however the nuances of relationships and relationship building reveal a wide range of ways people make it work (or not).

Anna Potter | Aug 2, 2010 at 2:30 PM | Reply | Report

Emily, I love your first comment--that we tend to see women's sexuality in terms of men's sexuality. Orgasms, orgasms, orgasms! I had a partner who wanted so badly for me to orgasm and I felt so much pressure that eventually I told him I had (I'm with Kristen on this one--"sorry!"). I wasn't enlightened, prepared, or mentally and linguistically equipped to have a conversation with him about sex being fun whether or not I had an orgasm.

I am now lucky enough to have a patient partner who understands this--we can enjoy sex without pressure for me to have an orgasm. I think that it was exactly because there was no pressure that I have been able to have an orgasm with him!

Anna Potter | Aug 2, 2010 at 2:31 PM | Reply | Report

Also, I have become more and more aware over the years of just how much of a disservice I will provide--to myself, my fellow women-who-have-sex-with-men, and the men who I sleep with--if I fake an orgasm. Everyone wants to be a good lover, and so in my opinion it can't hurt to be honest with your partner--especially if it's going to alleviate pressure for the big O.

Heidi Raykeil | Aug 2, 2010 at 5:24 PM | Reply | Report

I am all for orgasms (yay!), and all for honesty, especially in bed. But there are times when my husband and I are having sex, and I might not be totally-completely into it (maybe we're rushed, or I'm distracted). But I’m still enjoying other sensations and the closeness to my husband and the sounds and sights of his building pleasure. So I might throw in some vocalization or movement that lets him know I am enjoying myself. Because I am, but in a different way. Sometimes, this “faking it til I make it” actually does end up in orgasm for me. It also often results in a happy husband and general connectedness. In my book it’s not faking, because it’s a real enough moment, and also if he asked of course I would tell him, and if I wanted more I would tell him. But as busy parents we trust each other to enjoy the (hard fought for) moments we have without the specter of the Big O always looming.

Heidi Raykeil | Aug 2, 2010 at 5:45 PM | Reply | Report

And for the record I have faked plenty of orgasms in my day. I probably started because I wanted to be seen as “good in bed” but as I got more experienced it had more to do with the guy’s ego and investment....

Ed Ratush | Aug 3, 2010 at 1:00 PM | Reply | Report

Ok call me crazy but it would turn me on to know that a women is faking an orgasm I would see it as a theatrical thing. Dramatic and epic. I would be complimented knowing she was looking out for my heightened sense of pleasure I would have derived from the drama. In fact I have asked some women in my past to do just that. Some thought I was joking, and others adamantly wanted to convince me that they never fake, I told that that I did not care whether they did or didn't, that I hoped they enjoyed things and that I was not looking for their orgasm as a sign of how much they enjoyed things. And for the women who "always" have an orgasm, I asked them to fake two for every one real orgasm they have. I also promised to do the same.

Ed Ratush | Aug 3, 2010 at 1:13 PM | Reply | Report

On that note I want to address Emily's and Anna's comments about women seeing their sexuality in terms of mens. I think that all too often men are viewed a bit too simplistically by women and by themselves. That a mans focus on orgasm does not mean that men always have orgasms. There is a perpetual confusion between a mans ejaculation and a mans orgasm. And many men that "finish" early are actually not having an orgasm. They may believe they are due to this association and certainly to a women partner it may seem this way as well. But an orgasm is a brain event and can occur with and without the ejaculatory reflex and ejaculation can occur with and without orgasm. So without knowing it, many men also fake orgasms!.

So in reality, men do not orgasm as consistently as we give them credit for and on the contrary men are inhibited from actual orgasm for the same reasons many women are. So the notion that men are orgasm focused is true but its not because that is how men actually "work".

shelley | Aug 3, 2010 at 7:18 PM | Reply | Report

I don't actively fake it and would not fake it for my husband's sake because I know he can get the job done; however, there has been some misunderstandings in the past.

Sometimes, when I began to moan, breathe heavy or thrash around a bit, he use to take that for me having an orgasm and he would stop oral and move onto something else. At that point, the moment was sort of lost and I didn't correct the assumption.

So, even though it was not intentional, I think me not correcting the assumption really cheated both of us. We have talked about it and I think he has gotten better at reading my cues and I am more vocal now about asking him to continue if I need it.

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. | Aug 6, 2010 at 6:00 AM | Reply | Report

That's actually fairly common! Especially because what orgasm looks like varies from woman to woman (and also because men might think that orgasm looks the way it does in porn - yipe), they see a woman actually enjoying sex and think it means orgasm.

I had a student who had this issue and I suggested that next time her partner stopped too soon, she compliment him on his ability to *tease* her, like "you get me all worked up and then switch to some other amazing thing just to torment me and after all that build up, my orgasm gets really intense!" As though he were doing it on purpose, ya know?

A gentle, kindly meant white lie to protect an ego surely can't be all bad.

MC | Aug 4, 2010 at 10:15 AM | Reply | Report

I've faked on a few occasions before, and always for the same intertwined reasons:
1- He refused to stop until I orgasmed, and I was growing tired of the sexual filibuster
2- His ego couldn't handle me frequently needing lube, so I'd chafe rapidly
(Mini-Rant: Why is it that some men feel like unless they cause a waterfall between your thighs either you're rejecting them or they're inadequate? Some of us, especially those on BC pills, just don't lube up like others)
3- Knowing that I wasn't going to orgasm from the sex we were having and wanting to avoid #2 as a result of #1 (or even just #1 itself)

So, it was for a mix of self- and partner-serving reasons that I would do it. Now I have a much more secure partner who's okay with me just not getting off if it's one of those times I innately know it won't happen and I'm having fun anyway. So no more faking for me, and I like it much better than trying to avoid upsetting a fragile ego, leading to a display of anger and frustration

Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT | Aug 4, 2010 at 8:08 PM | Reply | Report

Thanks for all the honest feedback. If I'd had access to this information when I was younger and figuring things out, it would have saved a lot of frustration

phellum | Aug 9, 2010 at 4:07 PM | Reply | Report

For some people, it's difficult to understand the idea that there's more to sex than an orgasm. I think there is a lot of fun to be had in exploration... but it has to be exploration without expectation. And communication is vital. Nobody should be expected to be a mind reader. Be open minded. Everyone experiences sex differently and this also applies to how you might respond physically to different people. What might not have gotten you to orgasm with some might, with a particular person, get you there.

It is extremely rare for me to have an orgasm from oral sex - being a man, many women find that odd, but there ya go. I have, however, been with a couple of women with whom I have always been able to do so. Recently, I had an experience with a lover who said liked her dildo, but not with vibrate on. I asked if I could try something, she was open to it, and her mind was blown - she hadn't tried that before. Find what works best between you and your partner, be open and honest.

Kristen Mark, Ph.D. | Aug 9, 2010 at 8:23 PM | Reply | Report

"Exploration without expectation" - incredibly well put!

ruthie | Aug 10, 2010 at 7:18 PM | Reply | Report

Could someone tell me is there a difference when a man releases and a woman. Is a womans orgasm clearer and watery if anyone could answer this I would appreciate it.

Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT | Aug 11, 2010 at 8:20 AM | Reply | Report

Ruthie, check out our mini-guide on female orgasms in the reference section.

Cathy M | Aug 16, 2010 at 9:03 PM | Reply | Report

I faked it every time for the entire 9 years of my first marriage. I was a 17 year old virgin when we married. I had no idea what an orgasm felt like. I didn’t fake it at first. He never game me enough stimulation to get me there. I could sense the arousal building, when he would stop. Eventually, I think subconsciously, I did not reach any level of arousal because I was expected to be disappointed. I tried to explain what I needed. He just got angry thinking I was criticizing him. I started it when he became hateful about my not being able to reach orgasm with his efforts. He actually told me it was because I had been sexually assaulted as a young girl, therefore, I was abnormal. My point is, I think some woman start faking it because of an abusive relationship. It is then hard to stop.

I received a lot of therapy and did divorce him. I did meet a great man who helped me work past the abuse. I not climax nearly all the time. If I don't,neither of us is upset.

DAVE632 | Jan 24, 2011 at 8:49 PM | Reply | Report

Despite our sexually "enlightened" society and no end to sexperts advice to the masses there is still the expectation of sexual compatibility between partners. The FACT of the matter is that the plumbing just isn't compatible. Women seem to think that all men should know what to do. Men are clueless and in a rush when they're young. It comes as a great shock to some men to find out that their wife hasn't had an orgasm in 30 years of marriage. Obviously next to communication there should be an understanding that if PIV sex doesn't work for 70%+ of women during intercourse then other methods need to be employed. Long live the RESEARCH!

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