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Faking Orgasms

The Who, How, and Whys of Faking Orgasms


a stage with red theatre curtains.
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The crucial cultural moment for fake orgasms remains the diner scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where Meg Ryan proves to Billy Crystal that women are far better at faking orgasms than he believes.

While fake orgasms have been around as long as sex guilt has, and making fun of fake orgasms is a mainstay in movies, television, and adult entertainment venues across the country, people rarely talk honestly about faking orgasms, and occasionally “experts” still argue that to fake an orgasm is something other than a deception that leaves one person fooled, and the other one unsatisfied.

Who Fakes Orgasms?
We usually only talk about women faking orgasms and not surprisingly almost all the research has been on women. One study has looked at both and confirmed what men have known (and quietly talked about) for years:  faking orgasm is something people of all genders can do.  

How Common are Fake Orgasms?
There has only been a little bit of research that has looked at women faking orgasms, and even less on how often or how many men fake orgasms. The research that has asked about faking orgasms offers a wide range of results:

  • One review, citing multiple studies, researchers found that aproximately 60% of women report having faked an orgasm at at least one point.
  • Another single study of heterosexual couples found that 19% of the women said they faked orgasms.
  • In a study of Danish women 68% said they had faked an orgasm.
  • In Shere Hite’s famous survey of women 34% said they currently faked orgasms and 19% said they used to fake orgasms.
  • One survey of just over 200 college students found that 25% of men and 50% of women report pretending orgasm at some point (either during intercourse, oral sex, or phone sex).

Why Do People Fake It?
The two most common reasons women give for faking orgasms are to make their male partners feel better and to end sex when they are tired. Women report feeling like their male partners are not satisfied until they “give” their female partner an orgasm, thus sex will continue until the woman either has an orgasm, or fakes orgasm.

Men also give the “to get it over with” excuse when asked why they would fake an orgasm, as well as describing the feeling of expectation. Despite the lies about sex we’re supposed to believe, men can’t always have orgasms whenever they want, and sometimes they’ll fake it rather than deal with what’s actually going on for them.

Those are the reasons people give for faking orgasms. But it’s worth asking why people even think about faking orgasms rather than talking to their partner, asking for something different, or simply saying “I’d tired I want to stop having sex now.” There’s no easy answer to this question, but like it or not, faking orgasms is a form of lying to your partner, and if sexual health is your goal, lying about sex is something worth cutting down, or cutting out altogether.

Can You Tell Real From Fake?
Lots of people think they can tell if their partner is faking orgasms, but research suggests otherwise. In one study where 19% of women said they faked orgasms, only 16% of their male partners believed they faked orgasms. In other study women reported faking 13% of the time while their male partners thought that they were likely faking it only 10% of the time.  While some aspects of our sexual response are predictable (heart rate increase, muscle tension, heavy breathing) how that looks in each of us is not. Some people get quiet, others get loud, some people will move a lot more, some will seem to be quite still.

Researchers who conducted brain scans on couples while they were having sex have proposed that they can tell when a woman is faking orgasm based on which part of her brain is activated But others have pointed out various flaws in this research, and how many of us have an MRI in the bedroom?

The absolute best way to tell if someone is faking an orgasm is to ask. You can’t be sure they’ll tell you the truth, but if you ask with an open mind, and make it clear that you’re genuinely interested, and not asking just to “catch” them in a lie, it could be your best chance at the truth.

How Do I Tell My Partner I’ve Been Faking?
There’s no question that this is a tough thing to do. Faking orgasms is a form of deception, so coming clean to your partner means admitting that you have lied. On the other hand there are degrees of lying and fake orgasms aren’t exactly lies of the life and death kind. Plus, there are lots of good reasons to come clean about your fake orgasms:

  • You may find out that you aren’t the only one faking it, and your honesty could be appreciated and even rewarded
  • Staring any honest conversation about sex is hard, but once opened it can lead to other issues being raised which have been neglected
  • When you tell your partner you’ve been faking it, you can also start a conversation about what you’d like to change so you don’t have to fake it anymore
  • Taking a risk and exposing yourself in a trusting and loving relationship can build even more trust and make it easier for your partner to open up as well.

Even so, taking risks like this is never easy. If you're looking for more ideas, check out these tips on talking about a difficult sexual issue with a partner.


Garde, K. & Lunde, I. "Female Sexual Behaviour. A Study in a Random Sample of 40-year-old Women." Maturitas Volume 2 (1980): 225 – 240.

Hite, S. The Hite Report New York: MacMillan, 1976.

Muehlenhard, C.L. & Shippee, S.K. "Men's and Women's Reports of Pretending Orgasm" Jounal of Sex Research, Vol. 47, No. 6 (2010): 552- 567.

Puts, D.A., Dawood, K., & Willing, L.L.M. "Why Women Have Orgasms: An Evolutionary Analysis" Archives of Sexual Behavior Vol. 41, (2012): 1127 - 1143.  

Thornhill, R., Gangestad, S.W. & Comer, R. “Human Female Orgasm and Mate Fluctuating Asymmetry” Animal Behavior Volume 50, (1995): 1601-1615.

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