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Is faking an orgasm anti-feminist?


TextBrit Dawson

As a recent study finds a link between conservative gender beliefs and the likelihood to fake it, women reveal why they do it, and how it impacts their sex lives

It’s been 30 years and yet Sally’s colossal takedown of Harry in When Harry Met Sally is still one of the greatest moments in popular culture, and the most valuable sex education tool for egotistical men. Billy Crystal’s cocky attitude as he scoffs: “You don’t think I can tell the difference? Get out of here.” Meg Ryan’s Oscar-worthy performance as a woman pretending to climax. The iconic line: “I’ll have what she’s having.” Bottle it up and send it to every finance bro on the Jubilee line.

Traditionally framed in the media as ‘elusive’, and an afterthought in sex education – if mentioned at all – it’s unsurprising most men have no idea when women are faking an orgasm, nor that women are doing it. “Because we don’t have a very open discussion of sex and how sex can be enjoyable without orgasms, we become quite goal-orientated,” BBC’s Sex On The Couch psychosexual and relationship therapist Kate Moyle tells us. “So we can feel like sex hasn’t been ‘successful’ if we haven’t orgasmed. Therefore, any orgasm, even if it’s a fake one, might seem better than no orgasm.”

If the pay gap wasn’t bad enough, women also suffer from the ‘orgasm gap’ – statistics show that 91 per cent of men said they usually or always come during sex, with just 39 per cent of women saying the same. While fake smiling might trick your brain into happiness, Moyle asserts faking an orgasm has no health benefits whatsoever. “It doesn’t benefit the person faking it, and it doesn’t benefit the partner they’re with.” 

“Statistics show that 91 per cent of men said they usually or always come during sex, with just 39 per cent of women saying the same”

Speak to any group of women and you’ll likely find that they’ve all faked it at some point in their lives, with a number of different reasons to blame: for sex to end; to make their partner feel accomplished; because of societal expectations – the list goes on.

Last month, a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour put forward another theory: that women who fake orgasms hold anti-feminist views. Surveying 462 heterosexual women, the report found that those who engaged in hostile sexism – the belief that women who challenge men’s power are manipulative and rebellious – were more likely to pretend to climax during sex. 

“Women who hold anti-feminist attitudes don’t have anything holding them back from faking orgasms,” the study’s author Emily Harris told PsyPost, “whereas women who adopt a feminist worldview may not fake an orgasm because it goes against her belief in a woman’s right to pleasure.” London-based Tabitha agrees. “I definitely think more cis, conservative women fake,” she says. “Conservatism itself is deeply patriarchal; a lot of women will accept shitty sex out of ‘respect’ for their partner.”

Although this logic might be sound in some cases, Moyle asserts that the reasons are more nuanced than ‘feminist’ or ‘anti-feminist’. “People with a stronger feminist belief might just have more confidence in speaking up for themselves, their wants, and their desires,” she says.

As she holds liberal views herself and sometimes fakes orgasms, 25-year-old Liz* doesn’t believe there’s necessarily a correlation with conservatism. “It’s completely your choice how you want your sexual experience to go,” she says. “If you want to fake it in the moment to make him feel good, or you want to end what’s going on, that’s your decision.” 23-year-old Merryn similarly rejects the study’s anti-feminist theory, linking her reasons for faking orgasms to her issues with honest communication. “I’m very sexually liberated,” she explains, “but I wish I’d been taught more about how to communicate openly regarding my dissatisfaction in bed. Men can be so fragile and can shut down so quickly when you hurt their ego.” 

This fear of how a man might react if a partner explained that she wasn’t enjoying the sex, or wasn’t going to come was echoed among several of the women I spoke to. “I don’t trust men to control their emotions,” Tabitha explains, “especially in the face of shame or disappointment. For me, pretending to enjoy boring sex is better than voicing my displeasure and potentially facing a dangerous situation.” 

Feeling pressure to fake an orgasm despite not getting pleasure from the sex could stem from sexual coercion, where the partner uses manipulation or emotional force to make the other person feel guilty if they don’t agree to, continue, or appear to enjoy sex. Unlike traditional representations of rape or assault, coercion can be non-violent, leading the person who’s been coerced to not even regard it as abusive. In these situations, women might put men’s pleasure before their own to avoid an awkward or aggressive confrontation. “Often honesty can be translated as criticism,” Moyle explains, “but actually what we should treat it as is honesty and the opportunity to change and improve together.” 

“I don’t trust men to control their emotions, especially in the face of shame or disappointment. For me, pretending to enjoy boring sex is better than voicing my displeasure and potentially facing a dangerous situation” – Tabitha 

As well as fearing communication about sex, women may find it difficult because of the societal stigma and resulting internalised shame surrounding female pleasure. “We have this historical narrative that women’s sexual pleasure is more complicated than men’s,” continues Moyle, “but it’s just that there's a huge gap (in education).” One key element of this narrative is the mystery of the G-spot, which has been questioned by media publications, in films, and in scientific studies for years, all with conflicting conclusions: a 2012 report confirmed its existence, while a 2017 study suggested there was no physical evidence of an erogenous G-spot inside the vagina. Despite this, sites like Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health continue to publish articles about how to activate the ‘elusive’ G-spot as if it definitely exists. 

This idea not only frames the female orgasm as rarer than men’s – a myth proven by the fact that women orgasm more frequently and quickly during masturbation than with men – but suggests that women’s pleasure during sex is a result of luck, rather than a necessity. “It’s weird,” Liz says, “because if a girl doesn’t come (during sex) it’s fine, but if a guy doesn’t then it’s incomplete.” 22-year-old Sherin* agrees: “I still feel that if I come then it’s an extra bonus.” 

Moyle believes this attitude also stems from a lack of education around female masturbation. “Lots of women struggle to know how to orgasm themselves,” she explains. “It’s about exploring and learning about your body. Once you’ve got there yourself, you can recreate that in other situations, but it requires a psychological letting-go as well.” While the ability for women to reach climax may not be more difficult than it is for men, female anatomy certainly plays a role in the orgasm discrepancy during heterosexual sex. Many women tend to come through stimulation of the clitoris, rather than from penetration – something often learned during self-pleasure.

While it’s key to encourage prioritisation of the female orgasm, a goal-oriented view of sex can result in just as many problems as ignoring climaxing altogether. “It’s not realistic or aspirational to have perfect sex all the time,” 19-year-old Sasha* tells us. “I don’t really care whether or not I cum – I think a healthier approach to sex would be to place more emphasis on shared pleasure without the goal being orgasm for both parties.”

As it stands, sex is viewed as traditionally ending once the man has climaxed – so how would a woman feel if she found out he’d faked it? “I would be so offended if a man faked an orgasm,” says Liz. “I’d be like, ‘you faked it because you clearly want this to end’.” This view differs from 24-year-old Tom’s perspective, who wouldn’t necessarily be offended by a woman’s decision to fake it, but tells us it would be “gutting and anxiety-inducing” to think that a partner was discussing their “insincere reactions” to his performance in group chats. Although 24-year-old Bailey agrees he would be embarrassed to find out a woman had faked an orgasm, he affirms: “I wouldn’t feel upset or question the woman about it, but rather concerned about why she felt like she needed to fake it with me.”

Whatever their reason for faking it, every woman I spoke to acknowledged that it was counterproductive for both themselves and their partners. “Faking an orgasm is a short-term solution to a bigger problem,” Tabitha concludes. “Faking an orgasm inflates the ego of whoever couldn’t get you off and sets their next partner up for the same ineffective tactics. In my experience, faking an orgasm with a partner also creates distance through deception.”

Though most people can agree on the negatives of faking an orgasm, the reasons behind it are multifaceted, making the argument that it’s either feminist or anti-feminist largely reductive. Instead of looking at how the views held by women influence their own decisions, we should be addressing how lessons taught under the patriarchy – internalised shame, fear of male violence, and a gendered prioritisation of other people’s pleasure – influence these beliefs in the first place.

* Some names have been changed

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