Why Women Fake Orgasms
The publication of one the largest sex studies (The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior) in recent years has once again revealed an orgasm discrepancy between men and women. The media has been especially riveted by the news reports that while 85% of men reported that their female partners had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, only 64% of women claimed that they actually did have an orgasm.
I think we all smell a rat here. Of course, this doesn't make a lot of sense, unless the lady has engaged in a little play-acting. Blanche DuBois once said that "... a woman's charm is 50% illusion" - apparently, so is her orgasm.
This is not news. Nor, is it a new finding. The National Health and Social Life Survey (the last major study of American sexual habits) also found a similar discrepancy between how often men thought their partners orgasmed and how often women said they actually did. In the earlier survey, only 29% of women claimed they got off every time, while 44% of men thought their lover's climaxed every time.
So, why 40 years after The Women's Movement are women still faking it?
Women fake orgasm for a number of reasons: to protect the man's ego, to protect their own egos, and to end boring sex are just a few. There hasn't been a lot of serious attention paid to this subject by scholars. Not a lot of inquiry as to the why or the what - like many elements of the female experience - it simply hasn't been considered worthy of study. One of the few scientific papers I could find on this issue appeared in the 1995 Women's Studies International Forum. It was a research study that looked at faked orgasm in women using seventy-three heterosexual, college students. Seventy-three ain't a lot - but at least it's something.
While most of the women in that small, Australian study admitted to gilding the lily on occasion, the majority of the men stated flatly that they had never been with a woman who faked.
The authors pointed out that one major factor behind this issue was that for many of the participants their own satisfaction was less important than the continuance of their relationship. According to the researchers:
"Faking orgasm, as we stated in the beginning, is clearly involved with technique: the pretense techniques of the woman and the affirmation of masculine technical skills. However, it is also interwoven with the emphasis on relationships: The “reason” women give for faking is that it keeps the man happy and, thus, the relationship functioning."
In other words, they didn't want to rock the boat.
In an article on the ABC News website about the new sex study, Pepper Schwartz said pretty much the same thing:
"I think its a combination of people being too embarrassed to work out an issue or too careful about shaking up the system by giving accurate feedback. Men take a lot of pride in 'giving' a woman an orgasm ... so in the beginning, faking it could be about encouragement."
And on that website, several average Joes weighed in with their opinion. Many commented that too often men lacked skills, and women lacked the confidence to tell their partners what they needed. Some mentioned that women were too afraid to enjoy sex because they feared being "sluts". You know, the old "nice girls don't" syndrome.
I have a different perspective. I don't believe that women are anorgasmic because they have "psychological issues" are "sexually repressed", or that their partners are "selfish". I think the real fear that holds many women back is not the fear of being a "slut".
It's the fear of being considered abnormal, or defective.
Many of us worry that the way we experience our sexuality is wrong. The way we look is wrong; the way we feel is wrong. Most of us carry a buttload of shame about our sexuality and anxiety that somebody somewhere is doing it a lot better than we are. And having a lot more fun at it too.
This brings up one of the central concerns of my dissertation - authenticity. In a nutshell, my research project looks at how cultural norms impact women's ability to authentically own their sexuality and define it for themselves. To be authentic means letting your hair down with your partner, reveling in your sexual uniqueness, and losing yourself in the erotic moment. Not worrying about your thighs, whether your coming right, or moving the "correct way". Let me ask you this:
How easy is that to do in a culture that never acknowledges the truth about female sexuality?
Nothing is more closeted than female sexuality. It is society's middle child - marginalized, misunderstood, and invisible. In fact, it's very invisibility indicates the level of our fear. What we see in popular culture is a pornified travesty of female desire - that looks nothing like the real thing. In the movies (and porn), women come instantly, loudly, and at the first thrust of a man's penis. Sex in popular culture is a celebration of male wishful thinking.
Most of us are never exposed to how real women actually experience sex outside of our own personal experience - our own little snow globe, so to speak.
And here's the thing -- nobody wants to admit to being a square peg in a round hole. One of the major reasons people can't talk about sex is because it involves getting real about who you are. You might not be seen as (gulp) normal. Oh, God. what will (s)he think of me for needing that? I know that idea has popped into my head on more than one occasion. Talking about sex means that you're suddenly "outed" to your lover - and what if he doesn't like what he sees.
And he may not.
I'm not going to kid you on that one. I think too many sex educators convey the idea that just communicating what you want solves any and all sexual problems. That you just want your lover to read your mind, and if you could get rid of that limiting belief, no problemo. Sometimes, sometimes not. A man who believes that his lover is supposed to climax from his penis may not be at all that thrilled to learn that she needs oral sex or a vibe to come. In fact, he may threatened by her preferences.
Unfortunately, we have raised our men to regard sex as a performance, and to think that their lover's orgasm is the applause. Plus, sex is predicated on the assumption that he is the doer, and she is the receiver. And there is script that has to be followed - he has his role to play, and she has hers. It is his responsibility to maker her come hard. If he falls down on the job - he's not a man. If she can't respond to his performance, she isn't much of a lover. Her response is her performance. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking puts a gigantic amount of pressure on both of them.
Plus, communication doesn't solve everything because it doesn't always occur on a level playing field between equals who are mutually invested in the relationship. There is the issue of power. Who has it, who doesn't. Most often it's the man who is the power monger in a relationship. This is due to a number of factors: gender roles, continuing economic inequities that favor men, and women's greater investment in relationships. Not every woman feels sufficiently empowered to make her own satisfaction a priority in her bedroom.
These are very sticky issues, and they are not easily resolved. Mainly, because they are rooted in complex social problems that we still haven't been able to eradicate. I don't think women should be slammed for faking. After all, they are merely playing their role in the game. And in the end, they are the big losers. But truthfully nobody really wins this game. Men never learn to deal with reality of female response, and women lose interest in sex because it's unsatisfying.
I'd like to see the female orgasm regarded as one way of experiencing pleasure among many and as something that is co-created by both participants. The new Indiana study shows that we are making some progress in breaking out of our rigid and outdated notions about sex. But I'd like to see more progress. I'd like to see us get rid of the shoulds and make pleasure our priority. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.
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