brief histories

Every Advice Columnist Ever on Faking Orgasms

Photo: Michael A. Keller/Corbis

When Harry Met Sally’s orgasmic sandwich scene is now more than twenty years old, and has been basic-cable broadcast to trans-generational ubiquity. Yet the question of faked orgasms continues to haunt women who write into advice columns. (Men also fake, but don’t appear to seek outside counsel for it.) The latest hand-wringing performance artist appeared this week in the Awl’s existential advice column, Ask Polly, and in the intervening years nearly every agony aunt has had an opportunity to weigh in on the phenomenon, with the exception, perhaps, of Miss Manners. (Fellow prude Dear Abby outsourced the topic to her loyal readers in 1991 and was flooded with responses.)

Which is not to say that fake orgasms aren’t a Miss Manners–worthy etiquette topic. For the contemporary casual sex-haver, it can be white lie on the order of inventing an appointment in order to get off the phone quickly. But for others it’s much more than that. Many turn to sexperts in times of fakery, but it’s not the kind of query that can be resolved with a hand-mirror and some real talk (That’s assuming the professionals aren’t fakers themselves, as Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory confessed last year.) There are ethical and emotional concerns at play, and unlike most interpersonal dramas that occupy “The Ethicist,” with the faked orgasm, it’s the deceiver who is the victim, not the deceived.

So maybe it’s not surprising that the fake orgasm continues to befuddle, despite the repeat inquiry of scientists, ethicists, journalists, and feminist poets. Here are eleven of their takes on fakes.

Faking an orgasm is the same as pretending to like his band. 
Erin Bradley, The Daily Beast

“At the heart of it is non-confrontation, and it’s what keeps the wheels of human interaction spinning round and round. Sex, for all its attachments and associations, is just another exchange between two people. Just as sometimes you’ll tell off someone who cuts in line in front of you, other times you won’t. Likewise, sometimes we’ll open up and ask for exactly what we want in bed; other times we’ll smile, play along, and let it go. Why make sex into this sacred cow?”

Fake, but fake with instructions toward the real thing.
E. Jean Carroll, Ask E. Jean, Elle

Half of us are “successfully faking it” even as we read this. (And the faking has little to do with wanting to please the dude/get his approval/ boost his ego, and everything to do with your anatomy.) … Intercourse is like decorating your living room. It’s all about adding your personal touch. As for what to say when you reach the fine-tuning stage of your love-making — whilst enjoying a posh oral sex romp, for instance — a whispered (or screamed) “You’re incredible! You’re magnificent! I just need a little more time, and a little more slooooow caressing,” or whatever will do. Perhaps you like fast heel-and-toe work. Be specific.

Confess to faking. Be vulnerable. You deserve an orgasm.
Polly Esther, The Awl

I totally understand why you’ve found it so difficult to drop this act out of the blue. But who wants to doom herself to a life of faking it? Not only is that exhausting, but it eliminates the possibility of improving your sex life. How can you even focus on what’s actually happening in bed when you’re always about to pull the trigger on an Oscar-worthy performance? That kind of acting (and strategizing) seems likely to dull your physical response. You’re singing this elaborate rain song while holding this giant umbrella over your head. Whether or not it ever rains, you’re never going to feel it.

Fakers make other women feel broken.
Anne Kloedt, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm

“[P]erhaps one of the most infuriating and damaging results of this whole charade has been that women who were perfectly healthy sexually were taught that they were not. So in addition to being sexually deprived, these women were told to blame themselves when they deserved no blame. Looking for a cure to a problem that has none can lead a woman on an endless path of self-hatred and insecurity. For she is told by her analyst that not even in her one role allowed in a male society-the role of a woman-is she successful. She is put on the defensive, with phony data as evidence that she’d better try to be even more feminine, think more feminine, and reject her envy of men. That is, shuffle even harder, baby.”

Fake orgasms, like all forms of deception, are a tool for emotional control.
Cary Tennis, Salon

“[I]t’s not your role to shield your husband from the truth about you. Such “protection,” however well-intended, is a form of control and disrespect. It is not as benign as you might like to believe … Showing the other that we are pleased maximizes our options for repeat encounters. If we show displeasure, we limit our future chances … Men collaborate in this deception by giving women a hard time when the truth is finally told … We have to offer rewards to the women who tell us the truth. No woman wants to tell the truth if it’s met with scorn, resentment, defensiveness or abuse. So we men have to create an environment in which women can and do tell us the truth about how they feel and what they want.”

When you fake you make sex bad for other women.
Cindy, Rookie

“You are condemning every woman he goes on to sleep with for the rest of his life to be a victim, in her turn, of “But my last girlfriend had six orgasms in a row when I did that!” syndrome. Don’t do that to us. Teach him what really works.”

Faking is okay because it’s YOUR choice, girlfriend.
Erin Bradley, again, The Daily Beast

“You’re having sex for you, not for the benefit of future generations. Accordingly, you need to do what works for yours truly. When something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s faking orgasms or salsa lessons at the community center, you’ll know. And you’ll stop. Until then, keep your head high and the flogging with a hardcover copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves to a minimum. Feminism is about choices and trusting yourself to make your own decisions.”

Faking disempowers you.
Audre Lorde, “Uses of the erotic: the erotic as power”

“When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd.”

Don’t fake. Never admit to faking.
Dan Savage, Savage Love

You could sit him down and tell him the truth — but you’d be running the risk of his never getting an erection again in his shock-shortened life. No straight man can hear, “Honey, all those times you thought you made me come, well … it was performance art,” without feeling a little smaller. Here’s what to do: stop pretending. Let him think, for some reason, you’ve suddenly gone none-orgasmic. Getting you going again will be a challenge for him, and most boys love a challenge. Within this deceitful framework, be as honest as you can … Think of your vagina as a very complicated musical instrument you have to teach him to play, like a mouth harp.”

Faking is a mate retention strategy.
Psychology Today

“The likelihood of faking was positively correlated to infidelity risk (p < .001). In other words, women who felt insecure about their partner’s loyalty were more likely to fake sexual arousal/orgasm … Women who engage in a wide range of mate retention tactics (ostensibly because they are likely to feel insecure in the relationship) are more likely to fake orgasms.”

Fakers are the victims of genital bullying.
Emily Yoffe, Dear Prudence

“The nub of the matter is that under the guise of pleasing you, your boyfriend has been bullying your genitals in order to boost his own sense of his prowess.

Every Advice Columnist Ever on Faking Orgasms