Researchers Are Trying to Understand Better Why People Fake Orgasms

By
Photo: Laverrue was here/Getty Images

It’s very easy to make jokes about the subject of orgasm faking. Because the subject entails so much embarrassment and insecurity, particularly of a gendered nature, it’s no wonder pop culture is littered with jokey references to the subject: “By the way, I faked every orgasm,” Frank Drebin tells his about-to-be-ex-girlfriend Jane Spencer during an over-the-top breakup scene in the classic comedy The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

But from a sexual- and psychological-health perspective, faked orgasms are both an interesting subject and an important one to study. They do involve, after all, a certain level of dishonesty between sexual partners, so from researchers’ perspectives it’s worth better understanding what’s going on, particularly whether the faking is the result of some underlying issue that could be addressed.

In a new paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Danya Goodman, Omri Gillath, and Parnia Haj-Mohamadi of the University of Kansas explain that previously, most research about faked orgasm has focused on the frequency of the act rather than the motivating factors behind it. They want to change that, and so they have created a new scale they have developed called the Pretending Orgasms Reasons Measure, or PORM (no, not PORN).

As the researchers explain, there have been some past efforts to develop scales studying this issue, but they’ve been limited: One such scale was only applicable to female subjects, for example, while another wasn’t developed, they argue, with sufficient statistical rigor. To attempt to do a more rigorous job, the researchers first solicited a bunch of college students to explain why they had faked orgasms. Then they asked a larger online group of more than 400 to note which of those reasons applied to them. Through the statistical number-crunching used to generate these sorts of scales, the researchers came up with six factors (that is, statistically distinct categories into which individual questions neatly fit): feels good, for partner, not into sex, manipulation/power, insecurity, and emotional communication.

The point of this study was mostly to offer something of a proof-of-concept of the PORM scale rather than to generate conclusive new findings on this subject, but they did find some interesting nuggets: For example, when the researchers applied their scale to an online sample of almost 1,600, they found that while 76 percent of women reported having faked an orgasm at least once, the number was also rather high for men, at 41 percent. That’s less of a gender divide than the prevailing conversation on this subject might have suggested. It’s also a lot of faking, overall, which suggests this is a very fertile area for more research.

Researchers Are Trying to Better Understand Orgasm Faking