We're all about the power of positive thinking, but can pretending to enjoy sex actually make you enjoy it more?
The fictional female orgasm is about as theorized as its authentic counterpart. Negative thinking of the faked orgasm views it as women's submission to men and their needs: Giving the impression of mutual ecstasy serves to demonstrate commitment and ensure relationship security, but does little to enhance the woman's experience. It stands to reason that as women have more sex, more openly and for a wider variety of reasons, they would be less inclined to fake orgasms at all. But more than 80 percent still do. Have our minds not caught up with our loins when it comes to sex?
A study in the Journal of Sexual Archives titled "The Faking Orgasm Scale for Women: Psychometric Properties" investigates a seemingly counterintuitive explanation: Women might fake orgasm to make their own experience more pleasurable. Authors hypothesized that a make-believe climax can actually be "relationship promoting and sexual pleasure-enhancing," rather a performance to get sex "over with" or stroke a man's ego.
To test the theory, researchers from Temple University and Kenyon College surveyed 481 heterosexual females with an average age of 20 who were sexually active but not in serious relationships -- essentially, members of the much-theorized "hookup culture." Participants indicated how much the following factors influence their decision to fake an orgasm:
1. Altruistic deceit (faking it out of concern for a partner's feelings)
2. Fear and insecurity (faking it to avoid negative emotions associated with the sexual experience)
3. Elevated Arousal (attempting increase one's own arousal through faking orgasm)
4. Sexual Adjourment (faking orgasm to end sex)
Every factor was broken up into more precise motivations to determine the extent of their influence and interaction. While "altruistic deceit" was the most common reason women cited for faking it and "fear and insecurity" ranked second, women were more likely to fake orgasm to turn themselves on ("elevated arousal" ranked third) than to get sex over with ("sexual adjournment" ranked fourth).
While the two most cited reasons for faking an orgasm seem adhere to expectations, the scope of the study suggests that women fake it as a means to a more pleasurable end, rather than just an end. "What is unique about the Faking Orgasm Scale for Women is that, for the first time, we have quantitative evidence suggesting women may also fake orgasm for far more 'selfish' reasons, like increasing their own arousal," wrote Erin Cooper, who co-authored the study, in an email to HuffPost Women. "Deciding to fake orgasm for this motive may have little to nothing to do with a woman's partner and his sexual experience. I view this strategy as one of the many 'tools in the toolbox' women may use to enhance their own sexual experience," Cooper told us.
Not all sex is created equal, however. Cooper and her colleagues acknowledged that different sex acts might produce different psychological reactions and anxieties. For instance, one's motivation for pretending to finish during intercourse might be different than her motivation to do so during oral sex.
In the decades since Alfred Kinsey declared the clitoris as the most effective focus for the female orgasm, oral sex has become a prominent feature in our bedrooms and on our TV screens. But oral sex is an investment with a high return, not a quick payoff. In the movies, after a hurried necking session, a man typically disappears under the sheets and his female partner is immediately in ecstasy. Have deceptively short Hollywood sex scenes and decades of championing direct stimulation put pressure on women to love it, and quickly?
Given the "increased awareness" of orgasmic potential when it comes to oral sex, the researchers wondered if "women may fake orgasm to alleviate increased feelings of anxiety, self-consciousness, and physiological abnormality when their partner’s focus was explicitly centered on their genitals." Several factors on the Faking Orgasm Scale were adjusted for oral sex to gauge the effect of the giver's perceived expectations on the receiver's response.
The number one reason participants faked an orgasm during oral sex was to preserve their partner's feelings -- the same "altruistic deceit" factor behind most faked orgasms during intercourse. "Insecure avoidance" ranked second, while elevated arousal ranked third.
Women were least likely to fake orgasm during oral sex for "fear of dysfunction." While many participants faked it to "avoid insecurity," authors reason that this is a choice women make to alleviate their own anxiety during oral sex, rather than a submissive act stemming from a negative view of women's own bodies and sexual responses.
The studies suggest that women may fake orgasms to pursue a positive sexual outcome, rather than to simply avoid a negative one. Which means we cannot presume that every woman who fakes orgasms is sexually dissatisfied when faking it might be a choice women make to increase satisfaction. We knew there was a reason Meg Ryan's famous deli scene in "When Harry Met Sally" looked like so much fun.