By Ian Kerner PhD, LMFT
As a sex therapist, my profession often makes for interesting, and sometimes awkward, dinner conversation. Not too long ago I was at a cocktail party, when a woman in her mid-30s descended upon me. "Quick" she said in hushed tones, "My husband's getting me a drink. We only have a few seconds. How do I get him to read your book, She Comes First, without hurting his feelings?"
But before I could respond, or even think about my response, her husband sauntered over, draped his arm around her shoulder and chimed in, "Hey, you're the guy who writes those sex books, right? I have just one question for you: why didn't you pick me to be your co-author? I could have given you some secrets! Right honey?" We all laughed, and as I made awkward eye contact with the wife, it was clear that she was the one with the real secret and it was going to stay that way. And she's not alone.
According to the recently published National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior 85 percent of men said that their partner had experienced an orgasm during their most recent sexual event, while only 64 percent of women reported actually having had an orgasm. The implication: Lots of women are faking it (and getting away with it). And as we know from the famous "I'll have what she's having" scene in "When Harry Met Sally," men are easily hoodwinked.
But yet for all our "orgasmic naivete," men are often the first to be blamed as the source of such female fraudulence. On an episode of "The Joy Behar Show" titled, "Is There an Orgasm Gap?" the general consensus among the all-female panel was that men need to be better educated about female sexuality and that faking is a necessary byproduct of the male ego and protecting a guy's self-esteem.
Personally, I don't buy it. If a tree falls in the woods and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a woman fakes it and her partner thinks she is actually enjoying the sex, is her dissatisfaction really heard?
Don't get me wrong: As a sex and relationships counselor I'm all for education. I do believe that men get too many of their ideas about female sexuality from porn. There's no shortage of legitimate reasons why a woman might not experience an orgasm during sex. "Find me a women's magazine whose cover doesn't include screaming headlines about the 764 varieties of orgasm every woman is supposed to be having each time she has sex," writes my colleague Emily Nagoski in the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms. "In reality, life gets in the way: stress, depression, anxiety, body image, performance anxiety (women get it too), sleep deprivation, feeling rushed (women average roughly 10-30 minutes to orgasm), all interfere with orgasm. So sometimes women fake it."
But is Emily justified in justifying the occasional "fake-out"?
According to her, faking isn't evil; it's often a well-intentioned safeguard for her partner's ego. "A woman is less likely to have orgasms early in a relationship. Her body needs time to learn to trust a new partner and to relax into the knowledge that he accepts and appreciates her body," she writes. "At the same time, if a woman likes her partner, she wants him to feel good about the relationship. If orgasm is a way she can show him she's enjoying it, but orgasm just isn't there for her yet, faking it is a completely viable option, as long as it doesn't become a habit."
I have always tended to agree with Emily (and scores of other professionals) on the legitimacy of the occasional fake-out, but with this latest study it seems that faking has become the little white lie that's amounted to a culturally accepted form of deception.
So I'm reversing my opinion. Faking every now and then is not OK. Sure, talking about sex can be difficult; sure it's easier to spare one's feelings; and sure there are men who will respond defensively, but none of that actually justifies lying. Every time a woman fakes it for a legitimate reason, she undermines that legitimacy and loses an opportunity to communicate with her partner and deepen his understanding of their relationship.
And remember, ladies, what goes around comes around: more and more men are faking it too. So instead of faking it, let's talk about sex. It isn't always easy, but, in the end, not talking about sex is even harder. And for all the moaning and groaning, faking the big O is just a big conversation-stopper.