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New Study Reveals the Reasons So Many Women Fake Orgasm

Recent research identifies the mindset that leads 77 percent of women to fake it.

When Nora Ephron's romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… came out in 1989, the writer opened up the conversation surrounding the "elusive" female orgasm by having Meg Ryan convincingly fake one in a New York City deli in front of Billy Crystal. But now, 30 years later, the subject is only just becoming less taboo. The latest development? A new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, which sheds some light on a notoriously touchy subject: Why do so many women fake orgasm?

Emily A. Harris, a postdoctoral research fellow at Queen's University in Canada, and her colleagues surveyed 462 heterosexual women from the United Kingdom who had been in a relationship for at least four months. A vast majority (77 percent) admitted to faking an orgasm at least once, suggesting that—even in 2019—this is still a very common occurrence.

But the responses to the researchers' questionnaire also indicated that certain women were more likely to feign pleasure than others. Women who gave their partner's sexual skill a lower rating were more likely to fake it, as were women who were worried about their partner cheating, presumably in an attempt to maintain sexual interest within the relationship.

But for Harris and her team, the most interesting finding was that women were more likely to fake an orgasm if they displayed "hostile sexism"—a term that describes the belief that a man is superior to a woman and that women exist to serve men. "Women's beliefs about gender are associated with their likelihood of faking orgasm," Harris said in statement. "Women who hold anti-feminist attitudes don't have anything holding them back from faking orgasm, whereas women who adopt a feminist worldview may not fake orgasm because it goes against her belief in a woman's right to pleasure, and her right to talk about sex openly."

To Wednesday Martin, a cultural anthropologist and the author of Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, all of these reasons stem from the fact that we're "living in a culture that prioritizes male pleasure."

Like Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally…, most men would probably like to think that no woman they've ever slept with has ever faked it. But the numbers suggest otherwise. And, according to Martin, the issue should be just as important to men as it is to women, because it puts undue pressure on everyone to perform.

"I have had many women who identify as feminists tell me that they have faked orgasm to help a man keep going during intercourse," Martin said. "The idea that men have to engage in penetrative sex rather than provide pleasure in a number of other different ways is detrimental to both genders. It demonstrates that sexism hurts everyone!"

And for more news on the science of sex, check out this study that says women have sex dreams as often as men do.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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