I’ve faked 2,000 orgasms in my life—give or take a few. I’m not joking. I’ve done the math: Two thousand divided by 18 years of fucking equals just over a hundred forgeries per year. Yup, sounds about right. I’m not proud of being the Bernie Madoff of orgasms, but it’s the sad, arguably unfeminist truth.
Recently, over dinner, I asked four of my female friends if they’ve ever faked it. They looked at me like I was an idiot. “We’re women,” one replied with an eye roll. “It’s practically a requirement.” LOL? While it’s clearly difficult to get hard data on this, a study published this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which surveyed over a thousand mostly heterosexual American women between the ages of 18 and 94, found that 58.8% had simulated orgasm with a partner. It’s no wonder that whenever a guy tells me no woman ever pulled a Sally with him, I think, You’re an idiot.
Since turning 30 I’ve been in fake-orgasm recovery, and, like most addicts, I look back on my former self with a combination of compassion, regret, and respect for being that dedicated. But if this pervasive fraudulence is quite obviously a net negative for everyone involved, then why do we fake it?
I lost my virginity at 16. Following those momentous 20 seconds, my boyfriend looked at me with an expectant smile. “Did you cum?” he asked. “Uh…yes?” I mumbled, not wanting to spoil the anticlimactic moment. “Sick,” he replied, and then rolled over and passed out.
But back then, cumming wasn’t really the point. Sex was about more important things, like validation, peer pressure, and pissing off my Catholic parents. Plus, simply being naked with someone was thrilling. But the actual “sex” part just felt like inserting a tampon over and over. When I was alone I could make myself cum in like four seconds, but with another person in the room my vagina suddenly had social anxiety. Orgasms were not something just beyond my reach, but rather an abstract concept many galaxies away.
Orgasms were not something just beyond my reach, but rather an abstract concept many galaxies away.
For the next handful of years, I faked it religiously. It was multi-purpose. If some dude was bulldozing my insides, faking it was an effective off-switch. If I was with one of those sweet yet annoyingly persistent “I won’t give up until you cum” guys, I’d throw him a sympathy orgasm to avoid the emotional labor of comforting him afterward. (Sort of like when I fucked annoying art bros, because rejecting them seemed even more exhausting than just getting on with it.) Faking it was for the “benefit” of the guy, but it was also—though I struggled to admit it—for me. Not being able to get there could feel like a failure, and pretending was easier than accepting that my vagina might literally be broken.
And faking it wasn’t limited to orgasms. I also sometimes did this tragic thing where, before sex, I’d go into the bathroom, spit on my hand, then shove it inside me, partially to make the guy think I was super turned on by him, but also so that sex wouldn’t hurt. I was Alice, lubing up the path into a bizarro world of make-believe.
My friend Annabelle knows the implications of faking it better than anyone. Annabelle has worked as an escort for four years, and, in some ways, fakes it for a living. “A lot of guys want their ego stroked,” she told me. “They get off on believing they made a hot woman orgasm. And they always buy it, because they want to buy it.”
But it’s never that simple, is it? “I also get off on the fantasy I sell,” Annabelle said. “I’m very toppy with my clients, which makes me feel sexy and in control, and I think faking it is part of giving good service. I’ve always liked the term entertainer, versus the more common provider or companion.” And yet, faking it came with a price. She recalled, “I reached a point with work where I couldn’t even tell when I was faking it or not, because I was always overacting.” Like a skilled actress, it was easy to lose herself in a role.
In a way, I relate to that. For many years of my life, sex was largely a performance—deep throating upside down until I got lockjaw and arching my back like a budget Simone Biles. I was so concerned with whether the guy was enjoying sex that I forgot to think about me. If he didn’t leave elated, I told myself it meant I wasn’t hot enough or “good in bed” (whatever that means). It became difficult to untangle what I liked from the ability to provide what he liked. And, annoyingly, I can’t blame men for this.
Meanwhile, the dude was often performing some warped idea of masculinity, slapping my crotch as if sex was a never-ending Brazzers audition. Faking it, it turns out, isn’t exclusively a woman thing.
I had my first orgasm with a guy at 22. After that I could get there occasionally—usually while getting head, squeezing my eyes shut, and focusing on flashbacks of gang bang porn like it was the SATs. At 27, I started dating a woman, and magically—or predictably?—cumming during sex became the norm. I’m not one of those people who blame the patriarchy for everything from office temperature to traffic jams, but I do think that from a young age women internalize the idea that being assertive makes you a bossy, controlling bitch. We are taught that we should sacrifice our needs in favor of a man’s—or else risk pushing him away–slash–dying alone. But with a woman I could suddenly relax. (Plus, the one time I tried to fake it with her, she literally said, “Bitch, are you kidding me?”)
After my girlfriend and I broke up a few years later, I vowed never to go back to my con artist ways. I’d occasionally slip, but faking it started to feel like smoking a cigarette after telling yourself you’re going to quit. My lez relationship was the control group in the experiment of sexual authenticity, and the results were a resounding: What the fuck are you doing?
It’s no secret: Faking an orgasm is like giving your dog a treat after he tears up the sofa. If you pretend to cum when a guy is flicking your clit like it's a stray crumb, then he’s going to keep doing that until eternity—with you, but also with every poor girl who cums after. Essentially, faking it is detrimental to womankind.
It’s also manipulative. In a way, faking it robs your partner of their sexual autonomy. While cheating is widely condemned, faking is a form of sexual deceit that’s weirdly given a pass. But if a guy faked it with me, I’d be so angry. And embarrassed, knowing he thought my ego was so fragile that he needed to lie to protect me. Like, I’m all down for fantasy role play, but only when I’m in on it—otherwise I’d rather be home jerking off to Queer Eye.
While I’ve painted a sad portrait of my sexual youth, it actually wasn’t so bad. Sex most often still felt connected, playful, exploratory, and at times even transcendent. Faking it is complicated, because it genuinely feels good to make your partner feel good. And, as Annabelle pointed out, artifice can feel powerful and exciting (hence lingerie and pretending to have political opinions).
I don’t judge people for faking it. Like any crutch, it’s hard to give up. But personally, the quality of my sex life has increased in direct proportion with my confidence to assert what I do and don’t like in bed (#RocketScience). The moral of the story is that every woman should be gay for at least three years. You’re welcome.
Originally Appeared on Vogue