Do Women Really Fake Orgasms Because of “Fragile Masculinity”?

Faking orgasms is a problem, but the "fragile" male ego isn't to blame.

Close-up photo of a woman's hand clutching a sheet
Fake orgasms aren't about gender.

While people of all genders can and do fake orgasms, straight women have long had a reputation for being the biggest fakers. Historically, the reason women fake it has usually been chalked up to one of two main beliefs: 1) women are borderline asexual robots who don’t care about their own pleasure and just want to “get it over with,” or 2) women fake orgasms in order to avoid hurting their partner’s feelings or bruising his fragile male ego. A recent study, published in the January issue of the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, provides evidence to support the latter theory. (Personally, I think both explanations are rooted in reductive, gendered misconceptions, and a more nuanced explanation might focus more on the extent to which women have been conditioned to prioritize men’s pleasure over our own, but sure, let’s go with fragile masculinity.)

The study collected data from 600 women who were asked about their sex lives and their perception of their partners’ masculinity. The results suggested that women who perceived their partner’s masculinity as more “fragile” had more anxiety about sex, which the study linked to lower rates of sexual satisfaction and orgasm in women. The study also suggested that this anxiety about a partner’s perceived sense of masculinity inhibited honest sexual communication, making faked orgasms more likely. Additionally, the study results also showed that women who made more money than their partners were twice as likely to fake orgasms, which researchers suggested could indicate women who fear they are “emasculating” their partners financially are trying to make up for it in the bedroom.

Ultimately, these results all point to the same conclusion: women fake orgasms in order to cater to the needs of the fragile male ego. In other words, it reduces fake orgasms to the same ignorant joke we’ve been making since When Harry Met Sally: “Men are bumbling fools who can’t even tell when women fake orgasms, which women do so they don’t hurt a man’s silly little man feelings.” This assumption is tired, insulting and reinforces a bunch of gender stereotypes that obscure the much more nuanced reasons someone (of any gender) might feel pressured to fake an orgasm.

While women faking orgasms is often played as a joke at men’s expense, the truth is no one wins when someone fakes it. A fake orgasm is not a failure of one partner to please the other, but rather a failure of communication on behalf of both partners. Is it important to take into consideration (as I have above) the fact that women have been conditioned to put a man’s pleasure and comfort above their own and thus might find it difficult to advocate for their own sexual satisfaction? Absolutely. But to take that (completely valid) insecurity and blame it on a partner’s “fragile male ego” is unfair. Even the most attentive lover isn’t a mind-reader. If you can’t communicate with your partner about your wants and needs and end up defaulting to a fake orgasm, that’s on you — at least partially.

I also tend to think this categorization of the male ego as particularly fragile is inaccurate and unnecessarily gendered. I’m not saying masculinity is never fragile, but if a man cares about his partner’s pleasure enough that she would feel compelled to fake it in the first place, that doesn’t really sound like fragile masculinity to me. Sure, some men may see their ability to make a partner orgasm as a measure of their manhood, but I would argue that everyone, regardless of gender, gets off on getting their partner off, at least to some extent. As a straight woman, I will freely admit that my ego takes a bit of a blow if a male partner doesn’t reach orgasm during sex, and I would be embarrassed to find out that a partner had faked it with me; who wouldn’t? It’s worth noting, of course, that thanks to a little thing called the orgasm gap, it is much more likely for a man to orgasm while his female partner does not than the other way around. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that the desire to make a partner orgasm is not an inherently gendered one. We all want to make our partners feel good, and I don’t think there’s necessarily anything bad or selfish about that — as long as we can learn to keep our egos out of it.

The real problem comes into play when we rely on our partner’s orgasm as the be-all, end-all signal of their pleasure and satisfaction. Getting a partner off may seem like a worthwhile goal, but when it comes to sex, there really shouldn’t be any “goals” at all. While “closing the orgasm gap” is still often paraded as the primary objective of pleasure equality, many sex experts today actually advocate for sex that is pleasure-oriented, rather than goal-driven. In other words, it shouldn’t be about who comes first (or at all), but rather about the shared experience of pleasure. In my opinion, fake orgasms have much less to do with gender than a cultural fixation on orgasm as the end game of a sexual encounter. Putting pleasure before orgasm can help both (or all) partners relax, communicate and enjoy themselves (which, by the way, does tend to make it easier to reach orgasm; just saying). Putting pressure on your partner or yourself to orgasm is when egos (of any gender) get involved, and that’s when fake orgasms happen.

Bottom line: no one wants to fake an orgasm, and no one deserves to get fooled by a faker. It’s not 1989 anymore. Let’s grow up, communicate with our partners, focus on pleasure and, for the love of god, stop faking orgasms.

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