Why we need to stop shaming and blaming people for faking orgasms

Wander the parts of the interweb concerned with giving sex advice and it is impossible to miss articles telling people, usually women, that they have to stop faking orgasms, for a whole host of reasons. Generally it is advice that sounds good on the surface, but when you dig into it, carries a whole host of assumptions and beliefs that range from oversimplification to actively harmful. In this piece I hope to dig a little deeper into why people might fake, and what the demand they stop might mean.

First a disclaimer – Obviously it would be better if we all lived in a world where all sex took place between consenting adults with the ability to communicate well and receive feedback openly. I am not saying communication and feedback don’t matter, just that they are not the only thing which matters.

Bodily Autonomy

One of the first principles of right treatment of others is respect for bodily autonomy. It is so fundamental that it is one of the first rules we learn as children when we are socialized. Learning to keep our hands to ourselves (and mouths, feet, elbows and anything else a toddler discovers) teaches us how to interact with others. This occurs alongside our own discovery of the bodily self. Toddlers have a deep sense of what is their body, as anyone who has tried to wipe a 3 year old’s nose when they don’t want it wiped can tell you.

Knowing this is my body, and I protect it, and what happens to it, is healthy. Respect for bodily autonomy, is a good thing. So, it therefore follows that if someone chooses to do something with their body, such as fake an orgasm, then we have, as a first principle, to respect their right to do that. I cannot tell other people what they should be doing with their body.

Many sex workers have written about how an orgasm with a client is a step too far into giving up that bodily autonomy. Some fake, some do not, as Charlotte Shane writes that is a personal decision, but it is one based on protection of bodily and emotional  autonomy.

Extending the bodily autonomy argument wider, as this Buzzfeed article shows, many people fake because its a way of protecting their body, of speeding up the ending. Those telling people not to fake seem to assume its always about protecting another’s ego, but very often it is about protecting your own body, which brings me too;

Safety and Self Care

Again, back to that disclaimer, of course it would be better if all sex took place between consenting adults who were good at communication and giving and receiving feedback

But it doesn’t

Back in the real world, hook ups happen, domestic abuse happens, the need for sleep happens. There are very different levels of risk here, but in a world where a woman can be shot for refusing to give out her phone number, it is unsurprising that many women are not going to take the risk of giving honest sexual feedback

Perhaps we need to start telling men that it is OK to be criticised instead of telling women they need to give criticism (and “I didn’t come” is not a criticism but is often interpreted as one.)

Beyond the risk of not knowing a person, and so not knowing how they would respond to you not orgasming, there are those in relationships we they know the response would be negative. For those in abusive relationships sex can be another weapon which can be used to control, harm and dominate. Whilst struggling to survive under these circumstances, giving the abuser what they want – an apparent orgasm and faking sexual pleasure, is an act of self preservation. I might even go one step further to say that authenticity is earned, and some people have not earned the right to see our authentic sexual selves.

Even in non-abusive relationships some women can feel like they have to fake in order to protect themselves, either from more sex, bad sex, sex that leaves them sore, inappropriately timed sex. Faking allows them a measure of control over the type of sex, and when it ends. This is often because of;

The “Big O” Myth

We are just starting to move away from the idea that sex = penis in vagina penetration only. Associated with the belief that something called foreplay exists, which is different from “real sex” which involves penetration, is the idea that sex is somehow better, more real and authentic if both parties orgasm during it.

It isnt.

By which I mean, sex is not more valid, real, authentic, worthy, or anything else just because someone orgasms. Many women find penetrative sex difficult to orgasm from, and many people of all genders find solo sex (masturbation) much more likely to result in an orgasm. We have to be careful here, because a lot of the discussion around this topic assumes the goal is always to orgasm. In fact there might be many reasons someone is having sex, from payment through to desiring affection, or pregnancy, or pair bonding. Only if we identify the goals of the person having sex can we identify if faking helps or hinders them meet those goals. To assume that the goal of everyone having sex is mutual orgasms is a hetronormative, and quite conservative assumption. Imagine a gay man who wishes to be considered a “stud” he might happily fake orgasms to promote that image, and be very aware of why he is doing so. We might work in therapy on why he wants that image, but faking is a choice in the moment he is happy to make.

The myth of the big O needs to be challenged – but it isnt just down to women and assigned female at birth people to spend yet more emotional labour on overturning an entire set of cultural and societal beliefs

Emotional Labour

I have already touched on the idea that we seem to be more comfortable with demanding emotional labour from some genders than others. When it comes to emotional labour the scales seem very weighted in one direction. When men faking orgasms is even mentioned (which is rare) it is with a sense of curiousity, and a desire to understand how, and why it might happen. As well of course as with a sense of incredulity because cis men are assumed to be little more than sex robots by many.

When it comes to cis women and afab people however, the demands for emotional labour seem to be unrelenting. Consider a world where instead of saying stop faking orgasms, we instead said, stop expecting orgasms every time you had sex? I am deeply uncomfortable with yet another request for women to give more emotional labour – in this case educating sexual partners, when so much is already asked for.

Of course some women will want to educate their sexual partners, some will benefit greatly from opening up the channels of communication. Others however, especially if they are getting the orgasms they want in other ways, or if they are not concerned with orgasms, will find that faking meets their needs in the moment, and long term. This can include the need for their partner to feel happy with the sex they are having. It is a murky, complex world where sometimes someone might fake so as not to hurt their partners feelings. Doing the work of unpacking why those feelings might be hurt can be emotional labour of the most exhausting sort. Sometimes it is OK to say “I don’t have the resources to do that right now”

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.

Gloria Steinem is not without her problems (although it is worth pointing out she has tried to educate herself on trans issues) but this quote is worth considering both in its depth, and challenge to how we conceptualize good sex. Instead of putting the burden of the emotional labour on women to give feedback which may well be badly received, how would the world look if we brought up cis men to consider the emotional labour around sex something they automatically did? How many fewer faked orgasms would there be by women if male partners asked “are orgasms something you want from penetrative sex?” before they even had sex.

You do you

This article goes so contary to 99% of the writing on faking orgasms out there that there is even a certain amount of trepidation in writing it. When it comes to meeting our own needs, shoulds so often seem to outweigh anything else, and looming over this topic are a whole host of shoulds about what sex should look, feel, be, sound, and be experienced like. At the risk of repeating myself, if you want to stop faking and/or work towards giving feedback to sexual partners that you either have been faking, or that you do not orgasm during particular sex acts – thats awesome! However not everyone will be able, or willing to do so.

So, it is ok to fake if

  • It keeps you safe
  • It results in the type of sex you do want (be that duration, frequency, for payment etc)
  • It protects a vulnerability which you are not willing to share
  • It lessens demands for emotional labour you are unwilling/unable to do
  • And perhaps most importantly, it is what you need, and want to do, in the moment.

If you realise from reading this that you are faking because you do not feel safe, that you feel coerced, or pressured, and faking is about self defense, then you may need help and support to navigate leaving an abusive relationship. Faking is not the problem here, its a survival tactic. You can find support with a number of different organisations such as Refuge. Galop (for LGBT victims of violence) and the Mens Advice Line (for men experiencing domestic abuse)

However, if you are faking because it is what works for you, with hooks ups, or in a monogamous marriage, or anything inbetween, don’t let anyone shame or blame you into changing because they think you should. You do do, and have orgasms when and where feels right for you to have them.

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