"Faking It?" crows the headline of a popular news site, followed by "New Sex Study May Rat You Out." Oh my. Guess it's time to purchase some sensible charcoal separates, get Gloria Allred on the horn, and prepare for my day in court.
The charge? Being a bad feminist, a bad lay, and a bad person. An Indiana University survey published this week in the Journal of Sexual Medicine points to a discrepancy in the number of men who believe their partner orgasmed during their last sexual encounter and the number of women confirming that they did, in fact, climax. In other words, a glaring, prison-yard spotlight has been shone down on the large number of women who fake it.
I am one of those women the study implicates: a woman who has, yes, faked an orgasm, and I'm here today to defend myself and anyone else who's ever pulled a fast one on a partner. While pop surveys come and go, a disdain for my fellow co-conspirators that cannot be ignored hums in the background.
At the heart of it is non-confrontation, and it's what keeps the wheels of human interaction spinning round and round.
In a time when YouTube offers detailed tutorials on everything from "How to Make a Vibrator" to "How to Have Sex in a Car," and Walmart is peddling Astroglide alongside school supplies and Chicken Soup for the Soul, why would anyone willingly choose to bury their head in the nightstand when it comes to faking orgasms? Aren't we better than that, the detractors seem to ask? Smarter? More liberated?
We are. But, first of all, I fake a lot of things. Fandom for a band I've never heard or don't particularly like; enthusiasm for my former employer during a job interview, including the supervisor with the awful French pedicure who made me cry on a semi-weekly basis; nonchalance toward the relative who waits until just before the meal arrives before lighting up and dousing the room with Pall Mall smoke. At the heart of it is non-confrontation, and it's what keeps the wheels of human interaction spinning round and round. Sex, for all its attachments and associations, is just another exchange between two people. Just as sometimes you'll tell off someone who cuts in line in front of you, other times you won't. Likewise, sometimes we'll open up and ask for exactly what we want in bed; other times we'll smile, play along, and let it go. Why make sex into this sacred cow?
Meg Ryan gives perhaps the most famous faked orgasm ever in 1989's When Harry Met Sally...
The other reason I fake it is because I'm selfish. Faking it can actually improve sex, whether it's part of a long-term plan to build up the confidence of a perfect-in-every-other-way boyfriend-in-training who happens to be burdened with the world's most finicky erection, or just making the most out of what would otherwise be a lackluster tumble. There's a difference in the performance of someone who's been told, "No, it's OK. You go ahead," and someone who thinks they're a finely tuned next-generation PornBot 3000. The facial expressions, the movements, the showy naked bravado—all of that gets stored in my dirty memory bank and gets put to good use later on.
What I'm advocating is not deliberate manipulation or prolonged deception. I do not endorse that, and I agree with the purists on this one: There's little good that can come from repeat fakeouts in the context of a long-term relationship. But a partner who's had a terrible day and has just gone up a jeans size and now he's feeling a bit self-conscious? A long-distance booty call you rarely see with whom you want to maintain your "perfect track record" of all orgasms, no losses? What's wrong with that?
But messing with the learning curve is, admittedly, part of the problem. Says Jessica, one of my informal pollsters, "Guys I faked it with never needed to bother learning anything because they thought they were doing everything perfectly from the start, which they totally weren't."
"I have had boyfriends complain that it was frustrating that I took so long to orgasm, then tell me that their past girlfriends immediately orgasmed every time they had intercourse, usually 16 times in a row," says my friend Liv. "I wanted to punch those girls in the face for lying."
There's also the question of whether we're failing to do honor to the bedroom as a battleground. Every time we "come" when we'd rather be going, are we giving up a piece of what other women have worked so hard for? Is putting on a little dog-and-pony show every now and then detracting from the feminist cause? "Women need to be empowered to want their orgasm and work with a partner to actually get one," says my delightfully horndog friend Sophia. "Outside of an occasional fake, I can't really support it."
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• Joan Sewell: I Like My Low Sex DriveHonesty, however, is relative in all other areas (see also "sick" days and taxes.) You're having sex for you, not for the benefit of future generations. Accordingly, you need to do what works for yours truly. When something doesn't feel right, whether it's faking orgasms or salsa lessons at the community center, you'll know. And you'll stop. Until then, keep your head high and the flogging with a hardcover copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves to a minimum. Feminism is about choices and trusting yourself to make your own decisions. As my girl-positive friend Denise says, "I've felt guilty, sure, but now looking back, I don't really care."
Neither do I.
Erin Bradley is the author of Miss Information [www.nerve.com/advice/tag/miss-information], a sex and dating advice column on Nerve.com. Her new book, Every Rose Has Its Thorn: The Rock 'n' Roll Field Guide to Guys, is available at rockoutwithyourbookout.com