There is a famous scene in “When Harry Met Sally” when Sally, played to perfection by the ever adorable Meg Ryan, fakes an orgasm in a restaurant to prove to Harry that he cannot tell the difference between her lusty performance and the real thing. I read a statistic recently that seemed to indicate that at this very moment all over the world there are hundreds of thousands of women putting on a similar show. I quickly discovered that there have been dozens of studies done on this topic, and while the statistics vary, the overarching conclusion is that the vast majority of heterosexual women have faked an orgasm, and a smaller majority of heterosexual women do so regularly. The same was not found to be true, however, of lesbian women. So why do so many heterosexual women fake their orgasms?
As I stated in my April article “Toys,” it’s mostly about the clitoris. Not that men don’t engage in foreplay, but for most of them it’s only a precursor to the Main Event, whereas lesbians typically take their time. And time is a big factor. The Institute for Personal Growth’s female sexuality survey found that while women in same-sex relationships reported fewer sexual encounters overall compared with heterosexual couples, each encounter lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, whereas women in heterosexual relationships typically engaged in sexual activity for between 10 and 30 minutes. What’s the rush, fellas?
Another issue that heterosexual women frequently bump into is one of physiology— few can achieve orgasm through penetration. In her book “The Case of the Female Orgasm” (Harvard University Press) Elisabeth Lloyd conducted a detailed analysis of 33 studies over the past 80 years and found that only 25% of women can achieve orgasm through penetration alone. There have been further studies indicating that of those 25%, many are orgasming as a result of indirect clitoral stimulation. It may be that those lucky ladies who are cumming during sex are simply built differently. Kim Wallen, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University, has been running the numbers to find out. He has determined a “rule of thumb” that is behind this remarkable ability. Women whose clitorises are less than 2.5 cm away from their vaginas- the average length between the tip of the thumb and the first knuckle- are usually able to orgasm during sex. For women whose “C” to “V” distance is greater than 2.5 cm, orgasm during penile penetration is unlikely.
But human beings are complicated creatures, and though the clitorous is crucial there is more than physiology and a well-rehearsed playbook that goes into a woman’s orgasm. It also has everything to do with how she feels about her partner, the quality of their communication, flirtation and the lead-up to their sexual encounter, and her willingness to tell her partner what she wants. For some women, there can be a host of other reasons including health issues, side effects of medication, anxiety, and lack of experience. I have faked orgasms for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, I’m just tired. Hell, even my boyfriend cops to faking a few orgasms out of sheer exhaustion. Other times, I have felt guilty for taking a long time and somehow felt I owed it to my partner, who is making an effort, to reward him with my orgasm. And this is where it gets tricky. There are power dynamics at play between people everywhere, and the bedroom is no exception. Why a woman might feel like she has to flatter her partner by being dishonest about her own experience goes deep into her psychology and problems in the culture more broadly. My advice? The more raw and real we are with our partners, the more likely we are to be gratified. In the bedroom, and everywhere else.