Faking Orgasm: Who Fakes and Why?

The top 5 reasons men and women exaggerate sexual enjoyment

Dr. Robert Burriss
Mar 19 · 4 min read
Jessica Wüst/Flickr

Why would anyone want to fake an orgasm?

When Harry met Sally, way back in 1989, Sally made it abundantly clear that a big reason women fake orgasm is because men like Harry aren’t as good in bed as they think they are. The implication was that women fake orgasm to bring a disappointing sexual encounter to an abrupt end.

But human relationships are complex, and there are surely other reasons that women fake orgasm. And what about men: do they also fake orgasm? If so, why? And what about faking that falls short of a full-blown fib: why might a person who reaches climax nevertheless feel the need to… embellish?

Peter Jonason, a psychologist at Western Sydney University in Australia, decided to find out. He recruited 650 volunteers to complete surveys about their history of fakery and various aspects of their sexual psychology.

He presented each volunteer with an exhaustive list of 37 potential reasons a person might fake an orgasm. The volunteers indicated which reasons applied to them. Their answers clustered together into five groups: the five overarching reasons for faking an orgasm.

Top five

The most popular reason for faking orgasm was to provide positive feedback: to convince the partner that he or she had done a good job. Well done, Harry: you’re not an absolute dud in the sack except actually you are.

The second most popular reason is one that Sally would recognize: sexual boredom. When sex is dull, these volunteers follow Meg Ryan’s lead and fake until it’s finished.

Reason number three: to enhance enjoyment. These volunteers reported that simulating satisfaction would arouse their partner, thereby leading to more fun for everybody. Essentially, fake it till you make it.

The fourth most popular reason for faking orgasm was to avoid the unpleasant consequences of a disappointing lovemaking session. No one asks “how was it for you?” in the hopes of hearing “it was appalling and also tedious”. Some will claim the earth moved, thereby side-stepping conflict in favor of a post-coital cuddle.

And the fifth and final reason was to deceive the partner. These dastardly dissemblers might be planning to cheat on their partner. What better way to allay suspicion of their devious designs than convincing the partner that the relationship still has that sexual spark.

Spotting a forgery

Do different people have different motives for faking? Well, there were gender differences. Men and women didn’t seem to fake orgasm for the same reasons.

Men were more likely to fake to avoid conflict; women were more likely to fake to enhance sexual pleasure, but also to provide positive feedback and because they were bored.

The gender difference was stronger for cases of full-on fakery than for exaggeration (what Jonason calls “quasi-pretending”). When men and women quasi-pretended, they tended to do so for similar reasons. But women who play-acted all the way to climax were more likely than men to do so to enhance pleasure, provide positive feedback, and alleviate boredom.

It remains possible that men are similarly motivated, but less confident in their acting ability given that the male orgasm is difficult to fake.

Narcissists usually faked for pleasure and deception, while those with psychopathic tendencies faked for all reasons except for providing positive feedback to their partner. Women were more likely to quasi-pretend if they were attractive. Men were more likely to fake if they had more sexual experience or were more interested in flings than in long-term relationships.

Jonason concludes that, although he identified five reasons for faking orgasm, it might be possible to boil these down to two broad reasons: some fake because they are concerned for their partner and for their relationship, while others fake for more selfish reasons.

He also suggests that the common idea that only women fake orgasm is untrue, and that:

by including … “quasi-pretending”, it appears that men may actually pretend more than women do.

Harry seemed surprised when Sally faked her orgasm, but what if he fooled us all? Maybe, just maybe, he was the biggest faker around.


Jonason, P. K. (2019). Reasons to pretend to orgasm and the mating psychology of those who endorse them. Personality and Individual Differences, 143, 90–94. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.02.026

The content of this post first appeared in the 19 March 2019 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

Dr. Robert Burriss

Written by

Postdoc at Basel University, Switzerland. Evolutionary psychologist. Studies human attraction and mate choice. More at RobertBurriss.com

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