It’s been a very long time since Meg Ryan performed her famous fake orgasm scene in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, where she made all the right noises – in the middle of a café – to demonstrate her pitch-perfect imitation of having an orgasm. She told Harry (Billy Crystal) that “most women at one time or another have faked it”. Harry told her: “Well, they never have faked it with me.” 

The movie character, Sally, was right because what most men and women don’t know is that only about 20 percent of women can achieve an orgasm by just having penetrative sex. Women who often don’t have a problem achieving an orgasm on their own can’t understand why they are unable to do it with their partner. I can assure you this is not common knowledge and there is a high percentage of men and women who end up feeling inadequate. The outspoken US sex educators Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross explain why in this video.

Unfortunately, popular culture doesn’t help either. How many Hollywood movies do we see these days where within minutes of starting to have sex the actors end up with mind-blowing simultaneous orgasms, which in reality is almost impossible! 

One of my clients, a young woman in her early twenties, has had some short relationships with boyfriends but never achieved an orgasm with penetrative sex. It didn’t worry her much until she met a guy she really liked, who complained that she was the only girl he’d ever slept with who didn’t orgasm when they had sex. What was wrong with her?

Some men, like my client’s’ boyfriend, believe so much in their sexual prowess that they see it as a personal challenge to make their girlfriends climax – and are very disappointed when they don’t. By expressing this with questions like “have you come yet”, it’s no surprise that some women believe faking it is so much easier – they may feel guilty but it’s an easy way to keep their partners happy.

I suggested my client sit down with her partner and tell him there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not prepared to fake an orgasm and that she’d like to discuss ways to change how they have sex.

Most people find it difficult to talk about sex. It can be an awkward and sensitive topic that can raise feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment or criticism. There is also the fear of hurting each other’s feelings. 

What makes it easier for women to have an orgasm with a partner? A woman who is comfortable touching her own body is more likely to know what feels good for her and can show her partner where and how to stimulate her clitoris, by touch, oral sex or a vibrator. Increased communication to bolster trust and intimacy can help overcome the need to fake it in the bedroom.

Reasons that women fake orgasms

  • Sometimes women may be too tired or have become sexually dissatisfied and fake pleasure to get it over with.
  • They may want to protect their man’s sexual confidence so that he can feel he did a good job.
  • Single women are more inclined to fake it with new partners because they are not comfortable enough yet to ask for what they want and like to please them.
  • Faking an orgasm can get a partner excited, and seeing him excited can make her excited and able to work herself up to an actual orgasm.
  • Sometimes intercourse becomes painful and they don’t want to tell their partner. 

But women are not the only ones who fake an orgasm. Male orgasm-faking receives less attention, probably because a male orgasm is more easily achieved and difficult to fake, but it does happen. 

Men sometimes fake an orgasm because their partner might complain that if they take too long, sex can become boring or quite painful. Some men suffer from delayed ejaculation and they need a much longer time to ejaculate or are not able to ejaculate at all. Sometimes a man who loses his erection during intercourse, or senses that he won’t be able to ejaculate, may fake an orgasm instead of explaining what has happened. Being unable to ejaculate or losing an erection often happens when the man has acquired sexual performance anxiety.

Often men who have consumed too much alcohol or have taken drugs, or are stressed or tired, also fake it to “get it over with”. Wearing a condom can easily can hide the fact as partners are usually not in the habit of inspecting the contents.

This is another interesting video where Dodson and Ross discuss their take on “faking it” in answer to a question from a lesbian. Their advice is similar to what it would be if the question had been asked by a heterosexual woman. 

I believe faking an orgasm every once in a while is not a big deal – just because a woman faked it doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy the sex. But if it happens on a regular basis, it’s time to talk.

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and was published on December 14, 2017. This article is republished here with permission and updated on March 17, 2021.