Women aren't the only ones who feign pleasure in bed, according to a new study. Men fake orgasm, too.
In a study of more than 200 college students, 25 percent of men and half of the women reported that they'd acted out an orgasm during sexual activity. The biggest motivation to fake it? Wanting sex to end without the awkwardness of hurting their partner's feelings.
The research is published in the November issue of the Journal of Sex Research.
Acting out orgasms
Studies have consistently shown that between half and two-thirds of women have faked orgasm at some point. But because it's tougher for men to fake ejaculation than it is for women to fake a few moans, few researchers had looked at men's rates of artificial orgasm.
The new study, carried out by psychologists at the University of Kansas, asked 180 college-age men and 101 college-age women questions about their sexual histories. Each participant was asked whether they had ever pretended to have an orgasm. To catch those who might be ashamed to admit their deceit, the participants were also asked whether they'd "done something similar" to pretending to orgasm.
Almost 100 percent of those surveyed had experienced some sort of partnered sexual stimulation, whether manual or oral. Just under 70 percent of the women and 85 percent of the men reported penile-vaginal intercourse.
Intercourse turned out to be a major predictor of whether someone had faked it. About 10 percent of men and 19 percent of women who'd had sexual encounters but not intercourse had faked orgasms, compared with 28 percent of men and 67 percent of women who'd had penile-vaginal intercourse. Pretenders tended to be more sexually experienced, and were more likely to have had an orgasm at some point, either through masturbation or intercourse.
Penile-vaginal intercourse was also the most likely type of sex to trigger orgasmic acting. Of those who specified the type of sex during which they faked an orgasm, 86 percent of men and 82 percent of women reported intercourse.
The reason may be that people expect orgasm during intercourse, the authors wrote. Several men in the study reported faking an orgasm because they had no other way to end a sexual encounter without awkwardness.
For men, the most common reasons for faking it were that orgasm was unlikely or taking too long and that they wanted sex to end. Four-fifths of women reported they faked it to avoid negative consequences, like hurting their partner's feelings. Half of men reported the same motivation.
The participants who faked shared a common sexual "script," the authors wrote, in which both genders feel pressure to orgasm during intercourse, with the woman orgasming first. In some cases, people are so wedded to this script they pass up the chance to orgasm for real in order to fake orgasm at the "right" time. The study found that 20 percent of the women pretended to orgasm because their partner seemed about to.
"Some of the women wrote that they actually could have orgasmed, but they chose a pretend orgasm in the right sequence — before or during the man's orgasm — rather than an actual orgasm in the wrong sequence," the authors wrote.
These sexual scripts put undue pressure on both genders, said Carol Ellison, the author of "Women's Sexualities: Generations of Women Share Intimate Secrets of Sexual Self-Acceptance" (New Harbinger, 2000).
"When sex is a performance, and when sex has performance goals — erection, intercourse, orgasms — it's problematic," Ellison, who was not involved in the research, told LiveScience. Ellison argues that sexual success should be redefined as anything that makes you feel good about yourself, good about your partner and as something that enhances your relationship.
"If you change the goal of sex to creating mutual pleasure and finding all the different ways to create pleasure… you'll learn a lot more about sexual responsiveness," she said. "Sex will be a whole different experience."
- 10 Things Every Man Should Know About a Woman's Brain
- 10 Things Every Woman Should Know About a Man's Brain
- 10 Surprising Sex Statistics
Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now
Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.