When an Orgasm Is Not an Orgasm

This topic comes up more often with girlfriends than with patients. But it comes up often enough with girlfriends that I know it’s on my patients’ minds, too! The question is whether it’s sometimes okay to fake an orgasm.

I think it depends on how you define “sometimes” — and what your reasons are for faking. Let’s start by acknowledging that, by some estimates, as many as one in ten of us has never achieved an orgasm. Among those of us who orgasm, we might do so in only about half of our sexual encounters. And, just to dispel one widespread myth, only about a third of us achieve orgasms with heterosexual intercourse alone.

All that said, I think you get to decide when you signal your partner that you’ve achieved orgasm when you haven’t. Maybe you’re getting tired but you don’t want to break the intimate mood. Maybe you want to satisfy or boost your partner’s confidence. Studies show that nearly 80 percent of women will fake orgasm at some point.

But making a habit of it isn’t fair to you or to your partner, even though, with our busy, fast-paced lives, it can be an easy pattern to fall into. It’s worth it to spend some time—alone and with your partner—learning more about your body and its paths to orgasm. Even if you’ve had a lot of experience, changes in hormone levels, circulation, and tissue health can mean your needs have changed.

If you’re faking more than once in a great while, there may be something else going on that needs attention. Do you feel like it takes too long to reach orgasm? Does your partner know exactly what to do to help you achieve an orgasm? Is there something on your mind that’s making it hard to relax when you’re having sex? There are lots of ways to increase your mindfulness, sensation, and response.

We like sex for lots of reasons, and orgasm doesn’t have to be one of them. If you’ve never learned to have an orgasm, or if you don’t have them regularly, don’t consider yourself a sexual failure! But if you’re finding yourself pretending more than you used to, it’s never too late to learn or relearn our bodies.

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