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Top reasons women fake orgasms, according to science

Perhaps the most famous fake orgasm of all time, from When Harry Met Sally
Perhaps the most famous fake orgasm of all time, from When Harry Met Sally

If scientists want to study something, they first need a way to quantify it. And that's why researchers just created the first scale that measures… why women are faking orgasms.

In a new paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Erin Cooper and her colleagues at Temple University and Kenyon College surveyed hundreds of (predominantly heterosexual) college women who had faked an orgasm at least once.

The researchers asked them to rank 163 different reasons for faking orgasms during oral and vaginal sex on a 1 to 5, "never" to "always" scale. They then used statistics to pull out the most common motivations for faking and verified the scale on another similar group of women.

Some of the most common reasons included:

1) Because she wants to make her partner feel good

2) Because it turns her on

3) Because she's insecure or afraid

4) Because she wants to make the sex stop

5) Because she's embarrassed or self-conscious

6) Because she's worried that she can't reach orgasm

The most common motivation across the board might not come as a surprise. It's lying in order to make your partner feel better (also known as "altruistic deceit") — and it's been the conventional wisdom for some time. The altruistic deceit motivation was characterized by reasons such as "to make your partner happy," "so your partner will feel successful," and "because your partner would be happier if you had an orgasm" or to give an ego boost or protect a partner from guilt, disappointment, shame, and embarrassment.

Women were also faking orgasms because they found it arousing. This made it into the top four motivations for both oral and vaginal sex. Reasons in this cluster ("elevated arousal") included "to turn yourself on," "to increase the excitement of your sexual experience," and "to increase your own arousal during sexual intercourse."

"What I found most surprising was that, for the first time, we have quantitative evidence suggesting women may fake orgasm for far more 'selfish' reasons, like increasing their own arousal," lead author Erin Cooper told me. "I view this strategy as one of the many 'tools in the toolbox' women may use to enhance their own sexual experience."

Cooper is currently using the scale to examine women's motivations and how they relate to their regulation of emotions, levels of intimacy, and sexual function.

According to other existing research, 53 to 67 percent of women and 18 percent of men studied say that they have pretended to have an orgasm at least once. It could be interesting to see how much these motivations change for populations other than the one studied here.

Update: Hat tip to the great BPS Research Digest blog and its guest host Petra Boynton for calling my attention to this study in the first place. And for those who were wondering, reasons 1–4 were the most common kinds of reasons for sexual intercourse, under categories that went by somewhat more complicated names (Altruistic Deceit, Elevated Arousal, Fear and Insecurity, and Sexual Adjournment). Reasons 1, 2, 5, and 6 were some of the most common kinds of reasons for oral sex (5 falls under the category of Insecure Avoidance and 6 under Fear of Dysfunction). It seems interesting that trying to make the sex stop is a top reason for fake orgasms during sexual intercourse and that embarrassment is a top reason for fake orgasms during oral sex.

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