"When Harry Met Sally"

Ever since Harry met Sally the world has been aware that women fake orgasms. A new study helps us understand why.

“We know a lot more about what people do sexually than about what motivates them to do it,” said Breanne Fahs, an associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University and lead author on the study.

“This research attempts to prioritize women's narratives about orgasm to fill in some of these gaps,” she said. In other words: real women, real stories and real reasons why they fake it.

Fahs’s research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Culture, Health and Sexuality, is driven by in-depth interviews with 20 women—a dozen who identified as straight and 8 who said they were bisexual or lesbian—between the ages of 18 to 59.

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She learned that 15 of her participants had faked the Big O, and nine did so often.

These numbers check out with earlier findings that upward of 80 percent of women have faked an orgasm at some point in their lives, with many doing so regularly. Women generally orgasm far less frequently than men (69 percent of the time they have sex, compared with 95 percent, according to one study), so if there’s “oohing” and “ahhing” at the end of every session, well…you do the math.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Fahs sat down with these women for several hours, rather than having them check a box on a survey—hence the small sample size—and she was able to zero in on three key reasons why women feign fireworks in the first place.

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1. They don’t want their partner to feel bad — or worse, like a failure

In the study Fahs found that women often fake orgasms to “reinforce their partner’s sexual skills”—out of concern their partner might feel inadequate for not being able to provide the ultimate climax.

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“Sometimes just because I want to get it over with I just make them feel better. Like, ‘Yayyyy,’ or whatever. I want them to feel like they accomplished something with me,” said Angelica, 32, during her interview with Fahs.

This mentality allows women to protect their relationship by protecting their partner’s ego.

“I fake my orgasms, I do, yes,” Shantele, another participant in the study, told Fahs. “Sometimes some guys are very insecure and they feel like if I’m not coming they didn’t do their job.”

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Or as one 29-year-old woman told Fusion in an email, sometimes faking it can serve as positive reinforcement—it’s like cheer-gasming. “I rarely fake an orgasm in my current relationship, but there were a few times at the beginning when I did, mostly because I was not relaxed enough to have a real one,” she wrote. “He was doing all the right things and the sex was great so I didn't want to discourage him.”

2. They want the sex to be over with, like yesterday.

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In her interviews, Fahs found that faking an orgasm is also used as an exit strategy—what she calls “strategically ending sexual interactions”—when women aren’t enjoying sex.

“I fake it just to get it over with,” said Florence, a 38-year-old bisexual woman in Fahs’ study. “You don’t want it at all and it’s sad. I just want it to end, but you can’t say ‘Stop! We’re done.’ I’m not a hurtful person.”

Inga, a 24-year-old participant, echoed the sentiment. “I faked an orgasm to get the guy off of me, just because I was done and wasn’t into it.”

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Simply not being in the mood is just one of many factors that can cause a woman to lose interest. Others include lack of attraction, pain (self-lubrication is not limitless, folks), exhaustion, boredom, stress or, in some cases, just really bad sex.

As one 35-year-old woman not involved in the study explained to Fusion, “The times that I have faked it was because I just felt like the guy was going very hard, and that gets old after 10 minutes. Guys feel like the harder they go the faster you have an orgasm. Nothing could be further from the truth!”

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Of course, this type of bad sex is more likely to happen during one-night stands—which is when women report the fewest orgasms—and marks another instance when women tend to fake it just to make it stop.

“I feel like that's the go-to move during a drunk hookup that you realized was a mistake,” a 28-year-old woman told Fusion. “Next time, just go with late-night pizza.”

3. They feel abnormal (and judged) for not being able to orgasm.

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Last but not least, Fahs found that some women faked it because they felt ashamed for not being able to come—as if an inability to orgasm was solely their responsibility and had nothing to do with their partner.

“I’ve struggled with this for a long time because I always hear how women have orgasms all the time during sex. I never seem to from intercourse alone so I always have to fake it,” said Hannah, a 57-year-old participant in Fahs’ study. “I don’t want him to know that I’m one of those women who can’t get aroused from a penis inside her.”

Feelings of guilt or inadequacy during sex are common. As one 28-year-old explained to Fusion, “I have never faked an orgasm—I just have left some guys feeling like, ‘Ugh what is wrong with you?’”

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The truth is, as Fahs and many others have pointed out, the road to climaxing varies among women, and it’s up to them and their partners to figure out what works.

For example, some women strictly need clitoral stimulation to climax. In fact, a recent study published in Clinical Anatomy claims the infamous G-spot—and thus, vaginal orgasms—doesn’t even exist.

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Indeed, another study claimed that the mind that holds the key to a female orgasm. Specifically, the more relaxed and comfortable a woman is, and the more she can focus on her body and erotic thoughts, the more likely she is to come.

One common theme? Regardless of the reason, not coming is not uncommon.

What does it all mean?

The takeaway here is that faking orgasms happens when lines of communication are broken—specifically, when women don’t feel comfortable telling their partners why they aren’t coming.

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Which is why, as Fahs tells Fusion, her research is so important.

“This research helps women to have better sex lives by putting women into communication with each other about these important topics,” she said. “Too often, conversations about orgasms are invisible and silent.”

So ladies, the next time you don’t come, consider talking to your partner. Because sex is more fun when everyone’s getting off.

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Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.