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We joke about women faking orgasms both because it’s common and because public perception suggests they do it to stroke the egos of clueless boyfriends. New research suggests a much more upsetting reason for the deception: to end unwanted sex.


In an upcoming study presented this week at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women, researchers at Ryerson University and St. Thomas University, both in Canada, interviewed women about why they faked orgasms. All of the women had been recruited to talk about consensual sex, and yet all of them also spoke about an experience where the sex was unwanted.

It’s important to note, according to the researchers, that none of the women used words like “rape” or “coercion,” even though the sex they described could reasonably be categorized that way. Instead, they merely described it as “bad sex”—a bland word usually associated with disappointing sex, rather than sex that people feel is beyond their control. Participants said that faking orgasm was one way of exerting more control and getting out of sex when there didn’t seem to be other options available.


Only 15 women between ages 19 and 28 were interviewed, which is pretty skimpy. But the fact that all of them chose to talk about this experience, even within the context of being interviewed about something else, is meaningful. And the coded language they use suggests that maybe we should all be more sensitive when hearing stories about what might sound like laughable “bad sex.”

The results from this study build on previous research that developed a“faking orgasm scale” to describe the different reasons women might be faking it. The scale includes reasons such as “altruistic deceit” (to make the partner feel better), “elevated arousal” (what it sounds like), and yes, the exact thing confirmed by this study: fear and insecurity around the encounter itself.