Is Faking an Orgasm Anti-Feminist?

BlogHer Original Post

There's a lot going on in my life these days. My apartment is a mess due to renovations that I am convinced will never end; I need a job; I didn't use my time as an unemployed person to write a best-selling book; I don't understand why Americans hate it when people want basic rights and let themselves be co-opted by special interest groups; I feel like I can't read a newspaper without wanting to poke my eyes out (or run away and live as a hermit in a cave); etc., etc. Usually, when I am frustrated, I become completely preoccupied with whatever is stressing me out, and it permeates all areas of my life. However, I've been surprised to find that my libido declared, "carpe diem," and moved ahead despite my typical one track mindedness.

I didn't think about what was (or wasn't) going on in my bedroom (or living room or a hotel room, depending on the state of the apartment renovation) until I came across an interview with Gloria Vanderbilt in New York Magazine one day while hunched over a tiny folding table, trying to eat, read, and not spill food on myself. Vanderbilt recently wrote an erotic novel, and the article noted:

She’s also become a staunch advocate of not faking orgasms, which Priscilla does for her whole marriage [in the novel] and Vanderbilt admits she’s done, too. “But not recently,” she says. “Growing up, so many of us really got a sense of ourselves through the man that we were married to, and that’s very sad."

Huh. I knew that faking orgasms can be very common among my fellow females, but how many women admit that they do it in public? Back in 2005, Will Doig at Nerve interviewed Maureen Dowd about her book, Are Men Necessary?, and asked her if she'd be willing to say she'd ever faked one, and she said, "No. That is way, way, way too personal." I suppose it also depends if one would admit to faking it if she cared about her partner's (or ex-partner's) feelings on the matter.

The National Arts Clubs Literary Committee Honors Joyce Carol Oates

Three years ago, feminist Fay Weldon posited in her book, What Makes Women Happy, that the ladies should just give up on trying to have orgasms and fake it to make their male partners happy. This advice did not sit well with FatMammyCat, who woke her paramour up to discuss:

"Listen to this! ‘Eighty per cent of women only sometimes - or never - experience orgasm. Facts are facts and there we are. Deal with it,' she writes in What Makes Women Happy?... Who, who the hell did she ask? She didn't as me! I bet she didn't ask anyone I know, I bet she didn't ask anyone, what is she basing this 'fact' on? Hum? Hum? That's what I'd like to know."

"Who cares what she-"

"This kind of thinking gets on my wick, it belittles everyone, men and women alike," I snarked, shaking the paper furiously, "imagine, must we tippy-toe around everything? What a stupid woman that Fay Weldon is, as if any man just wants a performance based of sympathy and pity. And then when they don't measure up we're to pat them on the head like a labrador, 'Nice try here's a bone, sorry you couldn't get one.' Hah! Nonsense, what a stupid person she has become."

It turns out that Fatmammycat and Gloria Vanderbilt have a lot in common with feminists around the blogosphere, none of whom seem inclined to fake it (or if they do, they follow Maureen Dowd's lead and keep their lips sealed about it). Consensus holds that it does no one any good to fake orgasms. Amanda at The Undomestic Goddess has an excellent pop culture example, a la Seinfeld:

Elaine prided herself at being so good that no man could tell she didn’t orgasm, which ultimately left Jerry and George feeling inadequate about their own ability to satisfy a woman. But in faking, Elaine is only doing herself a disservice, and a disservice to women everywhere; not only is she left unsatisfied, but the man she’s with thinks that his tactics worked, and may be dumbfounded when a more outspoken woman tells him the truth, wondering what’s wrong with this woman, since all the others before had no problem. A similar idea is the subject of a Sex and the City episode (of course) where Miranda gets into the habit of faking. Upon learning the truth, her partner eagerly tries to learn what works; so too does Jerry beg Elaine for “just half an hour” to get it right. See ladies, if you ask, you shall receive. No need to put on a show.

Courtney at Feministing, goes one step further in her analysis. Not only does it do people a disservice to fake orgasms, but:

It is your feminist duty to 1) seek pleasure and feel entitled to it and 2) to make the world a more orgasmic place for other women.

Hmmm... now I feel a lot of pressure to perform. When the issue is framed as a feminist duty or as a disservice to other women, it makes me wonder why anyone would have sex in the first place. It just sounds like too much potential work; there's no way out if you just aren't going to climax, no matter how much you want to. Just kidding - of course, women like Amanda and Courtney don't mean it that way, and they are right - women deserve as much pleasure as men when it comes to sex. So, why fake it? Kelsey Wallace at Fun with Feminism offered theories about why women shake and fake:

Theory 1: Women don't want to hurt their partner's feelings
If the sex is consensual and not being paid for, we can assume that both partners want to please each other (at least somewhat). Although many women cannot orgasm, or need outside help to orgasm, they may think that admitting this will hurt their partner's feelings and make him/her feel like an inadequate lover. To avoid dealing this possible self-esteem blow, women fake orgasms, therefore sending the message to their partner that they are an excellent lover (even if they aren't).

Theory 2: Women are afraid that they will disappoint their partner
I think many people (men and women alike) are operating under the assumption that sex is all about the big O. While I am sure many women individually do not feel this way, they assume that their partner does and are afraid they will disappoint him/her if they admit that they do not really care about achieving orgasm all of the time. For many women, sex can be just as enjoyable without an orgasm, but they think their partner won't understand so they fake it to let him/her know they are enjoying the sex.

Theory 3: Women are frigid and just want to get the whole thing over with
A lot of the discussions I have had on this topic so far come back to this theory, that women just want to get the sex over with as soon as possible, and faking an orgasm is the best way to do it. Of course, this assumes that the women doing the faking do not enjoy sex for some reason, and do not feel comfortable admitting that to their partner.

Theory 4: Women have a hard time orgasming and still want their partner to know they appreciate his/her efforts
If a woman's partner has been trying to turn her on all night and she wants to let him/her know that she appreciates it, she might fake an orgasm instead of just saying it's not going to happen.

I feel like Theories 1,2, and 4 are variations on the same theme that Vanderbilt and Weldon mention: women fake it because, more than anything, we are supposed to please men.

Note that all of these theories and comments on faking orgasms are heterosexist. How common is it for lesbians to fake orgasms with their partners? If it is true that women in general have a harder time climaxing than men, and if a woman fakes it to spare her partner's feelings, one would think that the same high rate of faking it would apply to lesbian relationships. However, as Manadabomb at The Iced Tea Diaries wrote in her summary of Mary Roach's excellent book, Bonk, "Homosexuals have the best sex... so says a study. Simply because of Gender Empathy." (Incidentally, the book also noted that lack of orgasms in women were frequently caused by inadequate foreplay, and same-sex couples take more time for foreplay than partners of the opposite sex. Hmmmmm....)

My research on the topic of whether faking orgasms is anti-feminist (a question posed directly to Dowd in her interview, on which she demurred that it was not) has brought up some, uh, graphic illustrations on the world wide web. (It also reminded me how much I love Mary Roach - check out her talk on 10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm.) At any rate, I'll wrap up before I get kicked out of my school computer lab for looking at porn/inappropriate material on their computers. (I tried writing this post at home, but painters were in the next room, and the combination of their presence and their activity - scraping paint off my bedroom wall - did not make for a conducive research environment.) I don't think that faking an orgasm is an anti-feminist act. There are too many complex reasons why a woman might resort to faking. At the same time, it would clearly be much better if so many women didn't feel the need to fake it.

What an anti-climaxtic ending, right? Or maybe you are braver than I am and will use the comments to admit whether or not you fake it and why....

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants. Her first book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track, is about unusual things to see and do in NYC.

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