In a classic scene from When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan demonstrated her ability to convincingly fake sexual satisfaction in a crowded restaurant, striking fear in the heart of her co-star Billy Crystal, and men everywhere. But, according to two new studies, women aren't the only ones faking it. (Watch the When Harry Met Sally scene.) Here, a brief guide to the findings:
What did the studies find?
That a significant number of men fake orgasms, too. In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Men's Health and Women's Health magazines, 17 percent of male respondents said they had done it. In another recent study, psychologists at the University of Kansas reported that, among 200 college students, 25 percent of the men — and 50 percent of the women — had faked orgasms at some point. Surprisingly, those who had were more sexually experienced than those who hadn't, and more likely to have climaxed, for real, through masturbation or intercourse. "When sex is a performance ... it's problematic," says human sexuality expert Dr. Carol Ellison. "If you change the goal of sex to creating mutual pleasure ... sex will be a whole different experience."
Why are men faking it?
The University of Kansas study found that the most common reasons were that they wanted sex to end or that they realized they were unlikely to orgasm, in some cases because they were drunk or bored or on medication. Fifty percent of the men surveyed also reported faking it to avoid "negative consequences," such as hurting their partners' feelings. Eighty percent of females who had pretended to reach orgasm cited that as a reason. That could be partly related to the study's focus on relatively inexperienced, embarrassment-prone college students. "If faking it to some degree isn't a defining trait of youthful sex lives," says Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon, "then I don't know what is."
But, wouldn't there be a lack of evidence for a man faking an orgasm?
"Men go through some of the same theatrics that women go through," says Michele Promaulayko, editor-in-chief of Women's Health magazine. "Physically, it's harder to pull off, but if you are having safe sex [using a condom], it's not that obvious." This is one reason why male faking has rarely been studied, says Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience. Researchers haven't paid much attention to "artificial orgasm" in men, she says, because "it's tougher for men to fake ejaculation than it is for women to fake a few moans."
Is this a new phenomenon?
Well, it may be on the rise. Dr. Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor, says at CNN.com that he's seeing an increasing number of men who say they are taking longer to reach orgasm or never get there at all. He attributes this rise to the proliferation of SSRI-based antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil, which can affect a man's ability to reach climax. He also blames "the rapid proliferation of Internet porn." The availability of so much "sexual novelty," Kerner says, is "making it harder for [some men] to reach peak levels of sexual arousal with their real-world partners."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The one thing the New Atheists get right about religion
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The uncomfortable truth in The Giving Tree
- The simple trick to making better decisions in every aspect of life
- Syrian women know how to defeat ISIS
- Why America needs more billionaires
- The U.S. government is actually trouncing Ebola. When will it get credit?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Why 2014 may be as good as it gets for the Republican Party
Subscribe to the Week