From the desk of Esther Perel, MA, LMFT, and modern relationship expert.
“When we first started dating, we partied and drank a lot. And when I drink, I don’t orgasm, so I got into the habit of faking it. We got married and I stopped pretending, but I never told him. And now, he can’t understand why I don’t orgasm in five minutes any more. He married this hot, young thing who was crazy for sex but essentially, I lied. I want a fulfilling sex life with my husband. How do I turn things around? Do I tell the truth?”
— Sarah, 32
It’s old news that women lie about their pleasure (or lack-thereof). When sex was primarily a woman’s marital duty, and it was all for him, she often faked orgasm to get it over with. But what are we to make of the fact that so many women in our “liberated” Western society still feel compelled to play the same game? One would think that an increased level of sexual freedom is correlated to increased honesty. Not so. Now that her orgasm is an important affirmation of his sexual prowess, women have a new reason to keep pretending. Her pleasure is proof of his masculinity and how adept he is in bed.
I see ‘faking orgasm’ as part of longstanding gender dynamics, traditional power structures, poor sexual education, and persistent myths and stereotypes about sexual performance. Chief among them, that reaching the finish line signals the deed is done. Orgasm is not just that moment of climax; it’s a full body pleasure, not just one event. Nobody is served when partners lie about their needs, preferences, and dislikes. The result is a dissatisfying sexual experience for both.
What else is wrong with this charade? Clearly, she’s not fulfilled, and lying to protect his ego maintains the status quo. He has no way of knowing that she’s isn’t fulfilled and the conversation on how to please isn’t happening. She may think her lying shields him, but in effect he remains clueless and she, frustrated as the opportunity for him to do better is squandered. Sarah and Damian are stuck in a cycle of displeasure.
If this sounds familiar, here are a few ways you can enter into a mature era of sexual connection.
Establish the Conversation
Simply state that honesty is important to you, and that your partner’s pleasure truly matters. And ask the right questions. For example:
- What do you like?
- What do you not like?
- Are there certain things that I do that you like more than others? And why?
- Are there certain things you don’t enjoy doing to me?
- Is there something we have not yet tried that you are interested in?
When Sarah is able to speak truthfully about her experience, she may not discover immediate orgasm, but she will feel liberated from the pretense, and from lying. She doesn’t have to keep it up anymore. That in itself makes her feel safer, more trusting and more open to exploring her sexuality.
Shift the focus: there is a whole person, not just genitals.
Practice giving and receiving touch in less obvious parts of the body. For example, caress the neck, arms, back of the knees or curve of the spine. The clitoris is just the tip of the volcano; women have a largely unknown network of structures responsible for arousal and orgasm. All the body parts you’ll never see focused on in porn. You can also play with energetic touch, by touching me without touching me. Let your hand just hover over the other’s body. Lastly, try having the slowest sex you’ve ever had. No matter how slow you think you are, you could probably still go slower. The point being, you are not aiming for any outcome, you are simply exploring each other’s bodies. “Pleasure is the measure” says Emily Nagoski in the highly recommended book Come as You Are.
Give active feedback.
Tell him that you want to be able to take the time you need to become aroused or to climax without worrying that it’s taking too long or that he’s getting bored. Most men, once they know, and see the pleasure you experience, are more than motivated to do it again.
I can’t express to you enough how many women have told me that the “coming out” conversation about her lying is such a turning point in her relationship and in her sexual development. And if her partner is chronically defensive and responds with counter attack, i.e. what’s wrong with you, then perhaps a therapist may be helpful, or if not, it is a sign that her partner is not ready for a mature sexual intimacy. Sarah may need to seek new arms.
Have you ever had to start a tough conversation about sex with your partner? Share your thoughts on the best way to initiate those discussions in the comments.
Esther Perel is a master trainer and an acknowledged international authority on couples, culture, and sexuality. She’s the author of the international bestseller Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.