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If You Feel Pressure To Fake Orgasms, This Article Is For You

Orgasms are often considered to be the one and only indicator of satisfying sex, but the pressure to have one can be anxiety-inducing. Here’s what to know about orgasms, why people fake them, and how to have a good time without one.

Posted on July 1, 2022, at 10:06 a.m. ET

Picture this: You’re playing dirty adult charades, and you’re up next. Your word: orgasm. You immediately pretend to scream and moan and squirm as your muscles impersonate the blissful dance of contractions that lead up to this ultimate peak.

It’s a no-brainer. Everyone guesses your word correctly. That’s because orgasms have become a stand-in for sexual satisfaction, a grand finale that porn and other media have set as an impossible standard for the average person having sex.

But orgasms don’t always look or feel as amazing as porn stars and films make them out to be. They often aren’t as quick and easy to achieve, and they definitely aren’t guaranteed after every sexual experience. (That’s true regardless of gender, although we know people with vaginas are at a slight disadvantage.)

Yet, the anxiety-inducing pressure to have one remains, often prompting people to fake orgasms or feel like something is wrong with them, either physically or psychologically.

It’s all nonsense, several sex experts we spoke to said, because as tough to swallow as it may be (pun intended), orgasms aren’t necessary for a good time. And if you do climax, it doesn’t mean that the journey there was an enjoyable (or consensual) one.

“A lot of people are hung up on orgasms, erections, and other visible examples of physiological arousal, but sex can be so much more than that,” said Nina Ruedas, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in sex therapy with a focus on the LGBTQ community. “Sometimes people place too much emphasis on orgasm in the name of having all sorts of wonderful sexual experiences because they were too caught up in goal-oriented sex.”

What is an orgasm?

It’s true that orgasms feel good. They’re the so-called pinnacle of sexual arousal, when muscles in the genitals contract rhythmically, leading to a release of tension.

That feels-so-good sensation is thanks to a rush of endorphins orgasms trigger in the body and brain, including oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin. These naturally occurring, pleasure-inducing chemicals can make you feel happy, relaxed, and sleepy, among other positive sensations.

Few people would pass up the chance for an orgasm (or two, but who’s counting) when given the opportunity, said Wendy Perkins, an orgasm and neuro-pleasure coach based in Los Angeles: That’s like settling for a “chocolate chip cookie when you can have a chocolate chip cookie with ice cream, fudge, sprinkles, and whipped cream.”

But solely focusing on orgasms and ignoring the importance of other pleasurable sensations can be a mistake.

“It’s not that orgasm is the end goal, it’s that if you're doing the right kinds of activities for you, getting the right areas stimulated, well, it’s going to happen,” Perkins told BuzzFeed News. “The truth is that if you're really feeling everything, enjoying the sensations and the pleasure of the moment, orgasms are almost inevitable.”

How you think about sex may be part of the problem

Life is about the journey, not the destination — and sex is no different. Yet, that’s not what tends to happen in the bedroom.

In research, particularly among feminist scholars, the idea that orgasms are absolutely necessary for sex to be considered normal and healthy is called the “orgasm imperative,” said Sara Chadwick, an assistant professor of gender, women's studies, and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Decades of scientific literature, Chadwick noted, have “positioned orgasm as a symbol of health and liberation,” from Sigmund Freud’s belief that women’s orgasms “reflected psychological maturity” to the push to please men in bed after World War II, and then to the women’s rights movement in the ’60s and ’70s that encouraged women to prioritize orgasms as a form of empowerment.

Put together, these ideologies make “orgasms seem essential to ‘good sex,’” Chadwick said, which begs the question, “what even is good sex, and does it always have to be pleasurable?”

Evolutionarily speaking, sex is intended to ensure our genes make it to the next generation. But we know humans, as well as animals such as bonobos, like to have some fun too. These species can have sexual interactions that are unrelated to procreation, and use them as a way to connect with others, communicate, or simply feel pleasure.

For humans, what defines sex and pleasure isn't always clear-cut, and can change dramatically from one partner to the next.

While you may never want to dabble in kink, someone else may think it necessary for a satisfying sex life. And pleasure, as we commonly think of it, doesn’t always have to be the priority; sex could be the way someone gets to relax after a long day or feel intimate with their partners.

“We assume that the point of sex is to be pleasurable, but maybe we shouldn't be assuming that it needs to be like that all the time,” Chadwick said. “At the same time, if you want to have sex and gain pleasure from it, that's something that everybody has a right to do, as long as you communicate with your partner what your needs are, and freely and willingly come to an agreement.”

Orgasms are so misunderstood

Orgasms are so sought after yet many of us don’t have a good understanding of our sexual organs and how they work. It’s a complicated feat that involves not only physical stimulation, but also mental clarity, and in some cases, emotional connection.

It’s not entirely our fault. Porn teaches people that an orgasm is easy and inevitable, and penetration is the best way to climax. (PSA: They’re not, and it isn’t.)

For example, people with a clitoris typically benefit most from “slow and pressure,” not “fast and friction,” which can set off alarms in the nervous system that harm is present, causing pain and discomfort for some people, Perkins told us. “If you rub a sore muscle really fast and hard, it's not going to release. But if you put pressure on it, the muscle relaxes,” she said. It's the same for the clitoris.

Not to mention, most people with vaginas will never be able to orgasm via penetrative sex alone, according to Dr. Maureen Whelihan, a gynecologist in Florida. “Men don’t seem to understand this,” she said, so they don’t take advantage of their hands or sex toys that can actually create pleasure.

People with penises can orgasm via penile stimulation or have a prostate orgasm with anal stimulation, which can be a more intense, whole-body experience.

For people who have a clitoris, that organ is typically the star player, but orgasms can also occur in the G-spot; it’s basically the area where the clitoris can be stimulated from the inside. However, many women don’t notice a difference in sensation there, even though the G-spot is known to swell slightly during arousal. There’s also the A-spot, Perkins said, which lies closer to the cervix, and then the cervix itself that can trigger a climax.

Less common ways to orgasm include stimulation of the nipples or throat, which are possible because of clusters of nerves in those areas, Perkins said. You can even orgasm via pure imagination, although you need to have experience climaxing to make that one happen, Perkins said.

For all of these reasons and then some, people with vaginas usually need more time to orgasm compared to those with penises, who on average take about two to four minutes upon penetration to reach the big O, according to Michele Lastella, a senior lecturer at the Appleton Institute for Behavioral Science at CQUniversity Adelaide in Australia who has studied orgasms’ relationship with sleep.

Women generally need anywhere between 14 to 20 minutes, if they orgasm at all.

In a 2017 survey of more than 52,500 adults in the US, 95% of straight men said they usually or always orgasm when sexually intimate compared with 89% of gay men, 88% of bisexual men, 86% of lesbian women, 66% of bisexual women, and 65% of straight women. For women, the survey says, an orgasm was more likely if their last sexual encounter included deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and oral sex either alone or in addition to vaginal intercourse.

Ruedas, the sex therapist who is also a member of Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, said this gap may exist because men have had more “permission” to explore and become familiar with their bodies, absent of the shame and pressures women face when doing the same.

While everyone feels this orgasm imperative, regardless of what’s in their pants, people with penises may actually feel more pressure because they have an ejaculate to show for it, Chadwick said.

But the more a man wants their partner to orgasm during heterosexual sex, the less pleasure a woman might feel, particularly if she believes that a man’s satisfaction depends on it, research suggests. These expectations end up putting loads of pressure on partners to climax, “even if that’s not necessarily the goal,” Chadwick said. (Cue, “Did you cum yet?”)

This is actually one of the reasons why many people, those with vaginas in particular, fake orgasms, Chadwick said. One small study from 2009 found that 25% of men and 50% of women have pretended to orgasm, most often during penis-in-vagina sex, but also during oral sex, manual stimulation, and even phone sex. Why? Participants said they did so because they wanted the sex to end or didn’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings.

Orgasms aren’t always “good”

It’s not uncommon to view orgasms as a token of a job well done, like some sort of MVP prize for having sex the “right way.” But in reality, they’re more like participation awards.

“Certainly, orgasms can be a very positive experience for a lot of people when they’re wanted, but it’s not because an orgasm occurs that means [an experience] was pleasurable,” said Chadwick, who, in collaboration with Sari van Anders, conducted a study on “bad orgasm” experiences during consensual sex. (A bad orgasm was defined as one that occurs when the sex was unwanted or the individual felt pressured to have an orgasm.)

The right stimulation, regardless of the circumstances, can lead to the physical reaction that is an orgasm, she said. That’s why people can climax while being sexually assaulted, when mental and physical desire is nonexistent. The same goes for exercise, which has been found to induce orgasms in women.

These “bad” orgasms stem, in part, from the physical and psychological pressure to climax during sex, Chadwick said, which can also occur during consensual yet unwanted sexual encounters, like when you’re exhausted from work but your partner just can’t keep their pants on, so you give in to please them.

Instead, the focus should be on other aspects of sexual encounters that will guarantee an overall positive experience, Chadwick said, like connecting, communicating, and exploring new activities or positions with your partner. “Interestingly, orgasm could be an added bonus to focusing on all these other elements.”

Of course, it’s easier said than done. Some people, particularly women, people with low incomes, people of color, and trans individuals, are more likely to experience coercion and agree to unwanted sex. Women of color specifically face even more disadvantages, as they are commonly fetishized and racially stereotyped.

Not everyone can orgasm

It’s up to you to determine whether orgasms are a sexual want or need, but for some people, it’s not an option.

Erectile dysfunction, when people with penises can’t maintain an erection sufficient for penetration, affects about one-third of all men globally. (Although 92% of men with ED do say they can have orgasms, according to one survey.)

There’s also delayed and premature ejaculation, the latter of which is one of the most common problems among people with penises, affecting between 3% and 30% of men. A number of factors can cause these issues, including mental health problems, alcohol or substance abuse, diabetes, high blood pressure, and aging.

People going through menopause may have more difficulty having an orgasm, too, Whelihan said, especially if they aren’t having sex regularly. The loss of estrogen causes the vaginal walls to get thinner, which can make sex more painful and orgasm less likely.

Conditions like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids in the uterus, and polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can also make it difficult to orgasm.

Some medications like beta-blockers, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and opiates can make orgasms unlikely by reducing libido or preventing your heart rate from rising to the level needed to climax, according to Whelihan. Certain medical treatments like hysterectomies and the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which is performed to treat precancerous cells or growths on the cervix, can also affect a person’s ability to orgasm.

Otherwise, people experiencing anorgasmia — the inability to orgasm — may be able to get their mojo back with the help of sex therapy or a partner change.

Trauma, whether sexual or not, could prevent someone from climaxing too, Perkins said: “Orgasms begin and end in the brain, so any time you have an experience that affects your nervous system, you can prevent your orgasm from happening.”

However, “your sexual trauma is not an indicator of your future success to orgasm,” she added. With the necessary healing work, you can regain your ability to climax during sex, she said.

Orgasms can be a one-player game

The good thing about orgasms is that you can make it happen all by yourself, and for some people, it’s a much easier and faster process.

People of all genders typically take about the same amount of time to orgasm when masturbating, according to Chadwick, but there are apparent differences when comparing masturbation to intercourse.

A survey of over 2,300 women found that the average time it took to reach orgasm during masturbation was eight minutes, compared to 14 minutes during partnered sex, with participants focusing more on pleasure during solo time versus caring more about intimacy and trust when with a partner.

Chadwick said other research supports that finding because orgasm is often the goal of masturbation, whereas sex with a partner can serve other purposes.

The same survey also found that nearly 60% of women feel their orgasms from partnered sex are more satisfying than those from masturbation. But beware: This is a fragile dynamic, because how you masturbate may affect how much pleasure you gain from sex with a partner.

Perkins said people who regularly have sex with others should masturbate in ways that are most similar to how their partnered sex occurs. So if you like to have penis-in-vagina sex, try using a dildo instead of a vibrator, she recommended.

Or don’t. Whatever tickles your pickle!