St. Thomas University associate professor Monika Stelzl said every year she asks her students to answer a question anonymously: Have you ever faked an orgasm and why? Intrigued by the responses she read from her students, she conducted research.
“Most women reported that they feigned sexual pleasure and fake orgasm at least on occasion … so it’s definitely not an atypical or uncommon practice.”
She was one of five different speakers at Sex Talks, an event focused on sex research held during the University of New Brunswick’s Students’ Union’s Sex Week and primarily hosted by the Fredericton Campus Sexual Assault Support and Advocacy.
Many of the speakers focused on sex dynamics between men and women and sexual inequality. The speakers were Stelzl, Airica MacDougall, a UNB psychology major alumna, Sarah Craig, a fourth-year UNB psychology honours student, Kendra Wasson Simpson, the volunteer coordinator at Sexual Violence New Brunswick and Aryn Benoit a first-year PhD student in clinical psychology.
Protecting the male ego
Stelzl said faking orgasms is a common practice, especially for heterosexual women, but it’s a sexual inequality that can lead to problems.
After conducting research with STU psychology colleague Michelle Lafrance, she learned heterosexual women fake more often than heterosexual men and they do it because they want to protect their relationship or protect their male partner’s ego.
“On one hand, they are damned if they fake because they’re lying and they’re dishonest but then they are damned if they don’t fake because it has implications in terms of possibly the relationship or the sexual encounter.”
Stelzl said it puts pressure on the woman to please the man or at least pretend like he’s pleasing her.
“It is within these discourses of orgasms being the goal of sex … most of the time, and if that doesn’t happen, it presents complications that women try to navigate and negotiate,” she said.
A way to finish without finishing
Stelzl said heterosexual women don’t often know how to say no in the middle of sexual activity. They aren’t taught they can withdraw consent. It’s another reason to fake an orgasm.
She said sometimes sex is consensual but not wanted.
Both Stelzl and the next speaker, Aryn Benoit, called this mood “sexual compliance.” Because it’s unwanted, the partner might try to end the sex sooner. She said the research also showed women are more likely to engage in sexual compliance than men.
Stelzl compared it to attending a morning class.
“You will show up possibly. You said yes to showing up so that’s consent. But [do] you want to be there? Maybe not. You are kind of going, ‘Yeah, I just want it to be over.’ So it’s consensual but not necessarily wanted.”
A lack of education
Benoit said sexual compliance also arises when women or men aren’t educated on how to say they don’t want to participate in sexual activity when it’s already happening or about to happen.
She said since women typically react to men’s pursuit of sex, this can put pressure on the women to be the one to accept or reject sexual advances.
Men and women aren’t taught how to receive withdrawn consent either.
Speakers Airica MacDougall and Sarah Craig said, most 18 to 25-year-olds they surveyed said they learned about consent from media, rather than school and parents.
With a lack of education, there were negative impacts.
“People felt disrespected, used or pressured into having sex because they didn’t know about consent.”
Stelzl said she hopes discussions like this can open new conversations.
“What even is pleasure, why is orgasm so important, is it OK to just have good sex or OK sex sometimes where orgasm is not present?”
Craig said despite their research and the research they presented, a lot more still needs to be done.
“Sexual consent is an important and prominent topic.”