‘I’ll have what she’s having’ – Developing the Faking Orgasm Scale for Women

Over 65 per cent of women are believed to have done it at least once in their lives. Magazines, TV shows and self-help books all talk about it. It features in one of the most memorable movie scenes ever.  What am I talking about? Faking orgasm, of course.

I’ve done it. I wonder if you have too?

Let’s distract ourselves from this potentially awkward moment with a study by Cooper and colleagues, who have created the Faking Orgasm Scale.

When I saw this paper I bristled at the thought of yet another tool to over-diagnose our sexual lives. Really, does it matter if we fake? Doesn’t this surveillance reduce trust and put more pressure on people?

But I liked their discussion of what orgasm might be, why pressure to ‘achieve’ ‘mind-blowing orgasms’ exists in Western culture, and who perpetuates it. (Clue: it’s not just the media, medicalisation of women’s sexual problems by the pharmaceutical industry also doesn’t help).

In a two-stage study respondents (all heterosexual women college students majoring in psychology) were asked when, why and how they faked orgasm. The researchers then narrowed this into four categories:

Altruistic Deceit (e.g. faked orgasm to make a partner happy or prevent them feeling guilty)
Fear and Insecurity (e.g. faked orgasm because they felt ashamed they couldn’t experience orgasm)
Elevated Arousal (e.g. faked an orgasm to get more turned on or increase the intensity of the experience)
Sexual Adjournment (e.g. to end a sexual encounter because of tiredness, a lack of enjoyment etc)

We tend to view faking orgasm as manipulative, whereas this research suggested that it could well play a positive role in increasing arousal. I could see an additional measure of distress being useful here to identify whether the faking was something done pleasurably to enhance sex, or an indication of other sexual or relationships problems where perhaps education or therapy might be of benefit.

A 2008 article in The Psychologist also considered orgasm

Wait! I’m sure you’ve already spotted these participants might be a bit WEIRD [Western, Educated, industrious, Rich, Democratic], so how useful is this study? The authors are up front about their research being limited by the use of a volunteer student sample, and because of this I think the Faking Orgasm Scale may be better described as a tool in development rather than an established measure.

For that to happen the scale would need further research using bi and lesbian women, Trans women, women in long term relationships, and those who are not US psychology majors. It could also broaden into sexual experiences that are not just penis in vagina intercourse or oral sex (the two activities respondents were required to have both tried and faked orgasm during).

The researchers note ‘faking orgasm… seems to have been overlooked almost entirely as a male sexual practice’ – something that future research could certainly benefit from, not least because existing qualitative work indicates faking orgasm is not unique to women and may be equally prevalent in men.

I can see therapists, researchers and healthcare providers welcoming a tool that might encourage us to open up about our sexual experiences. I could also see some practitioners taking issue with a quantified measure of complex behaviour and notions of authenticity and sexual behaviour. Me? I’d welcome anything that might allow us to talk more openly about orgasm so as to resist or reinvent the representations of perfectable sex we’re currently encouraged to aspire to.

– Further reading from The Psychologist – Orgasm.
_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Cooper EB, Fenigstein A, & Fauber RL (2014). The faking orgasm scale for women: psychometric properties. Archives of sexual behavior, 43 (3), 423-35 PMID: 24346866

Post written for the BPS Research Digest by guest host Petra Boynton, Senior Lecturer in International Primary Care Research, University College London and the Telegraph’s Agony Aunt.