Big Think’s blog Going Mental talked about orgasms this week, and I thought to myself, I can do that. I’ve even got a little help, thanks to a very creative economist at Emory University who collected data from 16,000 men and women on orgasms a few years ago. Just to make things interesting, though, the 2000 Orgasm Survey does not describe the dopamine-induced euphoria of genuine orgasms. Instead it describes the other kind of orgasms, fake ones, which women, and men, appear to pull off at surprising regularity.
The survey asked if individuals had faked an orgasm in their current relationship, how confident they are that they can tell when their lover is faking and how confident they are that they have deceived their lover into thinking they have had an orgasm, when they have not. The author uses the evidence produced by the data to support the predictions of a model in which men and women may, or may not, send false signals to their partner indicating their level of ecstasy. He calls it a “signaling model of rational lovemaking” and, while the predictions of the model are not that surprising, the data tells a good story about what people do, and do not, believe.
Approximately 26% of men have faked an orgasm in their current relationship. The explanation given for why so few men fake orgasms is that 66% of men surveyed believe that if they did fake their partner would know that he was trying to deceive her. No one likes to get caught. What is interesting though is that both men and women who love the person they are sleeping with fake more, not less. You might think that being caught by someone you love would be worse, since presumably you care that a deception will hurt their feelings, but apparently that is not the case. Of course, you are probably thinking that men fake less often because they experience the real deal more often; I don’t have the answer to that. The data shows that men fake more as they get older and less orgasmic which is at least consistent with that hypothesis.
The most interesting result of the survey is that when it comes to female faking, someone is deceiving themselves. Women fake significantly more than men, with 72% of women having faked an orgasm in their current relationship, but the majority of men claim they know when the woman they are with is faking (55%). The problem with these numbers is that one of two things must be happening. Either woman are faking orgasms even though their partners can tell, which implies that they are less convincing than they think they are, or men believe their partners are not faking when they actually are. Now you might be thinking that women know that they are not very convincing and fake anyway but the data doesn’t bear that theory out. Only 24% of women claim their partner can tell if they are faking so the vast majority of the women who are actually faking believe that they are convincing. Also, 82% of men report to having negative feelings about their partner faking, either about themselves or their partner, so if people care about their partner's feelings this is unlikely to represent arrangements where women are faking with no intent to deceive.
So are the women kidding themselves into thinking they are convincing or are the men kidding themselves into thinking it isn’t happening? I will leave it to you to what you think the answer is, since the data can take us no further.
One remaining piece of evidence that will be of interest to Dollars and Sex readers is that more educated men and women both fake more. The author postulates that perhaps educated people are either better liars, or better actors, and so can do this without being caught. My students think that educated people don’t have enough time, although I am not sure how busy you would have to be to not complete that particular task. All it makes me think is that maybe we now have an explanation as to why British lap dancers are better educated than the average Brit.
Mialon, Hugo (2010). “The Economics of Faking Ecstasy.” Working Paper.