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‘I’m tired of faking orgasms and having rows about our sex life’

Ask Roe: You are doing too much work in the bedroom and outside it. This isn’t what a relationship of equals looks like

Dear Roe,

My partner and I have a wonderful relationship, except we are sexually incompatible. In order to avoid more arduous conversations or rows about our sexual incompatibility when something goes wrong during penetrative sex (other sexual activities are fine), I have been faking orgasms for years. He won’t do therapy so I’m sick of having the same conversations over and over. I want to stop faking without admitting I’ve been doing it all these years as he would be very upset. How do I wean myself off doing this? What do I say during sex when I want him to know I won’t orgasm so to stop trying? Even though we have our sexual problems, he is always eager to make me orgasm and I don’t want to hurt his feelings in telling him I won’t come.

I am not going give you the response that you want. Sure, I could give you a script so that you could ease out of faking orgasms in a way that preserves your partner’s feelings — but I’m not going to. Because his feelings are not my concern. Yours are. What’s deeply concerning about your letter and description of your relationship is out of the three of us — you, your partner and me, the advice columnist you’ve never met — I appear to be the only one thinking about you. And that needs to change. I’m sure facets of your relationship are lovely and that your partner has some great qualities or else you wouldn’t be with him. But your relationship, as it stands, is not “wonderful.”

You’re separating the issues you and your partner have around sex from the rest of the relationship — but they’re not separate. I’ve written it once and I will write it a thousand more times: sex is never “just” sex. Sex is about respect, communication, safety, pleasure, empathy, bodies, emotions, connection and trust. So when you write that your sex life has incompatibilities; repetitive and “arduous” conversations where you don’t feel heard; “rows”; frequent incidents where something is going “wrong”; a reliance on you faking pleasure; frequent sexual encounters where you aren’t enjoying yourself; and a partner who refuses to go to therapy where he could learn how to listen to you, empathise with you, and get some tools for you to possibly move forward together in a more equal way? That doesn’t sound wonderful to me, at all. I’m not going to lecture you for faking orgasms — many women who are partnered with men have or will fake orgasms in their lifetime.


For too long, toxic masculinity has asserted that men need to prove their sexual dominance by having sex with women

The numbers vary — a 2019 study published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour estimated that just under 59 per cent of women had faked orgasms, while a study from the University of Central Lancashire put the number closer to 80 per cent. Hearteningly, the study from the Archives of Sexual Behaviour noted that 63.7 per cent of women who had faked orgasms in the past no longer did, indicating that increased sexual education, focus on female pleasure and discourse around gender equality have empowered a lot of women to no longer pretend to feel pleasure when they do not. This is a vital shift — for men and women. For too long, toxic masculinity has asserted that men need to prove their sexual dominance by having sex with women, by being able to brag about pleasing women — but men are discouraged from actually discussing, acknowledging or learning about women’s pleasure, in formal or informal settings.

Men aren’t encouraged to get to know their female partner’s bodies, to explore, to move slowly, to learn what really works for their partners, to incorporate foreplay and sex toys and oral sex and clitoral stimulation so that they can learn about the unique ways their partners feel pleasure. Instead, the discourse around men’s prowess in bed is still focused on proving dominance through having penetrative vaginal sex and lasting a long time — neither of which is the key to most women’s orgasms. Toxic masculinity also encourages men to think of their self-worth only through dominance and achievement, encouraging a very fragile ego; teaches men to feel entitled to sex; and doesn’t acknowledge and respect women’s experiences of the world and sex. And we see the results of these toxic ideas in many heterosexual people’s sex lives. Men don’t know how to make their female partners orgasm but also feel too insecure to admit this and learn; women feel under pressure to have sex even when they don’t want to in order to keep their male partners happy; and women are faking orgasms because we have been taught to protect men’s egos over our own pleasure, reality and authenticity. Women are constantly expected to betray themselves to please and protect men. And because we are taught to think of sex as “just” sex, we are all trained to accept this inequality, this inauthenticity, this lack of connection as being a normal part of otherwise “wonderful” relationships.

These patterns may be normalised, but they don’t have to be our normal. We can rewrite these scripts. But, as ever, women cannot do this work alone. Women cannot undo the work of patriarchy and toxic masculinity when men are still invested in perpetuating it. This brings us back to you, and your question. You should not have to have sex when you do not want to. You should not have to fake pleasure that you do not feel. You should not have to have repetitive conversations — and rows! — about your sex life. You should not have to prioritise your partner’s ego over your sense of safety, connection, pleasure, authenticity and emotion, which is what is happening when you constantly fake orgasms. And you should not have to do all the work of fighting, negotiating, faking, worrying, and seeking advice for a relationship when your partner won’t even go to therapy to discuss these issues. You are doing too much work — all of the work — both in the bedroom and outside of it. What’s worse is that all this work is aimed at benefiting him, making him feel comfortable, having sex with him when he wants, stroking his ego and protecting his feelings.

This isn’t what a relationship of equals looks like. Tell your partner, unequivocally, that you are no longer having sex that you do not want, faking orgasms, or having repetitive arguments about your sex life. Tell him that your sexual life is not working for you, nor has it been working for you for a long time. Tell him that this is no longer sustainable for you, and he has to make a choice. He can choose to attend couples counselling to show that he is interested in understanding your experience of sex and your relationship and learning some tools so you can communicate better and have a sex life that feels mutually respectful — or he can choose not to do this. He can choose to do the work or not. But he must own that choice. And if he chooses not to try to mend the issues in your relationship, you should leave. Because you shouldn’t stay in a relationship where you constantly have to betray yourself, and you should not stay with a person who wants that for you. You’ve been faking orgasms — but in many ways, he’s been faking being a good partner. It’s time for both of you to get real.