A Faking Farewell
Heather Corinna replies:
I've been in a relationship with my current boyfriend for a year now, and we've been having sexual intercourse for around 8 months. Throughout this time, I have NEVER reached an orgasm through sex, but because I thought I was the weird abnormal one, and was afraid of how my boyfriend may react, I since have faked it every single time which we have had sex. Sex is alright, but I now just want to tell him. But how do I explain to him that this isn't his fault without him being hurt and upset? Please help me because I really don't know what to do!
Before I say anything else, I want to make sure you know how typical it is to not reach orgasm from vaginal intercourse for receptive partners. I don't want to reinvent the wheel here since we've addressed this a lot, so I'll just give you basics on that, followed by some links if you want more information about it.
The short of the long of it is that for folks with vaginas, somewhere around seventy and eighty percent do not reach orgasm through intercourse alone, even though the majority of people with penises who have that kind of sex usually do (but not all of them do, either). The minority of women who do reach orgasm that way also don't usually orgasm that way every time. When intercourse is all or most of what's going on, that's not how you're most likely to orgasm, not because you're abnormal, but mostly because that activity, all by itself, is a lot less likely than other activities to provide the kind of stimulation -- genital and otherwise -- that most commonly elicits orgasm.
Most receptive partners who reach orgasm while having intercourse do because there is way more going on than just intercourse. More is going on for them both before intercourse begins and/or during intercourse, where other sexual activities are added to intercourse or done before, like receptive manual sex (using the hands and fingers on the genitals) or oral sex, masturbation, the use of sex toys, kissing, full-body stroking or other things, including what we can do with things like using language and fantasy during sex. As well, folks who do also are usually being clear with partners about what feels good and doesn't, and those partners are responding to that information in what they're doing and how they're doing it, rather than just doing what feels good to them with no real regard for the other person present and what they find feels good.
It's also worth noting that when penis-in-vagina intercourse is all that's going on, you're probably a lot less likely to be aroused enough because that activity by itself often isn't all that stimulating, and you may even find that intercourse sometimes feels painful or even feels like almost nothing at all. To boot, many people feel pressure around vaginal intercourse and how it goes in a relationship, or have something going on in the emotional dynamics of their relationship with intercourse that have an impact on pleasure. For instance, some folks sex lives with a partner where only intercourse is going on or getting center stage can make them feel like the whole rest of them is being disregarded or like sex is only about their partner, not about them. Other folks can experience dynamics that aren't exciting or comfortable for them that go on with or around intercourse, like certain gender roles.
Of course, some folks just feel bored with a sex life that's only or mostly intercourse. Just like if you ate the same soup three times a day, every day, and had no other meals you'd probably stop getting pretty excited about eating, people who have the same kind of sex every single time have a hard time getting very excited about it.
If you want to know more about the why of lack of orgasm with intercourse, here are those links for you:
- The Great No-Orgasm-from-Intercourse Conundrum
- I can't orgasm from intercourse and it's ruining my relationship!
- Two women, two partners, and four folks frustrated with intercourse.
- I can't orgasm from intercourse and we can't stop fighting about it!
- With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body
Maybe you didn't know all that until now or recently. Maybe your boyfriend still doesn't know that. So, one thing you'll want to do is be ready to fill him in. Just like you could not know, after all, the same goes for him. A lot of people drive themselves bonkers around this, and wind up in situations like you have, with silence and/or with faking orgasm or interest. Some folks either never learn about this, or do find out about it, but still keep themselves stuck, faking it for decades.
I'm assuming, based on context, that when you say "sex" you mean intercourse, even though that's just one kind of sex. But if by sex you mean more than one kind of sex, I also want you to know that no kind of sex always or ever brings everyone to orgasm, or is something everyone likes or likes every time.
It's common for it to take a while to find out what we enjoy, how we enjoy it best and how to reach orgasm, especially for folks who haven't spent a good deal of time masturbating before partnered sex or who don't yet feel comfortable in their own sexual bodies and with their own sexuality. It's also common for it to take people a while to reach orgasm with new sexual partners or when sex is something new to them, especially when they're not communicating well together -- which includes actually talking with your mouth, not just with your body language -- about what feels good and what doesn't, what they like and don't, what they do and don't want and need. If you're not mixing it up a lot in your sex life and trying new and different things, that's another barrier to pleasure and orgasm. And if people are communicating but aren't putting what they learn from communication into action, that's yet one more barrier. By all means, feeling scared and unable to be honest at all is a big barrier.
I am not going to tell you that being honest with your boyfriend about having faked is going to be easy because I can't imagine it ever would be. Being honest about being dishonest is always hard, even when the reason you were dishonest was to try and be kind to someone, rather than a dishonesty out of malice or to avoid responsibility. Being honest about being dishonest with sex can also be especially loaded.
I can tell you that I'm sorry you've felt the need to fake it. I can tell you why I think it's important you tell him about it, and I can give you give you some help and support to go with your gut and tell him like you want to.
When people have or show any kind of sexual response, it gives sexual partners big cues about what feels good to that person. When we're responding in a way that's for real, that's great, because paired with verbal communication about what feels good, it helps our partners learn what we like. Only responding in ways that are real is a big part of the difference between a good sex life and a crappy one.
When people fake orgasm or other sexual responses, it still gives partners those cues. It just gives them wrong cues. It tells partners you respond to something in a way that you don't, like something to a degree that's not real, and if they don't know you're faking, and you also don't talk about what's really going on, they're going to tend to keep doing whatever brought about those responses because they, since you have effectively told them so or shown them so, think those are the right things to be doing to please you.
In order for your sex life to get better, and in order for you two to actually really get and be intimate sexually, he needs to know that the information you have been giving him has been wrong information. He needs for you to start giving him accurate information about what goes on with you sexually.
Before you talk about this with him, I would first check in with yourself and take stock of why you've been faking. You need to do that in order to know what to talk about, but also to figure out what you need to feel able to be honest moving forward. I believe you when you say it was about concern for his feelings and I understand how that could have seemed like your only option. I also suspect some of why may be because you were just hoping you could fake it until it started happening so you didn't have to. You also may have because you figured something was wrong with you neither of you could fix, so you'd just act in such a way so that he could still enjoy himself even though you were not, or weren't enjoying yourself the way you were pretending to.
But I'd also make sure that you feel able to be honest with sex in your relationship period, and check in on a couple other things, too. For instance, do you feel happy and secure in this relationship? Do you think your boyfriend is secure enough in it and himself to be having a sexual relationship which will pretty much always include people's bodies not doing what he or a partner wants, or people sometimes not being into something he is? Do you feel like you respect your partner in the sense that you feel he doesn't need you to protect him from reality, or from him ever feeling disappointed (which we all will feel with sex sometimes)? Do you also feel like it would be okay for you to not reach orgasm, or like your partner would not handle that well? Do you feel like your partner is good about being willing to explore and spend time with a whole range of sexual activities, not just intercourse? Are you also willing in that department? Is the pace of sex feeling okay for you in this relationship and your own sexuality, or might you have moved and still be moving faster than the place you're really at, or faster than is working for you? When it comes to what sex you have and when you have it, do you feel like things are pretty balanced with you both initiating sex as a whole, and initiating certain activities, or is it more one-sided?
You say sex is alright, but is it ever more than alright? Is it ever awesome? Are you actually enjoying yourself, despite not reaching orgasm? One common reason people fake is because they just want sex they are not into, or stopped being into, to be over already.
If you think any of that or anything else was part of what is going on, I'd bring those things up in the conversation. I think it's important you take responsibility for faking, and whatever you feel made you fake that really isn't about him, but it's also important for you two to be aware of all of why this has been going on and to share responsibility in the areas where it was about both of you, not just one of you. Otherwise, it's going to be mighty hard for you to behave differently and to experience sex together differently.
I'd suggest you open this conversation by asking for a time to talk when you can have privacy and plenty of time. I'd let him know you have something you need to talk to him about around sex, and that you know it's not going to be an easy conversation for either of you, so want to make sure you can have it in the best context possible. When you do get that time, I've written out some talking points you can consider that will probably address most of the issues and help get you both to a better space with this moving forward. Maybe you'll use them just like they are (minus some of my weirdo sex educator lingo, no doubt), or maybe they'll just be ideas you take in your own direction: whatever feels most true, real and right for you in this and in the dynamics of your relationship is the way to go.
1) You have been faking orgasm, and have not yet reached orgasm (either with intercourse, or with him, period: whatever the truth is). You are and were very bothered by being dishonest in that way and are sorry that you were. It's hard for you to be honest now, and you still worry about hurting his feelings, like so many people who fake orgasm do. But you have faith that he's a mature person who can manage his own feelings and understands that sex, for anyone, is not always going to be awesome, and you think being dishonest is more hurtful to your relationship. You hope that being honest now, and making a commitment to be honest moving forward, will not only improve sex for both of you and bring you closer, but that it can help make up for not being honest in the past.
If he wants to talk about how he feels about you having faked, this would be the time to let him voice his feelings and to respond to them. I'd make sure to give him permission to feel upset and be upset if he is and let him know you're here to listen to him voice those feelings.
2) This isn't all his fault, and you want to take responsibility for your own choices and actions. If you haven't already, this is the place where you can talk about the reasons why you faked, including some of the things that might be about things he is -- or isn't -- doing and about shared issues. You can communicate that sex with a partner is always a learning process, and you bungled it some here by giving him wrong cues because you didn't know what was going on or what to do, and you thought faking was the best way to keep from hurting his feelings. You recognize now that was a bad call and hope he can forgive it, perhaps by recognizing that you're just learning here, so are bound to make some mistakes, like everyone does. (And everyone really does, I promise. Not just you.)
If it seems like you two need to unpack feelings, ideas or expectations around you or him getting sex "right" every time, or about either of you making mistakes, this would be a good place to do that.
3) You have no expectation he can know what works for you and doesn't unless you tell him and show him honestly, like hopefully he's doing and will do for you, and moving forward, to intend to always do that.
This point would be a good place to talk about how you have and have not communicated during and about sex, and to brainstorm a little about ways you think you both can improve communication. I'll leave you some links at the end of my answer here to give you more information around your question as a whole, including one on how to improve sexual communication.
4) You want to make sure you both recognize, which it sounds like you didn't before, that sex together isn't about either of you feeling like the expert, it's not about just validating someone, and it's not about only doing what one person wants or likes or doing the sexual activities you think other people do that you're supposed to also do.
You want to know and communicate that instead, it's about an ongoing process of exploring and enjoying each other, in whatever ways you both do, which are going to be unique to you both as individuals and unique to your relationship. Sex isn't one-size-fits-all, where everyone does and enjoys the same things, or does and enjoys any given thing the same way, and a lot of people don't know that or don't figure that out for a long time. Some folks never do, sadly. Sex is something we create and experience in very diverse ways. As well, while sex can give our self-esteem a boost (or a hit), it's not the right place for anyone to be looking for all or most of their self-esteem, or to hold up a partner's esteem by themselves. In order to be ready to be sexual with people in a way that will work for us and them, we've got to have pretty good esteem already and feel pretty confident in ourselves. We also have to have confidence that our partners can take care of themselves just as well, if not better, as we can care for them, and only chose partners we know are capable of that. We have to be comfortable being very vulnerable and sometimes having our sense of self, our relationship, or our sexuality challenged, because that's going to happen sometimes.
If one kind of sex isn't enjoyable, any one time or all around, even when you are honest and experiment to see if it can become so, you both can agree that's not the kind you'll have, and will keep experimenting to discover what kinds of sex and what kind of sex life does feel great for both of you, with or without orgasm (though the feeling great part is usually necessary to reach orgasm).
This talking point can be a good place to take some time to talk about both of your expectations around sex together, be it all kinds or just intercourse. If you do, you might even get the opportunity to find out that you don't need to have some of the concerns that made you feel like you had to fake it.
5) I also think that what happened, and talking about it, can be a great opportunity to talk about the pressures of sex. Even when the people having sex aren't directly pressuring each other, we all experience pressures with it because of messages we pick up about sex from friends, family, previous partners, our communities and, in a huge way, the media.
For instance, your boyfriend probably feels some pressure from messages he's gotten about having an erection every time he or a partner wants him to have one, or about staying hard for a certain period of time. He probably feels pressures from messages he gets about pleasing partners and getting the to orgasm, just like you probably have experienced yourself. You probably both have experienced feelings of pressure around having intercourse, period, but also around it being super-amazing for everyone, and everyone having orgasm that way. A lot of heterosexual people feel pressure to have intercourse that always reflects the whole value of their relationship or their feelings for a partner, which is a whole lot to ask of a little bit of friction.
Heck, he might even get the pressure to fake orgasm during intercourse: while studies have typically found that in relationships between men and women, far more women than men fake orgasm regularly, others have found that just as many men as women have faked it at least once. (And if it makes you feel any better, the most common reason listed in studies and surveys about this for faking is always wanting to spare a partner's feelings. You're not alone in that.)
All of these messages are pervasive and can impact people's sexuality, even though these messages and others like them usually are not based in reality, but in people's ideals or fantasies. Just unpacking them, especially together, can go a long way towards having them effect you less and improving your sex life and/or your own feelings about and experiences with sexuality.
Obviously, this is a lot to talk about at once, so this may be more like a series of conversations rather than just one. You might also find it helpful to use this tool together a little down the line to help you identify and share activities and dynamics you both really do find exciting and as a help with communicating more openly and honestly.
I hope these conversations go well for you and lead both of you to a better dynamic. I think it's great you're putting value on being honest and taking a positive step to get out of a crummy habit, even though it feels scary to do. I feel confident that being honest is the right thing for you to do, and that even if your boyfriend doesn't have the greatest reaction, taking this step is going to make you feel a lot better and much more likely to have and create a sexuality and sex life you feel better about and enjoy a lot more.
Here are those extra links for you: