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Dear How to Do It,
I don’t really like having orgasms. Or, rather, I find them pleasant enough when I masturbate, but during sex, it’s usually inconvenient.
I get really oversensitive, have to stop whatever I’m doing, and immediately feel like I need to pee or even get a stomachache. If I’m alone then that’s whatever, if I’m with someone else it’s so annoying to me I’d rather not come at all. As a result, when I’m having sex… I fake it, technically.
If something makes me feel really good in a particularly intense way or that reaches a “peak” of intensity, I sometimes play up my reaction to it—moaning loader, clenching down more, basically broadcasting that it’s really satisfying as if I’m coming. None of this feels inauthentic to me—I really am having a fantastic time, my partner is doing exactly what I want in bed to make me feel satisfied, and I’m just trying to communicate that. I realize that technically what I’m experiencing isn’t what corresponds to “orgasm” in the traditional sense, but it feels like the thing that’s unethical/bad about faked orgasms isn’t what’s happening here. Also, OK, I’ve verbally led my partner to believe that this reaction corresponds to orgasm for me, which I feel bad about; initially, this choice was a holdover from a previous relationship with worse communication.
Now, I just don’t want to reveal that actually, none of those were “real” orgasms, but that it’s OK because I hate coming and don’t want anything in our sex life to change; that seems like a bad way to keep our sex life from changing. Honestly, it feels like I should just get to decide that “coming” means what I want it to mean since for my partner the relevant point is that it’s a condition where I feel really good and sexually satisfied.
Am I doing something terribly unethical here by misleading my partner? Or do I get to just redefine what climax means to me so that it can correspond to something I actually want?
—Faking It or “Faking It”
Rich: I think that this person has a good handle on her situation. You do get to define what pleasure means for you, and there’s a scale. An orgasm is going to present differently in everybody, and so effectively what she’s feeling and responding to, and the entire point of the display, has the exact same weight and reason as it would if she were enjoying these orgasms.
Stoya: Yeah. The only thing that I take issue with is then verbally leading the partner to believe, whatever that means, that this reaction is an orgasm. Because if she hadn’t said that, then I would 100% percent be like, yeah you’re moaning, clenching down, and broadcasting because you want your partner to know that you’re feeling good. And maybe in an ideal world, there is a discussion about orgasm and who wants it, and what feeling good means to the writer. But I would be totally fine with just like, “Yeah, we’ve been married for 20 years, and we’ve never spoken about it, and everything’s fine.” I would be like, “OK, that’s the life you chose.”
So I do think this “how to reveal it” is something that we should tackle. I think it really is up to them, but the downside to not saying anything is it could be revealed in the future. And if you think the conversation after keeping this secret for a few months is unpleasant, it’s going to be likely world-shattering a decade in.
Rich: I also think it’s really a nuanced point of, what I’m expressing is a certain pleasure, but it’s not exactly the pleasure that I’m representing it to be. But it’s basically as good as an orgasm, or it’s where that fits in this scheme for me right now. That’s such a nuanced point that I almost feel like the deception might hit harder because you’re like halfway there.
I’m thinking how I would feel to hear it from a partner. I would find that very confusing if that was going on for, as you say, 10 years—years and years I’m understanding that there’s a certain reaction that’s happening. So I tend to agree that either you’re signing up for a lifetime of this, don’t verbally mention the orgasm thing again, or it’s time to have the conversation to really set things straight.
Again, as it often stands with this column, so much of what letter writers write to us, they could then present to their partner, with some judicious editing and some touchy-feely compassion to orient things. You know, prop it up on pillows. You could talk a lot about this if you feel like it, and I think that the very existence of the letter implies a certain desire to do so. She’s working it out, right? She’s basically setting up the problem, but then defending herself over it.
Stoya: Yeah. It’s what we do as humans. We’re all prone to it.
Stoya: So I think to directly answer the questions: I don’t think something terribly unethical has been done here. Maybe it’s inconveniently unethical? And our writer does get to redefine what climax means to them so it corresponds to something they want. But I think this needs to be a consensus definition with the people they’re having sex with.
Rich: I wonder if framing it in such a way where it’s like, “Look. My orgasms are not exactly what you might think of when you think of orgasms.” Or maybe like, “My orgasms,” in scare quotes, “are not exactly that. But I don’t want anything to change. I love this. I just feel like maybe you should be aware that this isn’t exactly what I’ve represented it to be, but that doesn’t mean that I’m being inauthentic.” That could be tough information to receive just from the perspective of a man who doesn’t really necessarily understand what we’re talking about when we’re dealing with women’s orgasms.
Stoya: Yeah. I was just thinking about Annie Sprinkle’s Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm, where she talks about all the different kinds of orgasms that she is aware of. I’m wondering if our writer maybe would recognize one of those kinds of orgasm as what they’re experiencing as making them feel really good in a particularly intense way, or that reaches a peak of intensity. What I learned is, there’s this spectrum of orgasms—a galaxy, even. It could be that what the letter writer thinks of as orgasm is something that’s on the very intense end of Annie’s spectrum.
So that’s another thing to maybe think through before you go to your partner and say, “Hey. I’ve redefined what climax means to me.” Maybe the conversation is, “Hey, I need to tell you I am having orgasms, but there’s actually this bonus level that I do not want you to unlock.”
Rich: Yes. Also keep in mind that in these displays, clearly there is a performing aspect of it here. “I play up the reaction to it.” But things like moaning and reacting, while they might seem entirely performative in such a way, actually bespeak a lack of holding back. It can be a way to kind of foster or induce more pleasure, right?
So I don’t think that anybody should feel bad that their moaning isn’t exactly corresponding with exactly how they’re feeling, because it has another function to it. It in some ways would allow you to be more present, irrespective of what’s happening in your cervix.
Stoya: And therapists and coaches have been telling people for years this “fake it until you make it” thing. And it’s very true, making sounds of sexual pleasure frequently increases sexual pleasure. Or clenching down: Let’s say you have a vagina and you’re being penetrated, clenching down on that with your pelvic floor and vaginal muscles can make what’s happening feel better.
I really feel like the only issue here is that they verbally led their partner to believe… And I keep coming back to that phrase because I’m not quite sure what it means.
Rich: “Verbally led my partner to believe that this reaction corresponds to orgasm for me.” We could probably assume that that’s as good as straight-up misrepresentation. So yeah, you might want to clear that up just for the sake of transparency and because there is this internal conflict. If she were totally fine with her decisions, she wouldn’t be writing to a sex advice column. And also, the ethical waffling that she’s doing here with: “Here’s what I’m doing, but it’s really okay. I feel justified. But do I?”
It seems like maybe the way that you want to work this out is by just coming clean. Again, it’s a nuanced conversation, but you’ve given yourself a guide: You can really go through your letter and unpack it and talk about that. There’s nothing wrong with your body. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what’s being described beyond, as you point out Jessica, the misrepresentation. So clean that up and you’re good.
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