Women’s creative response to the failure of male-female sex
The climax of women’s creative response by Catherine Armitage
The fake orgasm – one of the great, unsung inventions of the late 20th century – is not about deceit and disappointment but women’s creative response to the failure of male-female sex, a Sydney University professor says.
Orgasm, fake or real, usually happens in private so women who are unable to mimic it because they have not experienced it learn from public sources such as books, movies and, more recently, pornography.
In her new book Orgasmology, Annamarie Jagose says faking it is a positive response to the failure of couple sex, which leaves open the possibility of better things to come.
The journey to fake orgasm started early last century with the novel idea that sex could be pleasurable for both women and men, says Jagose, the head of Sydney University’s school of letters, art and media.
But what started as a modest anticipation of mutual pleasure soon ballooned into an expectation of simultaneous orgasm. ”No couple should be content until they have learnt how to experience orgasm together,” exhorted a popular sex manual in 1930.
By the 1960s simultaneous orgasm as the sexual norm was decried by sexologists because by that standard, ”hardly any men and women today would be considered normal”, said one account in 1962.
Women now found themselves under pressure to understand ”the correct and appropriate way to experience and express pleasure”. Some felt a need to pretend a pleasure they didn’t feel.
Faking orgasm sometimes suited their purposes such as ”to end a sexual encounter without hurt”, Jagose says.
Jagose’s book refers to an analysis of 32 sex studies conducted between 1921 and 1995 that found that although orgasm was achieved regularly by 95 per cent of women who masturbated, only 25 per cent of women reliably experienced orgasm with penetrative sex.
Jagose’s research has attracted strong scepticism. In New Zealand in 2006 a storm of public indignation swirled around her being awarded a government research grant. In the media she was ”routinely identified as a lesbian” in a way that the classification ”served to discredit me”, she says.
It was implied that if she needed to study orgasm she mustn’t have experienced it.
But there are ”all sorts of things orgasm and sex still have to teach us”, Jagose says.
She has even begun to think of fake orgasm as a ”symbol for political engagement in the 21st century”, because it involves ”experiencing repetitively the constraints of your circumstances that you are unable to change” yet not letting go of ”the possibility that this time, it might be different”.