Why Do We Lie About Sex?

Studies demonstrate that we often lie about sex, including the number of partners we have had, the frequency of making love, or the pleasure we receive. Some of the most common deceptions are non-self-serving and influenced by gender expectations.

A study from 2022 anonymously surveyed 200 people about being dishonest in the context of their sex lives. Of them, 92% said they were able to recall such deceit. Researchers then asked an additional 330 people what exactly they lied about.

The study’s author Christian L. Hart, PhD, says that most common lies weren’t “necessarily self-serving,” as more than half of the participants reported faking orgasms and exaggerating pleasure during sex.

Clare Faulkner, a UK-based psychosexual and couples’ psychotherapist, says that her clinical experience suggests faking orgasm may be related to “shame or fear that somehow the person is lacking.”

“So there’s this need to show a self that is different from one’s own genuine experience,” she told Healthnews.

In the survey, women reported lying about orgasm or pleasure more often than men. Faulkner says it has something to do with expectations upon them. Moreover, it may be more challenging for men to fake orgasm because their partner can see if there was an ejaculation.

“And once someone gets into that cycle, it’s quite hard to break it,” she added.

Some people are anorgasmic, meaning they never orgasm, so it can be difficult to express that in a relationship if their partner believes they can orgasm or that there is a deficit, Faulkner explains.

But it is not only women who pretend to have orgasms. A survey on pretending orgasms of 180 male and 101 female college students found that 1 in 4 men and 1 in 2 women had ever faked orgasm, mostly during penile-vaginal intercourse.

The most frequently reported reasons were that orgasm was unlikely, they wanted intercourse to end, or they wanted to avoid negative consequences, such as hurting their partner’s feelings.

For those who suspect their partner is faking orgasm, Faulkner suggests being mindful about using accusatory words like “lying.” Instead, she recommends creating a space where it is possible to explore your experience and the reasons behind the need to do that.

How many partners have we had?

In 2013, the researchers from the Ohio State University surveyed 293 college students aged 18 and 25 about sexuality and other gender-role behaviors. While responding to the questions, some students were hooked up to a polygraph machine. They did not know that the lie detector was actually not working.

When it came to sexual behaviors, participants felt pressure to respond as would be expected for their gender. For example, men reported having had more sexual partners when they weren’t hooked up to the lied detector. Women, however, said they had fewer partners when not connected to the polygraph.

Comparing the findings to a similar study from 2003, researchers found an important difference. In the later study, women reported more sexual partners than men when they were both hooked up to a lie detector.

“Society has changed, even in the past 10 years, and a variety of researchers have found that differences between men and women in some areas of sexual behavior have essentially disappeared,” back then said Terri Fisher, author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

In the survey conducted by Hart, 31% of respondents reported lying about the number of sexual partners they had. There was no significant difference between men and women.

Society’s history shows that men having more sexual partners have been considered stronger and more masculine, Faulkner explains. Meanwhile, the religious ideal of a woman has been someone who remains pure, that “somehow it is a deficit for a woman to be sexual.”

“Historically, pleasure is a more male experience as opposed to a female kind of pleasure. It’s almost like it has historically been left out of the equation. Luckily, things are changing, especially in the West,” she said.

How much sex do we have?

In his book “Everybody Lies,” data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes that Americans report using far more condoms than are sold every year, suggesting people may exaggerate how frequently they have sex.

“In our sex-obsessed culture, it can be hard to admit that you are just not having that much,” the author concludes.

Research shows that, indeed, we are having less sex. For example, one study found that from 2000 to 2018, sexual activity decreased among US men aged 18 to 24 years, with approximately 1 in 3 men of this age reporting no sexual activity in the past year.

Sexual activity also decreased among men and women aged 25 to 34 years.

According to Faulkner, a very high level of stress that people experience could have contributed to sexual inactivity.

“People may be more stressed than they have ever been. There is also more pressure to be sexual in a certain way. I think that, especially after the pandemic, people report reassessing their sex lives or relationships,” she said.

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