Two days ago, here in Australia, we marked National Orgasm Day (NOD). What that is and how you celebrate it remains, even a few days later, a little opaque to me.* Should there be organized pageantry and fireworks later on? Should one share this knowledge with a loved one? Or simply mark the occasion alone?
But my recent post on the function of orally-induced orgasm stimulated so much discussion, I thought I'd dip into the pages of Archives of Sexual Behaviour for an appropriate reading to mark NOD. And the journal did not disappoint.
The paper I chose, so steaming hot out of peer review that it has only just been published online, concerned female orgasm as a signal. Readers of my previous column might recall my irritation that the social feedback of unselfish stimulation and orgasmic response seemed to be a missing dimension in the Evolutionary Psychology paper that precipitated that post.
Today's paper tested two predictions concerning women's' orgasms as signals. First, that orgasms signal a woman's sexual satisfaction and thus her likely fidelity as a partner (the Female Fidelity hypothesis). And second that women orgasm to signal an increased chance of conception (the Sire Choice hypothesis). Yes, I know it seems a little man-centric to frame these questions with reference to the man, rather than the subject of the orgasm herself. But at least we're talking about orgasms as part of the give-and-take commerce of sex and satisfaction.
The authors, Ryan M. Ellsworth from the University of Missouri and Carnegie Mellon's Drew H. Bailey, administered a questionnaire to 138 women and 121 men, each currently in a heterosexual romantic relationship. Through a rather exhaustive bank of questions, they estimated each participant's relationship satisfaction, partner investment, sexual fidelity, sexual behaviour and orgasm history.
Women reported orgasming during sexual intercourse 61 percent of the time. More than half of the women (58 percent) reported faking orgasms sometimes, with 18 percent of copulations with current partners resulting in faked orgasms. Men, you might not be surprised to learn, underestimated the rate of faked orgasms. Only 21 percent reported that their partners faked, and only estimated that women faked about 5 percent of the time. Women who faked a lot also reported having fewer real orgasms.
The other main findings by which Ellsworth and Bailey tested their hypotheses included:
- Women satisfied in their relationships also reported orgasming more intensely and more frequently.
- Women whose partners invested plenty of effort in them and their relationships also had more intense and more frequent orgasms.
- Women who reported past infidelity reported having more orgasms.
- Women who report being open to future opportunities for infidelity reported having more orgasms, and more intense orgasms.
- Women who reported having past infidelity or openness to future infidelity also reported more frequently faking orgasms.
- Men in satisfying relationships reported higher rates of partner orgasm and lower rates of partner faked orgasm.
- Men who have been unfaithful to their partners report that those partners have fewer orgasms.
Taken together, these results suggest that female orgasm and faked orgasm are involved in the quality and dynamics of the relationship, but in more nuanced and complex ways than predicted by the two hypotheses being tested. Female orgasm does not seem to signal female fidelity, and frequent, intense orgasms don't seem to convince men of their partner's fidelity. Instead, it seems that faked orgasms are associated with past and likely future infidelity.
It seems more likely that genuine orgasm is either a happy cause or a thrilling consequence of relationship satisfaction. So far so good, but it also seems that a high rate of both true and faked orgasm makes for an especially high chance of infidelity. Given the prevalence of the faked orgasm, and men's ineptitude at detecting it, perhaps this is one of those cases in which the fake is at least as interesting as the original?
Well, scientifically at least.
* I have elsewhere seen it claimed that National Orgasm Day is to be celebrated on every day that ends in a "Y"
Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.