Film Friday: When Harry Met Sally – Why Women Fake Orgasms

Today I’m happy to announce a new regular posting on Philosophy Matters: Film Friday (yes, I like alliteration!). Each week at Philosophy Matters, we will be watching a movie and thinking about it philosophically. This week, LKAwesome selected “When Harry Met Sally,” which I had surprisingly never seen before! The following entry is a collaboration between JJ and LKAwesome.


 Although we considered many different themes we could explore from this movie, we finally settled on one that stood out and generated the most conversation:

Why Women Fake Orgasms

  1. In order to go to bed.
  2. In order to make sure their partner does not feel like they have failed.

→ Fallout from all of this is how a person is supposed to know if they’ve had/are good at sex, which is a theme also discussed by Harry and Sally.  Faking orgasms to make sure the other person feels better does not give correct feedback. While it protects emotions it ultimately perpetuates continued lackluster performance. But maybe that’s because it’s not with a partner that is considered “long-term” – instead faking it with a “short-term” or “non-serious” partner would be low-risk because the female partner wouldn’t have to repeat the experience. They can let the male go on with their life thinking they’re good at sex and no harm no foul… until the next female has to deal with the sexual encounter. When there is a long-term relationship and a faked-orgasm there is a higher risk for faking for the female since they are going to be faced with the same sexual partner for, conceivably, the rest of their lives. Sally is showing off her skills to fake orgasm in the diner scene… but had also, at that point, clearly not had good sex nor been with a partner who made her feel comfortable (like Harry).

So: an ethics of faking orgasms? Are there times when it is ok and times when it is not? The point above makes sense, but is an interesting balance: very selfish on one hand (not my problem to deal with) but also caring in a way as well (don’t want to hurt feelings of partner).

When is it ok for a woman to fake an orgasm?

    • When female is with short-term partner and does not see relationship going beyond this one encounter.

When is it not ok for a woman to fake an orgasm?

    • When the female and male are going to engage in repeated encounters (the female risks not communicating to the male the ways that she can be sexually pleasured, or possibly tricking him into thinking that one thing works when in fact it doesn’t).

Another factor to consider is that quite often in modern society, a person doesn’t know during their first sexual encounter with a person whether or not the relationship will be long term. This creates a dilemma of having to come back later and explain that things that seemed good in the past actually are not, which could hurt feelings even more than originally.

So perhaps it is not in the female’s best interest to fake an orgasm?

When is it ok for a man to fake an orgasm?

    • When male partner does not want to conceive a child.
    • When male partner is avoiding transmitting a sexually transmitted infection.

When is it not ok for a man to fake an orgasm?

    • When couple is trying to conceive.
    • When the female and male are going to engage in repeated encounters (the male risks not communicating to the female the ways that he can be sexually pleasured, or possibly tricking her into thinking that one thing works when in fact it doesn’t).

Females give a considerable more effort/energy/sacrifice when it comes to child rearing/bearing so evolutionarily they are less inclined to enjoy the experience if they are thinking about the outcome with a partner who has not attended to their needs. If the sex results in a child, evolutionarily this is a success –  since the basis for evolution is to pass on one’s own genetic material and produce viable offspring.

Conclusions? If either party is faking an orgasm, this probably indicates that there are severe communication issues in the relationship. Ethically, this seems problematic if these two people plan to (or might) have any kind of future together.

We’re still getting the hang of collaborating, but what do you think? Is it ever ok for a woman to fake an orgasm? A man? Please let us know in the comments!

Next Week’s Film: Man on the Moon

For further reading:

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

When Harry Met Sally

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