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People harbor many wildly false beliefs about sex, but perhaps the biggest among them is that, for heterosexual men, climaxing is as simple as inserting penis into vagina—and any sexual encounter in which a man does not finish is clearly a crappy sexual encounter.

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In reality, most men are not instant orgasm machines. People with penises feel many of the same pressures and anxieties around sex that people with vaginas do. So while it's true that men orgasm more frequently than women do (see: the orgasm gap), guys sometimes feel the need to fake it, too.

Studies suggest that between 17 and 25% of sexually active men have faked an orgasm as least once. But very little research has explored the motivations behind these faux-gasms. Until now.

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In a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, researchers from the University of Quebec at Montreal and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada set out to learn more about why men fake it. For their research, they recruited 230 males who admitted to faking an orgasm at least once with their current partner. The men were between 18 and 29 years old, and they were all in relationships that were at least one month old.

The participants were asked to fill out several questionnaires. First, the men revealed how frequently they faked orgasms in general, and how frequently they did so with their current partner. Next, they answered questions designed to measure their sexual desire for their partner, their relationship satisfaction, and their motivations for faking orgasms, using the illustrious Motivations for Feigning Orgasm Scale(Yes, that's a thing.)

After analyzing the data, the researchers determined that, on average, the men faked an orgasm about 29% of the time with their current partner. That's almost once for every three sexual encounters. And their reasons for faking it fell into seven main categories:

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  1. Intoxication (e.g. “I was too drunk”)
  2. Partner self-esteem (e.g. “I want to make my partner happy”)
  3. Poor sex/partner (e.g. “The sex was awkward”)
  4. Desireless sex (e.g. “I was not in the mood”)
  5. Timing (e.g. “My partner’s orgasm seemed imminent”)
  6. Insecurity (e.g. “I wanted to avoid losing my partner”)
  7. Improve sex (e.g. “I wanted to feel or appear sexy”)

Perhaps most notable was the participants' top reason for faking it: Most men, on average, reported that they weren't faking it because they didn't desire their partner—they were doing so to spare their partner's feelings or give the illusion of simultaneous climax.

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"Participants were most likely to report feigning orgasm in order to buttress a partner’s self-esteem, and for reasons related to timing (i.e. wanting to have an orgasm at the same time as a partner)," the authors write. "Participants were least likely to report feigning because the sex, or their partner, was unappealing."

Taylor & Francis, Sexual and Relationship Therapy

The researchers also found that men who faked orgasms for reasons relating to their partner's emotional well-being still very much enjoyed the sex. (Not shockingly, the men who reported faking it because of "poor sex/partner," had lower levels of sexual desire for their partner.)

So what does this mean? First, it's important to remember that these stats are reflective of study participants who had previously admitted to faking orgasms—they're not necessarily emblematic of all men. It's also important to take the men's responses with a grain of salt—as with all self-reported sex surveys, the participants could have felt inclined to provide more favorable motivations for faking it.

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But based on the results, the researchers did come to the striking takeaway that being in a happy relationship is actually a strong motivator for faking an orgasm, because men who are satisfied—but, for whatever reason, can't climax during a particular session of sexy time—still want to please their partner, and are still getting joy out of sex:

"Unlike the popular belief, the act of faking orgasm per se does not mean that your relationship is not going well, or that you have a bad sex life," explains Lea Séguin, the lead author of the study. "In fact, it can even be positively associated with desire, and relationship and sexual satisfaction in some cases, at least among men."

Which is why, as Séguin explained, men and their partners should strive to understand the motivation behind their tendency to fake orgasms—since it may be a telling indicator of their overall relationship satisfaction. In the study, the authors write:

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It is useful to know that feigning orgasm when a relationship or an activity is unsatisfying is associated with negative sexual and relationship outcomes. Men should be encouraged to pursue satisfying sexual encounters or relationships, or to communicate with partners in such a way as to improve sex with the potential of developing more satisfying relationships overall.

So if you find out that your partner is faking it, Séguin suggests to "keep calm, and ask them why they did it," adding, "It (most probably) is not as bad as you think it is."

As for when men are faking it the most: Seventy-one percent said they had faked an orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse, 27.4% during oral sex, 21.7% during anal intercourse, 17.8% during manual stimulation by a partner, and 4.8% while being stimulated with a sex toy by a partner. (The study did point out that faking it during vaginal sex is easier if the guy is using a condom or the girl is very wet. How a guy fakes it during oral sex remains a bit of a mystery.)

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Of course, the real takeaway here is that just because a guy fakes an orgasm doesn't mean he's a lesser man, or even unhappy with the sex. The real reason might be because he simply wants to make his partner happy, which is kind of sweet.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.