Women in healthy marriages and long-term relationships are more likely to experience orgasms, studies suggest, but that doesn’t mean it happens often. And it sure doesn’t mean they’re never faking it. But now, new research suggests that many women may think they’re experiencing orgasms even though they’re not. The findings call self-reported orgasm rates—both in prior studies and in your bedroom—into question.
“What’s surprised us about our research is that many women think they’re having a physical climax when they’re not,” Nicole Prause, the psychophysiologist and neuroscientist behind the study, told Fatherly.
From a physiological perspective, Prause says, there’s really no difference between an male and female orgasm. They each consist of about 8 to 12 contractions that start 0.8 seconds apart, and ultimately exercise many of the same muscles. Yet, heterosexual men orgasm 95 percent of the time, while heterosexual women, at best, get there only 65 percent of the time (for most women, it’s closer to 50 percent). The good news for married men and women is that a woman’s likelihood of climaxing increases with the length of the relationships, studies show. Likewise, women tend to have more orgasms the older they get, which Prause and other experts suspect have to do with assertiveness and increased awareness of their bodies.
But even if you’re in a long-term relationship, Prause says there’s no guarantee that she’ll climax—or that what she thinks is a climax will even be one. In her study (which involved a small sample of 23), Prause used pressure-sensitive gauges to detect orgasm contractions in men and women, and measured brain activity using electroencephalography. (No wonder they couldn’t climax). About half of the women in Prause’s as-yet unpublished study reported orgasms when they, in fact, did not experience them.
It’s important to note that this does not mean half of all women don’t know when they’re climaxing. “I would not want to say 50 percent of women say they are when they are not, because the sample definitely is not appropriate for that,” Prause says. “It is more the fact that it happened so much in any group of women that was surprising.”
This may happen because arousal and climax read very differently in the brain. During arousal, data shows that people are neurologically engaged—and when that neurological engagement is sufficiently high, some people may read that feeling as orgasm. In fact, Prause says, climax involves neurological relaxation and disengagement.
Either way, one surefire way to prevent orgasm is to bring this information into the bedroom. Instead, Prause recommends you believe your partner if she says she’s having a good time, and keep your science to yourself. And certainly don’t put more pressure on the orgasm itself—especially when that energy could be better spent on foreplay.
“The risk with information like this is that people are going to be like ‘I need to have a real one,'” Prause says. “I would say, ignore the science if you’re having fun. We’ll figure the physiology out on our end.”