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Why Women Lie and What It Can Teach Us About Sex and Society

Lux Alptraum, the author of 'Faking it', explains why, for so many women, lying is about safety and social survival — and what men can do to help end the cycle.

No one likes a liar, least of all the kind that uses the craft to humiliate those around them. Of course, they are out there. And maybe the most loathed are those who offer indignities during our most vulnerable moments. Like, for instance, when it comes to sex. Still, it’s worth examining the motivation behind any action. And, of course, the person perpetrating the lie. What kinds of contexts inspire dishonesty? And who has the most to gain from lying their way out of – or into – different sexual dynamics?

Lux Alptraum is a writer who focuses on sex, feminism and pop culture. She also has two decades of experience with smart sex education. She spent the past two years looking into the issue. For her, figuring who’s more likely to don the label of the liar was easy. Women. Undressing what, exactly, that means proved to be a much more complicated task.

In her new book, Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex and The Truths They Reveal, Alptraum encourages readers to think critically about where and when women are most likely to massage the truth, and challenges them with the implications that holds for society at large. Is faking an orgasm always about cunning and deceit? What about saying you have a husband when you, in fact, do not? Or, what about fudging the number of sex partners you may have had? According to Alptraum, it’s not. Often, she asserts, it’s about safety, and social survival. We spoke with Alptraum about the book and how men can better understand the lies women tell about sex and what men can do to help lessen the pressure that makes them feel the need to do so.

The book has a specific focus. It’s not so much about the fact that women aren’t always believed. It has more to do with the fact that women are often put in positions where they have to lie. Why was that an important distinction to make?

Well, when I initially pitched the idea I more or less thought I was going to find out that women are totally honest and we just have this obsession with women lying because we as a culture just hate women. It was during an interview with Therese Shechter — who is featured in the book — that it became clear that sometimes women are lying. She brought up the subject of virginity tests and artificial hymens. Virginity tests are looking for something that doesn’t necessarily line up with reality. They assume if you are a virgin, you have a hymen and it looks a specific way. But some virgins don’t have hymens. So then, they are put in a position where they have not yet had sexual contact with anybody, but don’t have ‘proof’ they’re told they should have. So sometimes, they fake having a hymen. I mean that is “lying,” in so much as creating an artificial presence, but they’re doing it to prove something that’s already true. What if you are lying because you are asked to play a game that’s wholly rigged?

What can men do to help undo the pressures for women to lie?

I mean, as much as I love to blame men for things, this isn’t a problem only perpetuated by men. I think this problem is largely about the patriarchy enforcing false beliefs about women. But women can help reinforce those beliefs, too. I think men should recognize that they may be contributing to the problem but so is everyone else. We all have a hand in this.

That said, what I really would love men to take is that women’s experiences are diverse and varied. We should trust women to be the experts on what is right for them. Women are individuals and they all want different things and the only way to find out what they want is to ask them and believe them. A really good example of combating lies with beliefs is when a man goes up to a woman in a bar and starts talking to her. If she says, “you know, I’m not really feeling this, I just want to be alone.” If he believes that rather than pressing and pursuing, then we never have to entertain the “I have a boyfriend lie.” The reason why that one comes up is because a woman who says “I want to be left alone,” which is the truth, never gets believed.

In addition to the satisfaction they should receive from making women feel safe, secure and respected, how might the ‘belief cycle’ benefit men, as well?

I think they’ll have better relationships. It’s funny, I know so many women who are either straight or who have had sex with men who went through a period where they were very into casual sex. And they stopped having casual sex because men were so shitty. I think a lot of these tools and rules men think serve them well actually end up making women feel less safe and less interested in engaging in the kind of sex men say they want. When men listen to women, women feel more comfortable having sex. And that helps them experience more authentic pleasure and creates a sexual experience that is then better for everyone.

How can guys in long-term relationships undo pressures they may have unintentionally put on their partners to lie?

Men need to make it clear to their female partners that they want to know the real them; that they don’t care about their sexual history; that they want to know what they look like without makeup; that their love for them extends beyond these superficial things. I think men need to make space for women to be their authentic selves. They really need to make space to let us know that we don’t have to lie. My question for men after reading this book would be, have you seen your partner without make-up? Do you really know what your partner’s body is like? Has she maybe fudged the details with things? Don’t be petulant about it. Understand that women are under a lot of pressure to lie. Ask them if they think there’s something about them they think would make you feel uncomfortable to know.

How might parents use that advice to educate the next generation?

Well, for starters, I think we need to take people for who they say they are and for who they are in the moment. Yes, we are all shaped by our experiences, but our experiences should not be a prison. I think we definitely have to get rid of this idea that there is a finite capacity for love or sexual experience. It’s not like you have so much sex, or certain kinds of sex, and then you’re done for life. Love and sexuality are not a finite resource. It doesn’t matter how many people someone loved before you. All that matters is that they love you. If they stop loving you, it says more about your relationship with them than it does about their relationships with other people. We have to do better at understanding what makes a healthy relationship. People can have amazing experiences with other people and can still want to be with you.

When it comes to talking to kids, we need to let them know that someone’s past should not affect their present. We should be happy for the diverse range of experiences that people in our lives have had. We should be happy for people having experienced love in a variety of different ways. And we should know that our relationship with someone is about the present, not the past. If they are happy with us and we are happy together, then we shouldn’t be threatened by the fact that they have been happy with other people in the past.