Coming clean

I've been faking orgasms for 10 years, but now I want to stop. Should I tell my husband?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 30, 2002 7:09PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been dating a man for the last four months who is delightful in just about every way. He's kind, courteous, generous, courtly. Our values are in line, our life goals are similar, the sex is ka-POW. But there's this thing: His table manners are atrocious. He doesn't forgo silverware altogether, but his hands are often in the plate. He chews with his mouth open. He wipes his mouth with his hand, then wipes his hand on his pants. I know, I know: If his table manners are my only issue, then what am I complaining about? But it makes me nuts -- and makes me want to avoid eating with him, be it at home or at a restaurant.

I've always believed that it's evil to pair up with a guy and then try to change him. And I don't want to be anyone's mother. But the positives make it difficult for me to think about bailing (except at mealtimes).

Should I tell him? If so, what to say so I don't sound like Miss Manners (God save her), his mother or my mother?

Dating Meal-Free in S.F.

Dear Meal-Free Dater,

You might try inquiring, in a neutral way, about how and where he grew up, and what his family life was like. Try to build a picture in your mind of his house and his childhood. Gather details. Tell him how your family ate, and ask him how his family ate. Did they eat together, or did everyone fend for himself? Were there many siblings? Did his mother or father cook? Did they cook well, or were they fairly indifferent to the culinary arts? Did they ever eat out? Was it his father or his mother who taught him to hold his fork like a character in a slasher movie? Well, no, don't ask that. Be gentle and just find out.

You and he probably have different class backgrounds -- either the class you come from or the class your family aspired to. If you can talk about that in a nonjudgmental way, you can discuss table manners as just one of many elements of your different backgrounds. Your class difference could even be a shared obstacle to happiness. You could be Romeo and Juliet!

You are not responsible for where you come from. You are responsible for what you do now. The question about changing him or not changing him hinges on whether he wants to change. If he has higher social and occupational aspirations, he will need to acquire some table manners. If he wants to change and he's merely ignorant, you can help him. You can show him how to hold a fork. But you can't make him care what you or others think. If he doesn't give a damn, and you do, you ought to find somebody else to eat with.

Dear Cary,

I'm in my 20s, I'm a pretty girl in the tall and thin way, I'm intelligent and read whatever I can get my hands on, and I live in a large and exciting city. Normally one would think that that's a good thing and that I must be having an awful lot of fun or something. Supposedly the world should be my oyster. But it isn't. I am desperately poor, I support my family, and it's very hard. If I get a better job, it doesn't increase my ability to spend on myself, or socialize (or save anything), because the money immediately gets sucked into other, more important things. I can't date because I can't really afford it, and I feel horribly embarrassed about how severe my life is.

The guys I attract are all very good-looking, carefree, intelligent and wealthy. I find it almost impossible to keep my poverty a secret; when it's found out it's invariably a bummer; the relationships don't last very long after that admission is made. The things I have to deal with are hard for them to understand. I am simply not carefree like they are. They end up resenting having to pay for everything all the time and I resent their having to pay for everything all the time.

So I'm very lonely. And the worst thing is it seems to be spreading to my other friends too. They're all very lovely people who have been very generous, but my poverty is wearing on everyone's patience. There are social functions, all kinds of little obligations that don't cost that much, but for me are completely unaffordable. Even worse, some friends have started to literally dump me (complete with "the talk") because they say I make them feel bad, bad that they can't help me, bad that they can't advise me; they'd rather I just went away.

All I ever wanted was someone to talk to so I don't lose my mind from the pressure. I've been very thirsty lately, if you get my meaning, and it scares me. I just find myself in the bar sometimes seeking warmth. It's almost like my being poor is rude, like walking around with no pants, and there's nothing I can do about it. I was educated at a private school, these people are my peers and my old friends, but my fall from economic grace is making me feel like a pariah. Is it possible to be poor and not have to leave my social circles?

Cinderella Has No Shoes to Lose

Dear Cinderella,

It sounds to me like your friends are acting very spoiled and cruel, just like Cinderella's stepsisters. What you are doing is heroic and kind, and if your friends knew anything of the world around them, they would admire you for it. That doesn't mean they should pay your way. But they should help you and show you that they care about you.

Try to make some new friends who are smart and sensitive but not so wealthy. Great cities are full of cultured people who for one reason or another, like you, have no money. They're often found at libraries, lectures, free concerts, parks, coffeehouses and cheap restaurants. For your own sense of self-worth and pride, you need to find some friends with whom you can be on equal footing. But you also understandably cherish your old friends, so why don't you try to pick one or two of your favorites who seem to be the most kind and understanding, and tell them that you value their friendship and want to find a way to remain friends even though you don't have much money. Plan cheap things to do with them: Take walks, go to the park, see matinees and concerts in churches, have picnics, look at architecture, buy hotdogs on the street. It might not seem like fun at first, but you'll learn to enjoy it. And keep away from rich boyfriends. Find a nice poor boyfriend who knows the value of taking care of his family.

There's no shame in having no money. I'm surprised I even have to say that. But apparently our long economic boom has allowed a whole generation to grow up without an appreciation for the Great Depression and the labor movement. Since you like to read, it wouldn't hurt to study America's last 100 years and try to get a sense of where you fit economically and socially. What accident of fate put you in the private school, and what accident of fate now has you penniless? Or was it not an accident of fate but a result of the way goods are distributed? Think about how world events affect you; try to separate your values from your status, and your economic standing from your class standing. Think about the priceless intangibles you possess, like your education and the love of your family. Be proud and defiant. Don't internalize the shame of having no money. And keep working at your job. Don't allow yourself the despairing thought that making more money makes no difference. It does make a difference. Eventually you will find a way out. Keep at it. Chin up.

Dear Cary,

I have been married for eight years to (you guessed it!) a wonderful man. We enjoy each other very much, we have the same interests, and we have accomplished a lot together.

Of course, there's one problem. I have never had an orgasm during intercourse. He performs oral sex well, and he pleasures me with manual stimulation. What's the problem, you ask? He has no idea I don't orgasm during sex, because I fake it. I have been faking orgasms for 10 years. I remember that when we were first together, he was skeptical because he had never been with a woman who could have orgasms during intercourse so frequently.

Lately, I've started not wanting to have sex, and I feel very resentful about the fact that he always orgasms and I never do. Oral sex happens less frequently now, though.

I have never been bothered by it before, but now that I've begun to think about it, I realize I have woven an intricate web of lies and half-truths to cover up the fact that I'm faking it!

What can I do now? I can't just fess up, can I? So do I suffer in silence and just deal with the resentment and guilt? Sooner or later he's bound to notice. Do I suddenly become non-orgasmic and spend lots of money on therapists and doctors to figure out what's wrong?

I just don't want to lie anymore. More than that, I cannot stand the thought of hurting my husband by telling him that one of his major assumptions about our relationship (that we have great sex) is not true. I am an honest person ... or at least I thought I was. How do I balance honesty and kindness?

Faked It but Didn't Make It

Dear Faked It,

Your question was the topic of the week at the office and at parties. Opinions ran the gamut. Some thought that faking orgasm is always wrong in every instance and should never be done, period. And there were those who claimed that most every woman has done it at some time, and that it's not such a terrible thing. There were those who understood that we're all human, we make mistakes, we get ourselves in tight spots and difficult situations, and then we don't need blame and recrimination; we need a solution. Believe me, everyone has an opinion. I believe I have a solution if you can manage it. You've been acting for so long, it should be relatively easy.

First off, there's consensus on the fact that you cannot just bluntly tell your husband you've been faking all these years. That, as one woman explained to me from her firsthand experience, would constitute a catastrophic breach of trust, and the relationship would probably end right there. That's what happened to her, anyway. She told. She knows. Second, you cannot continue what you're doing.

So the solution is to gradually taper off your histrionics. Over a period of weeks, you are going to have to "stop" having orgasms during intercourse. Don't overplay it. Just slowly taper off the moaning or whatever you've been doing and after a few weeks let your husband know that you're not having orgasms during intercourse anymore. If you still enjoy intercourse but are just not orgasmic during it, tell him that. Tell him that it's OK, that it's nothing that he's doing. Don't tell him you've been faking. The whole point is to ease into a discussion, and to ease out of a behavior, without admitting something that might make further progress impossible.

I feel awful telling you this, because I am telling you to lie more. Lying is your problem, but I am telling you to keep lying. That's not good. Why am I doing that? Because I do not want to break up your marriage. If you want to break up your marriage, fine. But do it on purpose, not by accident, and not because of what some advice columnist suggested.

Several months or a year down the line, you may find that keeping this secret is painful for you and you want some relief, and you may need some outside help. You may find that your husband is unhappy and suspicious. This may be only the beginning of a new chapter in your marriage in which you find it necessary to confront troubling and intractable issues. If you have been faking this, perhaps you have not been honest about other things. You say you are an honest person, so perhaps your definition of honesty is somewhat incomplete. Perhaps verbal honesty to you is different from behavioral honesty. There are a million possibilities.

You are going to have to have some conversations with your husband and with yourself. With your husband you need to talk about how he can please you. You need to show him what works and what doesn't.

More important, with yourself you need to talk about what you have been trying to accomplish all this time by faking orgasms. You need to know why you've been doing this. Are you afraid of what will happen if your husband senses that he's not pleasing you? Are you perhaps afraid that your husband feels insecure, and by faking orgasms you can pretend that he is not insecure? Are you trying to bolster his ego? Is that your role in the marriage, to keep him from facing his own shortcomings? Or is there possibly a deeper intimacy that your fakery is forestalling, an emotional reality that is frightening because it is unscripted? Or are you perhaps playing a game of power: By faking an orgasm you can control the event; your control then rivals his control. Is it a bid to regain some measure of sexual control from the male? Does it perhaps indicate a kind of jealousy over the relative ease and reliability of his sexual response?

Somewhere in the interstices of your complicated play-acting is your motivation, which must come to the surface if you are to understand your own behavior. With insight will probably come anger and pain. You might not want to undertake this process of discovery on your own. I say this particularly because there are elements of your behavior that you do not want to reveal to your husband, at least until you have a better grasp of what has been driving you to pretend for so long.

Dear Cary,

I dated this guy for a year. When we met, he was fighting an assault charge against a previous boyfriend. I knew the alleged victim was a liar and a stalker, and he slapped the guy because he was put in a chokehold and had to defend himself, so I didn't think much of it. I stood by my new man. I also moved into his apartment after five months of dating, when he was jobless. The man, who is now 26 (I am 25) dated a woman for five years before telling her it was over and swears he didn't know he was gay then, though the age when he dated her usually lends itself to knowing who the hell you are.

I went on many trips with this man, who makes a lot more money that I do. I flew to visit his parents and was the first person he ever felt comfortable enough with to introduce as a boyfriend. I attended his niece's christening and met all the friends, the whole kit and caboodle. I finally felt like my life was stabilizing after years of living with strangers in NYC. There were communication problems, but I had confidence that we were in it for the long haul.

In a devastating, unforeseen turn of events, he dumped me a few days ago. We share a studio apartment, I have lousy credit stemming from a death in the family, and I spent all my savings on these trips, so I'm pretty much screwed. In between telling me that "we never discussed long-term," "we're better friends than lovers," "ideally, people should make the same money," "I want to settle down with someone and eventually raise children," "there's someone more ideal out there for both of us," and "you're not the kind of person I see myself with in 10 to 20 years" and this whole litany of things that I feel should have been addressed openly as a dialogue, not an internalized decision, he also said, "You can stay as long as you need (not want) to."

The problem I have is, I am stuck sharing a bed with this guy for at least a couple of months and it's driving me crazy. I can't help but feel that I was a fool and that he used me as an alleviation of loneliness as well as a gay stepping-stone to put a kind, sociable, semi-normal face on his sexuality to his family. He knows my situation in and out. Yet he makes this decision completely on his own knowing that it will totally reorient my life. He says he really wants to be friends and will really miss our closeness, but I can't decide whether I want this person as a friend. He even halfheartedly suggested that we find a new apartment together in Manhattan with another roommate, but said I'd probably have to sleep in the living room because I wouldn't be able to afford my own room.

I guess I read too much into the moving in, meeting the parents, constant-companion aspects of the relationship and felt that if things did come to an end, it would be more of a mutual decision. I would like to know if you think it is healthy for me to (a) continue living with him (my options are limited because of money); and (b) continue to be his friend. I just feel like a sucker and have a hard time putting my resentment on the back burner.

Stuck in a Moment

Dear Stuck,

Move out. Stay somewhere else. Do not stay with this guy. And don't pursue a friendship with him. He has not treated you well.

You're young, you're gay, and you have a lot of growing up to do. That's OK. Growing up gay has got to be harder than growing up straight, but there are still human principles that govern us all. So excuse me if I sound condescending; I don't mean to. Here are some fundamental rules to follow while you pursue adulthood:

1) No fighting in public. If you or your boyfriend likes hitting people, learn to box.

2) No whoring: Don't trade physical affection for material needs. You'll never be able to sort out how you feel if you're using relationships to get a place to sleep, because there will always be that entrepreneurial notion at work: This guy's abusive but ... he's got an apartment!

3) Don't let other people control your living situation. What you need to do is pay your own way and live self-sufficiently, and the next time you meet a guy you like, don't move in with him.

4) Don't ignore the law, and don't depersonalize victims of crime. Criminal assault charges are serious; when you claim to know that the victim deserved it, you open the door to atrocities. It's as though someone were to beat you up and say, "Well, he deserved it because he's gay and he came on to me."

In short, you need to step back and live a little more conservatively if you want avoid further disaster.

Cary Tennis

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