In the most iconic scene of one of the more memorable romantic comedies of the last quarter-century (1989’s When Harry Met Sally), Meg Ryan shattered the illusions of incredulous lotharios everywhere by faking an Oscar-worthy orgasm over dinner — much to the chagrin of counterpart Billy Crystal but the overwhelming delight of an elderly woman at an adjacent table (“I’ll have what she’s having!”). The performance inspired a zeitgeist of sexual paranoia among men who had previously adjudged themselves savvy lovers: if Ryan could believably approximate the throes of female climax on a crowded movie set, how often was the same occurring in real-life bedrooms throughout the country?
Recently, researchers at the University of Leeds put the legitimacy of “copulatory vocalization” to the test, and the results they obtained suggest that most women’s mid-coital moans are, in fact, performative in function. Rather than — you know — an involuntary reaction to the indomitable sexual prowess of their partners. Sorry, fellas.
The study asked 71 women between the ages of 18 and 48 about the role their vocal chords play during sex. While nearly all admitted to frequent intonations, most stated their purpose as partner-oriented. More specifically, 66% of the respondents reported that moaning was intended to “speed up their partner’s climax,” while a whopping 87% wrote it off to “boosting his self-esteem.”
The question such findings pose, then, is this: are women play-acting at the expense of their own pleasure? Regardless of whether they are staged or not, those moans and groans represent positive reinforcement to your partner. Sex educator Patty Brisben advises against such misleading behavior: “If you’re faking an orgasm, you are signaling to your partner he is doing everything right, when in fact he isn’t.” This doesn’t mean you should cut out the animal sounds in toto. Rather, make more of an effort to “use moaning as a way of signaling you are excited and things are feelings really good.” Just try not to wake the neighbors/kids/parents in doing so.