I faked orgasms for 14 years. From ages 15-29, sex had a performative element to me. I don’t remember the first time I faked an orgasm but I remember why I decided to stop doing it: Because I got sober. 

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy sex. I loved sex. The problem was that I expected sex to be like the shitty porn I found as a teenager. I expected orgasms to just… happen. Whether it was casual hookups with men or women, threesomes, or long-term relationships, I faked orgasms through them all — even an engagement. 

In addition to faking orgasms for 14 years, I also spent 14 years in denial about my issue with substance use. In high school, I was diagnosed with depression after experiencing family trauma that resulted in the temporary absence of my father during the most formative years of my life. 

The problem was that I expected sex to be like the shitty porn I found as a teenager. I expected orgasms to just… happen.

This is around the time that I began self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity. I desperately latched on to anything that came with a promise of fleeting satisfaction. Numbness “worked” for me — until it didn’t. I was so busy trying to avoid reality that I never took the time to take care of myself properly, let alone ask partners for what I liked in bed.

I got sober at age 29, six months after moving to New York City to pursue writing. I didn’t plan on quitting faking orgasms at the same time; it just happened that way. Here are a few things I learned in the process.

Sobriety Equals Honesty

I had to get honest with myself to admit that I had a drinking problem. That kind of honesty has changed how I communicate with people, how I speak up for myself, and that I can’t lie. Not even a white lie. I can’t pretend a haircut looks good; my face betrays my best intentions. 

This honesty eventually crept into the bedroom, too. I was done adding a performative element to sex. The thought of tightening my pelvic floor while gyrating my hips and moaning in pseudo-pleasure seemed like too much work. This lie I told myself and my sexual partners over the last 14 years finally felt dishonest. I’ve always enjoyed sex because it felt good. Why did I think that fake orgasms had to be part of that fun?

Porn Made it Worse… 

I didn’t know what I liked outside of masturbation, so I resorted to what old school porn taught me I should like. I deduced that sex is when a woman theatrically pleases a man until he has an orgasm — and that’s it. That I, a woman, am to dress, talk, and fuck in ways that please him. That I am to be enthusiastic when he wants to finish on my face. That sex ends when he climaxes. 

It took me more than a decade to differentiate what porn made me feel like should turn me on from what actually turns me on.

It took me more than a decade to differentiate what porn made me feel like should turn me on from what actually turns me on. It took even longer to feel comfortable asking for it. I thought that a penis would give me a mind-blowing orgasm within minutes of intercourse and I wouldn’t have to do much work on my end. When this expectation didn’t meet my reality, I faked. And I faked. And I faked — just like Elaine Benes in that infamous scene in Seinfeld — until it became a routine part of any sex act involving someone else. Experiencing life without a drug and alcohol-induced haze helped me understand that I deserved pleasure, too.

…Then Porn Made it Better 

I discovered feminist porn about six months into sobriety. I was fascinated that there was an entire genre of porn dedicated to empowering cisgender women and LGBT+ identifying folks. I was drawn to the films with a special focus on women’s pleasure and consent-based conversations. Seeing women ask for what they want in bed made me feel empowered to do the same. 

Feminist porn takes sex-on-film in a different direction from the porn I grew up watching. Women behind the camera and realistic-looking people in front of the camera make for an entirely different pornography experience. Feminist porn showed me that sex isn’t just about over-the-top orgasms and pleasing men; it can also be about learning what turns me on and asking my partner to bring it to life in the bedroom.

Sex is So Much More Than Orgasms

Drugs and alcohol served as a barrier to much of reality but, in particular, it never allowed me to be fully present with a sexual partner. Sobriety taught me that with communication, trust, and feeling safe, I can get a lot more out of sex. 

My partner (also sober) and I have connected on a deeper level than we’ve ever experienced with someone else. 

Intimacy is another “Sober First” for me. My partner (also sober) and I have connected on a deeper level than we’ve ever experienced with someone else. Even when I was single, I learned that casual sex can be fun without a performance. In early sobriety, I had a sex column that allowed me to review toys and interview sex workers. Reviewing toys (with or without a partner) taught me new ways to experience pleasure. Interviewing dommes, strippers, and cuckolds showed me that there are myriad ways to be sexual and they’re all worthy of celebrating.

I was terrified of what sex without booze would be like. Drinking was such a big part of my life — and my sex life; their relationship seemed symbiotic for years. Sobriety helped me get in touch with who I really am, which in turn has amplified my sexual nature. I’m finally free from the unnecessary pressures I had previously put on myself. 

I stifled many of my sexual desires, choosing instead to portray the role of who I thought past partners wanted me to be. Since I’ve stopped faking, I’ve read countless books and essays on the topic, learning that there are dozens of reasons to fake orgasms. I’ve also learned that most women admit to faking at some point in their lives. The more I educated myself, the less alone I felt.

 And, as I learned in sobriety, realizing that I wasn’t struggling alone made the journey a lot easier.