The Economics of Faking Ecstasy

Article excerpt


In the movie When Harry Met Sally (Columbia Pictures 1989), there is a scene in Katz's dell in New York that provides an interesting example of rational expectations equilibrium:

Sally: Most women at one time or another have faked it.

Harry: Well, they haven't faked it with me.

Sally: How do you know?

Harry: Because I know.

Sally: Oh. Right. That's right. I forgot. You're a man.

Harry: What was that supposed to mean?

Sally: Nothing. It's just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it, so you do the math.

If all women have faked it, then not all men can be rationally confident it has not happened to them. Therefore, this situation, in which all women have done it and all men are sure it has never happened to them, is not a rational expectations equilibrium.

So how can we explain this? Akerlof and Dickens's (1982) paper on cognitive dissonance suggests a behavioral rather than a rational explanation. The paper introduces the possibility of belief-dependent preferences. Accordingly, perhaps men simply derive utility directly from believing that their partner is not faking with them because this allows them to maintain a positive image of themselves. In this case, we can get a situation in which all women have done it and yet all men still believe it has never happened to them. However, any man with this kind of behavioral bias will likely be mistaken. One might instead dispute the claim that all men are confident it has never happened to them and thus do not have rational expectations.

In this paper, we develop a rational expectations signaling model of lovemaking that yields clear predictions about faking behavior, which we then test using actual survey data. In the model, a man and a woman who are making love send each other possibly deceptive signals about their true state of ecstasy. For example, if one of the partners is not in ecstasy, then he or she may decide to fake it.

We allow for the possibility that men can fake it too. Although men may not be able to fake ejaculation, they may nevertheless be able to fake orgasm. Ejaculation is the propulsion of seminal fluid, while orgasm is the peak feeling during sex. In Love and Orgasm, psychiatrist Lowen (1975, 56), based on his clinical observations, concludes that

   in terms of full satisfaction, the male steers from
   orgasmic impotence as much as the female does.

However, to the extent that ejaculation and orgasm are related, the probability of being caught faking is greater for men than for women. Thus, the model predicts a lower probability of faking for men than for women. More generally, the model predicts that any factor that increases the cost of faking or the probability of being caught faking for either men or women lowers their probability of faking. Thus, men and women who believe that their partner can tell whether they are faking should be less likely to fake.

Another factor that may be related to faking is age. In the model, the man and woman each have a prior belief about the other's state of ecstasy, and these priors are associated with the other's sex drive, which varies in different ways for men and women over the life cycle. Male sex drive is highest during the early twenties and declines steadily into old age, while female sex drive is low during the teens, increases during the twenties, reaches a maximum in the late twenties, and then declines into old age (Kinsey et al., 1968, 759; Mahoney 1983, 45-46). (1) Therefore, when a woman is middle-aged, her partner's prior belief that she is in ecstasy during lovemaking may be generally higher than when she is younger or older. On the other hand, when a man is young, his partner's prior belief that he is in ecstasy may be higher than when he is either middle-aged or older. In the model, the man or woman's equilibrium probability of faking depends on his or her partner's prior belief. …