Joseph Campbell on Faking Orgasms: The Truth About Myth and Love Conquers All

[The following article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of RWA/NYC Keynotes newsletter.]

I faked an orgasm. Yes. I confess!  I squeezed my kegels, breathed rapidly, and moaned like I was really feeling it. I even threw in some nail-scratching and ass-grabbing for effect. Why did I do it? Or, more importantly, why have I confessed?
Believe it or not, Joseph Campbell comes to mind.
That guy.
Every author and screenwriter’s go-to guru about myths, psychology, history, art, story structure, and stuff. Dare I associate this voice of an age, with my subpar coitus? If the title of this post is any indication, than you already know, I dare.
Having been accused of being a hypocritical liar after I laid my sins bare, this quote struck a particular chord with me.  In MYTHS TO LIVE BY, Joseph Campbell states, “Lies are what the world lives on, and those who can face the challenge of a truth, and build their lives to accord are finally not many, but the very few. It is my considered belief that the best answer to this critical problem will come from the findings of psychology …specifically those that have to do with the source and nature of myth.” Three questions come to mind: What is truth? What is a lie? And what is myth?
How many times have you heard someone tell a story, and in response another says, “Oh, that’s just a myth?” This would seem to suggest deception is the ‘source and nature’ of a myth; equivocal to a lie. Western society, revering rational thinking and hard sciences over mystical or “magical thinking,” would seem to concur. Unless you can touch, taste, see and/or shoot it, it doesn’t exist—and that’s the truth.
But western society says one thing, and does another (what I affectionately refer to as “mind fuckery”).  For example, the United States is the grand ol’ melting pot, land of liberty, justice, and freedom for all— except for poor people, gay people, and illegal immigrants. Girls should learn to be independent, have self-respect, and high self-esteem—so long as they strive for a size two and have lips like Angelina Jolie. And in seeking romantic fulfillment, when you stop looking for love, that’s when Prince Charming will find you.
Um, is that rational, let alone true?
It’s a myth (says the romance writer) and a powerful one at that. Case in point: everyone knows what I mean when I say “Prince Charming.” Men roll their eyes while Old Spice commercials flicker across their minds. Women sigh while dreaming of square jaws, cowboy hats, and big bank accounts. But as Campbell points out, if we are to ascribe strictly to the notion that only the most rational can be considered “real” and thus “true,” then we are ignoring not only the internal life of man, but also the “life sustaining” moral equilibrium myth provides.  A myth is a myth, and not a lie, because we all relate to it on some level. It carries a grain of salt. Rings true in an esoteric melody. Organizes us emotionally. Helps us endure what is “real.”
So by saying “Prince Charming” is a myth, I am not saying it’s a lie. What I am saying is it represents a particular psychic structure that we all understand in the context of romantic fulfillment. On occasion, when I am enraptured with the myth myself, I manage a smidgen of optimism. And optimism gives rise to wonderfully touching and unique bonding experiences. Optimism has also provided me with a great opportunity for ruminating on the original two questions, “Why fake an orgasm?” and “Why confess to it?”
I faked it because I didn’t want to spoil the myth.
I’d been on a few great dates with my partner. He was a good kisser, smart, attractive, financially stable—the whole nine. He did almost everything right. If I’d have only opened my stupid mouth and uttered a sexy,  “left… right… harder… softer… that’s good…clockwise is so much better…biting there is off limits…” I could’ve achieved the big O.
But if I said something that meant he didn’t already magically know what would make me feel good, and thus he must not be “the one.” And if I were to instruct someone who wasn’t “the one,” on how to pleasure me, I would be giving the keys to my bonding chemicals to someone I am not meant to be with, but to whom I would become physically addicted—a recipe for mind fuckery  (just listen to any Maroon 5 song).
Been there, done that.
My therapist thinks it was a fear of not getting my needs met once I voiced them, and then feeling rejected. In the past, when I have tried to voice my needs in a sexual situation, I was often met with defensive reactions and egotistical anger. If I was not pleased, there was obviously something wrong with me.
I think its six one way and half a dozen the other.
Whether speaking up meant he was not “the one” or it meant there was something wrong with me, either way, the myth would be destroyed. The romance ruined.  If I just kept my mouth shut, there was a chance the missing “O” was a fluke, and the result of using a condom or where I was in my menstrual cycle.
Maybe blaming it on a desire to perpetuate a myth sounds like a cop-out. But scoff all you want, myths are powerful things. They are what encompass our sense of awareness as human beings and differentiate us from animals. Campbell states, “It is that of the individual, conscious of himself as such, and aware that he, and all that he cares for, will one day die. This recognition of mortality and requirement to transcend is the first great impulse to mythology.” The takeaway is that while myths are so powerful because they stir feelings about life and death, it is not physical life and death, but that of the heart and soul.
            “Real” life does not necessarily encompass the truth of one’s inner life. “True” life is what writers refer to as the “heart” of their characters, and it can survive them even after death. The movie, Thelma and Louise, is a good example of this. Thelma and Louise have decided to die. And to the very end we want them to renew their faith in humanity, to believe in love again, which they find in their own sisterhood. Even as they sail over that cliff, we cheer for their emotional rescue. That’s Heart. The same concept can be seen at the end of Gladiator. Death was the only way to honor the heart of the story (myth). And it satisfies us, because we have maintained our moral equilibrium. Sure the hero died, but justice was served and hope is still alive.
So what myth did I perpetuate by faking an orgasm? Initially, I thought it a two-fold reaction. On the surface: “Love conquers all” (so long as I remain in denial). Just below the surface: “My needs are unattainable” (so I’ll shut up and take what I can get).
But why confess? Why was I comfortable to live on the surface in the heat of the moment, but not a week later?
Perhaps I ultimately had a three-tiered reaction. On the surface: “Love Conquers all.” Just below the surface: “My needs are unattainable.” And at the core of the matter: “Love still conquers all.” Maybe deep down, I refuse to give up on the idea that there is a Prince Charming tailor made for me. And I know I will never find him in truth, or in reality, if I never admit to my needs. And that ain’t easy.
It’s hard.
And embarrassing.
My confession, I believe, was a test of my inner mettle and perhaps of my partner’s true heart. Of course, tests are not the way to go about starting a healthy relationship (mind fuckery and all that), but they do make for a good hook into a story…or not. As I mentioned, my partner called me a hypocritical liar and bowed out. Once again, there was something wrong with me.
Yet, myth and optimism still reign supreme, falsely contracting kegels and ass-grabbing aside.  Next time, I’m not going to fake it.  Because there’s no way to know for certain he isn’t “the one” unless I admit my needs. And a true Prince Charming would take direction, and love me for it. Now that’s a real test.
I’d like to finish by sharing a shred of proof I voraciously cling to. This year, at the National Conference for the Romance Writers of America, Kristin Briggs was a keynote speaker. She gave a wonderful speech that made us laugh and cry, citing romance novels such as GONE WITH THE WIND as pulling her through the hard times. She ended by thanking her husband (sitting in the audience) for “all the great sex.” My immediate response was to howl, then tweet her quote including the following hashtag; #HopeSpringsEternal. I think Campbell would agree.

5 thoughts on “Joseph Campbell on Faking Orgasms: The Truth About Myth and Love Conquers All

  1. Believe it or not, I faked an orgasm before as well…though it's a lot more difficult to do. I was too drunk to finish and didn't want to disappoint my partner. Sadly, she caught me red-handed.


    Anyways, great blog!

    – Logan


  2. This comment particularly delights me. Probably because I now feel less alone. I'm glad you thought it was a great blog, though it pales in comparison to the adventures of Rondo, Rocket, and Irene. 🙂

    Thanks Logan!


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