Dear Roe, I will admit that I don’t think anyone in my story comes out looking particularly great – me included. Basically, I was on a night out and ended up back at mine with a guy I’ve been (very) casually seeing for a while. We were having sex, but I think we were both a bit too drunk for it to be as good as usual. I didn’t orgasm, which I was fine with, but when the guy went to cum, something seemed a bit weird – I’ve slept with him enough to know what he’s like and it just seemed different. So the next morning I’m cleaning up, find the condom we used on the floor and I’m pretty sure it was empty. Now I’m really suspicious that he faked cumming. Is that normal? Do guys do this?? Should I be horribly offended, because that’s how I’m feeling.

Ah, The Ejaculate Nancy Drew, we meet again. So glad you could tear yourself away from masterminding CSI Miami plots to investigate the discarded prophylactics scattered around your boudoir. (Seriously though – does this dude not have any sexiquette? Tie that delightful present up in a nice little bow and pop it in the bathroom rubbish bin like a nice civilised human being, dude.)

First of all, I cannot definitively state whether or not your guy faked an orgasm, and in the interests of covering all bases, you should probably consider that maybe in your mutually drunken states, the condom was just left unused – and take all necessary health and safety precautions in terms of birth control and STD checks, just in case.  Or, a less scary alternative is that he fumbled with one condom, abandoned it on the floor (rude), and used another for the actual deed.

Or, he may have experienced a dry orgasm, where he experienced the physical pleasure of an orgasm, but had ejaculated several times that day and so was temporarily out of seminal fluid stocks, like a Mac store the day after a new iPhone is released. Or, a much more X-Men-worthy alternative is that he has invisible and/or evaporating semen, which disappears like a vampire at the break of dawn.

Or, yeah, he could have faked ejaculating. Multiple studies show that 25-35 percent of men say they’ve faked ejaculating at least once in their lives. While the most common occurrence seems to be young men faking during their first forays into penetrative sex, it’s likely that these are just the stories told because of the relative lack of embarrassment over youthful fumblings compared to issues in adulthood, and the misguided societal equations between sexual performance and masculinity.

In reality, men choose to fake orgasms for a number of reasons. They may be attempting to cover up the fact that they’ve already ejaculated, because of perceived ideas of how long sex “should” last and how their masculinity will be perceived if they don’t last that long. (Men – DO NOT DO THIS. After ejaculation, your body has a refractory period where your penis is extra sensitive, and continuing to pound away could result in serious pain.)

Men may also fake orgasms because they’re nervous that it’s taking them too long to ejaculate, because again, all sex must adhere to a strict time frame or all genitals involved will make like the bus in Speed and explode, while Dennis Hopper watches from a distance and laughs maniacally.

In some cases, a guy just mightn’t be getting there – he mightn’t be in the mood, he may have had too much to drink (ring a bell in this case, Nancy Drew?), medication could be affecting him, he mightn’t actually need to finish sex by ejaculating, or (gasp) what you’re doing may not be doing the trick.

But because we’ve created a cultural dynamic that portrays vaginas as Sphinx-like labyrinths of confusion and trapdoors, and penises as touch-sensitive lamps that just need a tap to go full-blast, it’s much harder for men to speak openly about not being able to ejaculate, occasionally or habitually.

Women not achieving orgasm is practically expected – even you said you didn’t orgasm the exact same night you think that he may have faked it, and yet you problematise his off-night and even begin to blame yourself, without ever even thinking that he should do the same. Because men not achieving orgasm must indicate a serious issue – maybe it’s even your fault.

But maybe, just maybe, he, like you, just had an off-night.

Invite him for a do-over. Have a couple fewer drinks. Enjoy the sex. Tell him to put the bloody condoms in the bin. And for the love of all things sexy, refrain from rooting around in there and examining them with a magnifying glass.

Hey Roe, Reader from California here! Blame Amy Schumer for this one. A few friends and I saw Trainwreck this past weekend, and in it there’s a lot of talk about how many men is “too many” for a woman to have had sex with. Politically and feminism-wise, we all agreed that of course, there isn’t any number – but, in talking, we all admitted that we would be freaked out if our partners (either male or female) told us they had slept with more than a certain number. In a group of four friends, these numbers varied from 11 to 50 – but we all did have a numerical limit to how our sex-positive beliefs would actually play out in real life. I know we all theoretically say there isn’t really “too many” . . . but in real life, there kind of is, right?

Ah, the mathematical sex game. If Amy has twenty-seven former sexual partners and one judgmental current partner, how honest should Amy be to keep her current asshat – I mean, partner?

No, there isn’t a numerical figure that constitutes “too many” sexual partners, and I think, as a concept, it’s a pretty bizarre one too – not to mention fallible, even by your calculation-heavy approach. Let’s take the highest number your friend group gave: fifty sexual partners.

Are there any contingencies, or is this a firm number? Do you have an age where this begins to become acceptable? Does it matter how many years these sexual encounters happened over?

For example, let’s look at the average age for an Irish person to first have sex, which is 17 or 18, depending on their gender, and assume that the person in question had a string of semi-serious relationships, averaging two sexual partners per year – not an extreme figure, I hope you’d agree. By age 43, that person could have easily reached fifty sexual partners.

Is that more, less or equally as judgement-worthy as someone who attended a week-long group sex convention and got that number up to fifty over a few days?

Or, let’s flip your little game: is there a number that you’d deem to be too low? What if you meet a person who’s a very sexual, very sex-positive person who had one long-term relationship since they were a teenager, is now single again at age 43 and has only slept with one person. Would you judge them?

Why one and not the other? Circumstance and personal choice is playing an equal role in both of their lives, but your question indicates that you only care about numbers at the higher end of the scale.

So why do we care about other people’s “sex number”? It’s a completely arbitrary and deeply flawed attempt to judge someone, to place a self-created numerical limit on another person’s sex life. Unsurprisingly, that limit just so happens to always be above our own number – shout-out to sneaky exercises in smug self-righteousness.

It’s also an attempt to deem anything above that number to be unacceptable, wrong, dirty, slutty, or pathological – a lovely side-effect of the shame and stigma that surrounds sex. Unsurprisingly, these criticisms are more commonly levelled at women than men, because of society’s hardcore misogyny habit that it’s so unwilling to kick.

So when it comes to asking people about their sex number, you have to first ask yourself if there is a number they could give that would make you judge them – in you and your friends’ cases, the answer to this would be yes. If so, you have to acknowledge the fact that you are literally seeking out ways to judge and shame people, and ask yourself: what the hell is up with that?

Is this based in your own insecurities regarding your sex number? Is it internalised shame regarding sex? Or is it general insecurity and nastiness, where you don’t really care about people’s sex numbers, but know that it’s a pretty powerful and socially supported way to shame people (particularly women), and you just enjoy trying to make people feel bad about themselves?

I will say that while I don’t think there is any such thing as having had “too many” sex partners, there absolutely are bad reasons for having sex with people, such as using sex as a currency for love, power, or self-esteem; using sex as an unhealthy form of emotional escapism; and self-destructive tendencies that encourage risky behaviour.

The logical fallacy is that the higher the number, the greater chance – but these lapses in judgement can happen to anyone, in one-night stands or long-term monogamous relationships. And these reasons are only bad reasons if they’re harmful to the people involved.

Because, otherwise, we’re all consenting adults, and should be able to have healthy, empowering sex with however many people we choose, without having other adults sitting around deciding to shun us like a bad high-school-movie cliché.

Seriously, forget Trainwreck. Go back and watch Mean Girls and see what type of characters the judgmental, slut-shaming girls are. Hint: they’re not the good guys.

Do you have a question for Roe? You can submit it anonymously at

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *