I say ‘presumed’ because, as devotees of the film When Harry Met Sally know, courtesy of Meg Ryan’s loud simulation of an orgasm in a cafe, bedroom enthusiasm can easily be faked.
In fact, according to findings from researchers at the University of Ottawa published this week, moaning is a poor indicator that a woman is truly experiencing sexual pleasure — so poor that they suggest it is taken off the official Orgasm Rating Scale altogether.
Having spoken to more than 600 women, they say that faster breathing, goose bumps, pulsing, sweating, tingling and reddened skin are all much clearer signs that the earth is moving.
Yet these are hardly new tidings — to women at least. Even the Kama Sutra, which dates from the 3rd century AD, has instructions on how a woman should make appreciative sounds.
Because yes, we know we don’t have to groan during sex. But a display of sighing and moaning is highly useful in the bedroom. After all, you need some sort of cue to tell your partner they are hitting your sweet spot.
And it works both ways; men also vocalise to signify that their needs are being met. Changes in volume and tone are used in much the same way as people say ‘warm, warmer, very warm, boiling hot’ when on a treasure hunt. The nearer you are to the treasure, the more enthusiastic the signalling.
You’d only ignore these signposts to the big O if you didn’t care about the other person’s enjoyment.
Evolutionary scientists have their own views about vocalisation. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s acclaimed book Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality has a whole chapter dedicated to exploring why women aren’t silent during sex.
The authors pointed out that humans aren’t the only female primates who make a lot of noise while in the midst of a sexual encounter.
Zoologists have found that vocalisation can happen ‘before, during, or immediately after’ primates mate. It seems to be a way that the female of the species incites other males in the group.
The evolutionary view is that it’s a ‘copulation call’, or way of informing other males that a female is fertile and might enjoy a bit of rivalrous attention — what the Darwinians describe as ‘sperm wars’. It’s in the female’s interest to attract the fittest nearby male, so that any offspring are fine specimens.
There’s also an evolutionary theory that if the paternity of the child is in doubt and several suspects could be the father, all the males in the group will have an incentive to protect the female and her offspring.
Apparently, baboon ‘copulatory vocalisatations’ are particularly complex, and the more monogamous the species of primate, the less vocal the mating calls.
Back in the human realm, the theatrical moans that typify modern pornography — and in turn mainstream TV and cinema — mean it’s no wonder that women have learned to vocalise pleasure in a near-automatic fashion.
Conversely, one highbrow 61-year-old author friend of mine is a lifelong defendant of the time-honoured art of faking an orgasm.
She describes it as an ‘occasional, highly practical practice’ that she employs when she’s feeling tired or not in the mood for making love.
She feels that it’s ‘kinder and more polite’ to seem enthusiastic when erotic overtures are made under those circumstances, and then ‘bring proceedings to a fairly swift conclusion with a lot of encouraging noise’.
She is not the first woman to note (and sexologists concur) that a lot of encouraging noise will speed the human male to a crescendo — ‘and then everyone can go to sleep’. Perhaps one danger of this study is that it serves to out those moaners who are also fakers.
But problems can arise if an anxious woman persists in expressing every sign of pleasure when she doesn’t actually feel any.
I know of one couple who’d been together for 30 years — and married for 24 — before the wife announced that she’d never had an orgasm during their relationship.
What was almost impossible for the husband to accept — and which led to their rather inevitable divorce — was not that he had been unable to satisfy her, but the fact that she’d been giving him every sign of sexual satisfaction, including throaty vocalisations, for three decades, rather than telling him the truth.
You can’t help reflecting on how much tumult may have been avoided if she’d confessed to the situation earlier and they’d sought counselling to resolve the issue. My advice to women is it’s best to be honest about their pleasure, otherwise you might help your beloved to form unsatisfactory habits.
When the orgasm gap is already so heavily skewed in men’s favour — research shows that while 95 per cent of men report they usually or always climax during sex, this falls to 65 per cent for heterosexual women — we’ve got to be vocal about what actually turns us on.
It strikes me that this principle of honesty is perhaps even more important in short-term relationships because it’s always better to hand a man along to his next partner better trained in the erotic arts. Don’t leave him thinking he’s Casanova when he’s actually Mr Bean.
Either way, a life without sighs and moans is one without sexual cues — and, lord knows, we all need a road map when we’re lost in the sexual desert.