Of the two or three things we know with reasonable certainty about sex between men and women, one of them is that some women have been known, occasionally, to fake orgasms.

For centuries, probably -- or at least since the 1989 movie in which Sally demonstrated to Harry just how easy it is to fake an orgasm -- women have known, and men have suspected, that female passion is sometimes, well, passionless.

Of course, opinions vary on the ethics of faking an orgasm. Some call it nothing more than a little white lie. And some call it nothing less than dishonesty.

But some would call it -- as one of the many respondents to a recent Dear Abby column did -- "an act of kindness."

Whatever you call it, the overwhelming response to a letter run by Dear Abby -- a letter from "B in Dallas" who admitted she faked orgasms -- is fascinating. For at least two reasons.

One, because of the large number of women who wrote in expressing relief that they were not alone in faking orgasms. And two, because of what their letters suggest about the role sex plays -- or doesn't play -- in a "good" marriage.

Here, just in case you missed it, is a sampling of readers' responses to Dear Abby on the subject of faking orgasms:

Dear Abby: It makes my husband feel so virile. But I truly love him, so it's no great sacrifice on my part.

Dear Abby: I am 33 and my husband is 28. He's a wonderful man but a lousy lover. . . . We've been married for six years and we really love each other, so I can live with it.

Dear Abby: I fake it just to get it over with. Sex was never as important to me as it is to my husband. . . . We've been married for 44 years and ours is a loving, solid marriage.

Let's face it. As much as we might wish for it to happen, by now we all know the sexual revolution did not liberate every woman. Or every man, for that matter. And if a woman fakes sexual pleasure because she doesn't place a high priority on it and her partner does, should we view that as unliberated and/or duplicitous?

Or could it possibly be seen as an unselfish act?

Consider this response -- from a husband -- to the Dear Abby column:

". . . Everybody fakes enjoyment of something at some time. Some husbands fake enjoyment of opera, the symphony, ballroom dancing and other activities their wives relish. Unselfish people are accustomed to accommodating others."

Which makes me wonder about a number of things: Would men fake orgasms -- if they could -- to "accommodate" their wives? And when does "accommodating others" become cheating yourself of your own right to respond honestly in any situation -- sexual or otherwise?

In another context, perhaps, letters such as the ones received by Dear Abby might raise this question: Can these marriages be saved?

But my question is this: Are they in need of being saved? Or are these marriages -- described as both loving and lasting -- working pretty well as they are, despite the sexual "fakery" involved? Or to put it another way: Just how important is sex in a marriage?

In her book, "Writing a Woman's Life," Carolyn G. Heilbrun addresses the relative importance of marrying for friendship -- as opposed to marrying for romance. Calling friendship "the enabling bond" between two people, she observes that "marriage to a lover is fatal. . . . The compulsion to find a lover and a husband in a single person has doomed more women to misery than any other illusion."

It's a fairly new idea, this notion of finding both lover and husband in one person. Historian Lawrence Stone has noted that between the years of 1500 and 1800, marriage evolved from a union resembling a practical business arrangement to one which contained the expectation of companionship and affection. In those days, passion was expected to pass with the courtship.

But women, it seems to me, have always understood more keenly than men that passion fades. "For a little while," Jane Eyre tells Edward Rochester, the ardent suitor she is about to marry, "you will perhaps be as you are now and then you will turn cool . . . and I shall have much ado to please you; but when you get used to me, you will perhaps like me again -- like me, I say, not love me."

Of course, all that happened long before Harry met Sally. Things were different back then. Why, when Edward met Jane, neither of them had ever heard of that contemporary patron saint of sex: Victoria's Secret.

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