Strategy 20 – John Gottman Says Lesbian Couples Do this Better

Strategy 20 – John Gottman Says Lesbian Couples Do this Better

John Gottman tells all couples, including lesbian couples, that one of the Seven Principles of Making Marriage work is to allow your partner to influence you.

lesbian couples, john gottman
For those of you sensitive to being “controlled,” be sure to note the difference between influence and control.  Influence suggests that her thoughts, opinions, wants and needs matter to you.  Control is a coercive tactic to get your way.  There is a big difference between the two.

When you partner with someone, typically you do so because you have respect, value, admiration, appreciation, and belief in the person with whom you choose to spend your life. If that is not true for you, then you may need to reexamine your willingness to accept influence from your partner, or according to John Gottman, your relationship soon may be in trouble. Remember, a relationship is the greatest investment you will make with your life.  If your investment in a relationship does not improve your life, then what purpose does it serve?

By partnering, you are positioning your life in such a way that you have an expanded resource (your relationship) on which to draw from and assist you in becoming the very best version of your self. If you have indeed partnered with someone you respect and value, then it only makes sense that it may be worth listening to their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and suggestions.

As happy lesbian couples, you respond to one another in ways that consistently communicate to the other “What you think and how you feel about things matters to me, and I value you and your opinions, even when I disagree.” John Gottman’s research has revealled many lesbians are doing this well already.  In fact, lesbian couples tend to accept their partner’s influence more readily than heterosexual couples. It is not that you have to agree on everything, but it is imperative that you respect and value one another’s opinions.

According to John Gottman, gay and lesbian couples value fairness and power-sharing between partners more than it appears heterosexual couples do.  In fact, in research with heterosexual couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that husbands who do not accept the influence of their wives have an 81% chance of their marriage deteriorating.

Continue to value power-sharing and fairness and you will continue moving toward a happy lesbian relationship!

Lesbian Sex FAQS:  How many times weekly?

Lesbian Sex FAQS: How many times weekly?

Lesbian Sex:  Frequently Asked Questions Series

How many times does the average lesbian couple have sex per week?

This is a question I asked 496 lesbians whom I surveyed in 2011 while working on my dissertation for my PhD in Clinical Sexology.  The topic of my dissertation was lesbian sex and relationship satisfaction.

Lesbians were asked to report how frequently they had had sex within the six months prior to taking the survey.  If they were single, they were asked to reflect on the last six months of the last relationship they were in.  Clearly, self-report is subject to memory and as a therapist who works with lesbian couples on a daily basis, I can attest that self-report varies among lesbian couples when asked, “How often would you say you have sex per week?”  Not surprisingly, the satisfied partner often recalls a higher number of sexual encounters with her partner than the unsatisfied parter.

Here’s the lesbian sex chapter of my dissertation regarding how often lesbian couples are having sex.

However, here’s what was reported by the 496 lesbians surveyed.

lesbian sex, times per week

When you add up the top three options, no sex, once per month or less you have 49% of lesbians having sex 0 – 1 times per month.  On the other end, you have roughly 32% having sex 1-4 times per week.  In the middle, there is 20% having sex 2-3 times per month.  So, it would seem that lesbians tend to fall into two different camps – sexually active at a fairly regular rate or minimally sexually active.

Summary of how often lesbian sex occurs with lesbian couples:

  • 49% = 0-1 x’s per month
  • 47% = 2x’s a month to 3x’s a week
  • 5% = 4 or more times a week

 

Read : 11 Erogenous Zones – tips for Lesbian Sex

 

Lesbian Sexual Frequency Dissertation References

This is a dissertation by Michele O'Mara, PhD on the topic of Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction Among Lesbians.  Tap here to read the entire dissertation in a pdf format.

 

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How Often Should Lesbian Couples Have Sex?

This is a dissertation by Michele O'Mara, PhD on the topic of Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction Among Lesbians.  Tap here to read the entire dissertation in a pdf format.

 

CHAPTER TEN

CONCLUSION

The purpose of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey was to determine the correlation between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction among lesbians. This researcher was successful in achieving this goal, and also revealed the following information in the process: the sexual frequency of lesbian couples in the twenty-first century, a contemporary definition of lesbian sex according to lesbians themselves, the sexual behaviors in which lesbians regularly engage, and the satisfaction levels with sex as it relates to sexual frequency.

This researcher hypothesized that there is not a strong correlation between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction among lesbians. Based on findings from the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, this researcher concludes that while there is a correlation between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction, the correlation is not strong. To determine the correlation between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction for lesbians, four key questions had to be answered. These questions were the following: “How do lesbians define sex?”, “What are contemporary lesbians doing sexually?”, “How frequently lesbians are lesbians actually having sex?”, and, “How satisfied are lesbians with their relationships?”

The first question answered in this research was, “How do lesbians define sex?” The results of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey revealed that how lesbians define sex has become more inclusive over the last thirty years. Lesbian sex was most commonly defined by the respondents in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study as one of three behaviors between women: oral sex, vaginal penetration, or clitoral stimulation. The older the respondent, the more likely she was to include non-genitally focused activities in her definition of sex. The younger the respondent, the more likely she was to include anal stimulation in her definition of sex. The majority of contemporary lesbians also agree that an orgasm is not a requirement when defining lesbian sex.

Next, this researcher answered the question, “What are contemporary lesbians doing sexually?” Not only has the definition of sex expanded to include more activities, but the actual sexual behaviors of lesbians also bring more diverse experiences to the 21st century lesbian than the 20th century lesbian. While foreplay and kissing during sex continue to be the most consistent ingredients in the sexual repertoire of lesbians, penetrative sex with a vibrator/dildo and oral sex have increased in popularity over the last three decades.

Masturbation rates have remained stable over the past few decades; lesbians masturbate roughly three to four times per month. The majority of lesbians (84%) experience orgasms when they have sex. The research also revealed that the most common technique used by lesbians during sex is clitoral stimulation (finger sex), followed by penetrative sex. Oral sex is the least common of the top three behaviors considered “having sex” by lesbians. Lesbians also reported that they like to take their time when they have sex, with seventy-nine percent having engaged in sexual sessions that characteristically lasted thirty minutes or longer.

With answers to how lesbians define and practice sex, this researcher next answered the question, “What is most important in a relationship for lesbians?” The most important aspects of a relationship for lesbians are a strong emotional connection and a strong intellectual connection. Among the various relationship characteristics evaluated in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, sexual frequency surfaced as least important to lesbians.

Lesbians who placed the greatest value on sexual frequency were those partnered for three to five years, and those who lived together with no children. The majority of women (55%) reported that sex was not the issue that caused their relationships to end, and of those who cited sexual issues as the motivation for their relationship’s demise, twenty-eight percent indicated that it was caused by a difference in desired sexual frequency.

The next question this researcher answered was, “How frequently are lesbians having sex?” When compared to research dating back to the 1980s, the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey suggest that the frequency of lesbian sex has not increased. In fact, when compared to some studies, the rates of lesbian sexual frequency have experienced a slight decline.

Finally, this researcher then answered the question, “How satisfied are lesbians with their relationships?” In lesbian relationships, the least satisfied couples were those who were partnered between six and ten years. This is valuable information for the clinician who strives to normalize the various phases of relationship development, offering clients affirmation that they are not alone in their relationship struggles. This information is also useful in promoting the importance of greater attention to lesbian relationships during these years, as the lower satisfaction rates may lead to more breakups if appropriate interventions are not made during these years.

Unlike heterosexuals, lesbians do not have clear roadmaps to guide the development of their relationships. Even if heterosexuals reject the traditional paths that are socially prescribed for relationship development (dating, engagement, marriage, children, etc.), there is, at least, a point from which to consciously deviate. Lesbians, however, are left to trial and error. There is little information available to guide lesbians as they seek to understand the dynamics of their own relationships.

While analyzing the data provided in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, it became apparent that the number of lesbians who are raising children together is increasing, and the average length of a lesbian relationship is longer than it was decades ago. This makes sense in the context of increasing societal acceptance of lesbian relationships. With acceptance comes a higher level of family support, which is important for creating lasting partnerships and families, regardless of sexual orientation. Another benefit of social acceptance for lesbians is the likelihood that lesbians will have a greater respect for their own relationship.

Prior research has emphasized the comparison of sexual frequency between the various couple dyads, inferring that lesbian sexuality is somehow impaired because of the consistently lower rates of frequency that result from this comparison. This researcher believes there is no need to compare frequency rates between couple dyads, and that the rate of sexual frequency is not central to the health or success of lesbian relationships. This researcher rejects the assumption that heterosexuals represent the healthy standard by which lesbians must be compared. By rejecting this comparison, it is easier to see relationships created between women as a unique and separate experience, and this allows for the comparison of apples to apples, rather than apples (lesbians) to oranges (heterosexuals).

According to the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, lesbian couples experience a relatively dramatic decline in sexual frequency after they have been partnered for only six months. The most significant decrease in sexual frequency is found among lesbians who live together, regardless of whether or not children are living with them. Lesbians between the ages of twenty-one and thirty years old report the lowest rates of decline in their sexual frequency. This is also the most sexually active group of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey based on age. The highest drop in frequency occurs with lesbians who are fifty-one to sixty years old. The most commonly reported reason for a decline in sexual frequency is stress, and only twenty percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample denied a loss of sexual frequency in their relationships.

This leads to the big question on which this research is based. Do the lower rates of sexual frequency, and the rapid declines in sexual frequency, impact the overall relationship satisfaction for lesbians? Ironically, lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey rated sexual frequency among the least important variable of their relationships, yet they report this is also what they are least satisfied with in their relationship.

The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey suggests that a slight change in sexual frequency in either direction appears to have no serious consequences on lesbian relationship satisfaction. However, when sexual frequency is not fully satisfying, the negative impact on overall relationship satisfaction is not as great as the positive impact of a fully satisfying rate of sexual frequency. In a lesbian relationship, an emotional connection has a much stronger impact than sexual frequency does. This applies equally to negative and positive changes in the emotional connection that lesbians share.

After analyzing the data of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, this researcher reached several conclusions. First, lesbian relationship development follows a strong, consistent pattern for the majority of lesbian couples. The pattern starts when lesbian couples partner with a particular emphasis on the emotional attraction, which is prized more highly than any other aspect of the relationship throughout the course of their relationship, no matter how long their relationship lasts. Sexual connection between lesbians is strongest at the start of the relationship, and dramatically declines after the first year lesbian couples are partnered. Lesbians experience the greatest decline in relationship satisfaction between years six and ten, and lesbian couples who make it to their eleventh anniversary begin to experience incremental improvements in relationship satisfaction as their relationship continues.

Another conclusion this researcher reached is that sexual frequency does influence relationship satisfaction; however, it appears the power of its influence is unidirectional. Higher sexual frequency correlates with higher relationship satisfaction. The reverse, however, is not true. Lower sexual frequency does not correlate with lower relationship satisfaction.

Couples who experienced a slight decrease in sexual frequency were still fully satisfied ninety percent of the time, and couples who experienced a slight increase in sexual frequency were also fully satisfied ninety-percent of the time. The groups who most frequently reported that their relationship was not satisfying were comprised of the following: those who stopped having sex (24%) and lesbians who reported a significant increase in their sexual frequency (13%).

Lesbians who ceased all sexual activity had relationship satisfaction ratings that were distributed fairly evenly among the three levels of satisfaction. Thirty-four percent were fully satisfied, forty-two percent were moderately satisfied, and the lowest group was twenty-four percent who were not fully satisfied. Of the lesbians who reported a significant decrease in sexual frequency, fifty-three percent indicated they were very satisfied with their overall relationship, forty-one percent reported they were moderately satisfied, and only six percent reported they were not satisfied.

There is no discernible pattern in satisfaction ratings that indicates a strong correlation between sexual frequency and overall relationship satisfaction. Many of the reported changes in sexual frequency (slight increase, slight decrease, moderate increase, no changes, and significant increase) do not seem to greatly impact the overall relationship satisfaction of lesbians.

The changes in sexual frequency that are associated with the lowest satisfaction ratings (significant decrease and stopping all together) do not elicit strong negative responses from lesbians in terms of their overall relationship satisfaction. Interestingly, the two categories that draw the strongest negative ratings for overall relationship satisfaction are women with a significant increase in sexual frequency (13%) and women who have stopped having sex all together (24%).

A moderate increase in sexual frequency does not pose any harm to relationship satisfaction. Ultimately, it appears that any amount of sex is important to lesbians, and even though lesbians generally want more sex than they are having, the absence of sex does not decisively detract from relationship satisfaction.

Ninety percent of lesbians who are fully satisfied with their sexual frequency are also fully satisfied with their overall relationship. This suggests that when sexual frequency is satisfying, there is a strong possibility that the relationship in general will be satisfying. However, when looked at from the opposite perspective, lesbians who report that they are not fully satisfied with their sexual frequency still state they are fully satisfied with their overall relationship thirty-nine percent of the time, and moderately satisfied thirty-three percent of the time. This means the majority of lesbians (72%) do not identify their overall relationship as not fully satisfied regardless of how infrequently they are having sex.

Only twenty-eight percent of lesbians with unsatisfactory sexual frequency report they are not fully satisfied with their overall relationship. When sexual frequency is not fully satisfying, the negative impact on overall relationship satisfaction is not as great as the positive impact when sexual frequency is fully satisfying. Therefore, the positive impact of satisfying rates of sexual frequency is greater than the negative impact of unsatisfying rates of sexual frequency for lesbian couples.

In conclusion, sexual frequency bears more relevance to relationship satisfaction than this researcher anticipated. However, the data analyzed in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Study does not support a relationship between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction that is strong enough to assert that there is a correlation. Thus, the formal conclusion of this research is that while sexual frequency has the power to positively impact a lesbian relationship, infrequent sexual activity among lesbians does not necessitate the likelihood of lower levels of relationship satisfaction.

Challenges with the Study

There were some challenges with the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study. The sample from which the data was drawn included primarily white lesbians (77%), resulting in a racially homogenous pool of survey respondents. Another concern with the sample was the disproportionate geographic representation. Although eighty-four percent of the U.S. cities are represented in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey with at least one respondent from each state, the majority of the sample (61%) is from the researcher’s home state, Indiana. The imbalance in geographic representation may overemphasize the attitudes, beliefs, and feelings of lesbians in the Midwest, which is commonly believed to be more conservative. This geographic bias may skew the survey results.

Another concern about the sampling process results from the outreach method used. Because the research was conducted by a psychotherapist who specializes in the care of lesbian individuals and couples, the survey outreach may have included a disproportionate number of lesbians who are in therapy. This also has the potential to bias the survey outcomes, assuming that lesbians in therapy may present with more concerns about their relationship than lesbians not in counseling.

A third concern with the study relates to the use of self-report to gather data. In some cases, lesbians were asked to rely on their memory of a relationship that was terminated up to six months ago. The greater amount of recall that is required, the greater margin of error there is in the ultimate findings. Additionally, lesbians who were recounting their experiences of a prior relationship may have a biased perception of that relationship depending on how it ended. If the relationship ended poorly, they may experience negative recall, which could influence their thoughts about relationship satisfaction, or even their feelings about the frequency of sex and other variables explored in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

Areas identified for future research

Several additional questions surfaced while researching the topic of sexual frequency as it correlates with relationship satisfaction. One of the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, as well as Lever’s Survey (1995), shows that no matter how much sex lesbians are having, they generally report the desire for more. This particular dichotomy of infrequent sex by lesbians who state a wish for more seems to be at the heart of the lesbian sexual dilemma. Further research may prove helpful in answering this question: What is preventing lesbians who report a desire for more frequent sex from having more sex?

Another unanswered question that surfaced during this study is, “How does perceived relationship security influence sexual frequency in lesbian relationships?” This is not a topic that was addressed in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, nor is it a topic that this researcher came across in her research. However, it seems that relationship security, or more specifically, the feeling of safety that one’s relationship is strong and stable, appears to be a valuable characteristic to lesbians, and one that is supported by a strong emotional connection. This researcher theorizes the possibility that the greater the perceived relationship security for a lesbian couple, the lower the rate of sexual frequency.

Other areas of interest for further research relate to the universality of lesbian sexual frequency. How do rates of lesbian sexual frequency in the United States compare to other countries, particularly in more progressive countries that provide rights and protections for lesbian relationships? Is there a cultural influence, or even a geographical influence, on sexual frequency among lesbians? Perhaps a study comparing lesbians from selected larger cities such as New York City, New York and Los Angeles, California could be compared to lesbians from smaller cities in the Midwest such as Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio. The correlation of race and sexual frequency among lesbians is also a valuable topic to explore.

This worker concludes that the next step in the quest for greater understanding about lesbian sexuality will be best achieved through qualitative research. The most accurate picture of lesbian sexuality will likely require a detailed, longitudinal, qualitative study that tracks the nuances and dynamics of a lesbian couple’s relationship from the initial stages of courtship throughout the course of their relationship. This would allow for new information to surface that has not yet been hypothesized, and for lesbians to give voice to their experiences as they are happening, rather than the subjective nature involved in recalling the events of one’s relationship.

What is most clear to this researcher is that sex between women is uniquely lesbian and without comparison. When juxtaposed with heterosexual or gay male relationships, lesbian sexuality is out of focus, blurred by what is perceived to be “normal” when in fact, lesbian sexuality has no established baseline behavior of its own. As research continues on lesbian sexuality without preconceived notions about how it “should” look or what it “should” entail, interesting and important discoveries will likely be made. Ultimately, lesbian sexuality is already valuable in its own right for its own nuances. Unfortunately, it is not yet well understood. In time, lesbians will be equipped to define their own sexual health through greater understanding of lesbian sexuality as a whole, and when that happens, needed progress will have been made.

Read Chapter Nine

Dissertation References

Lesbian Relationship Satisfaction

Lesbian Relationship Satisfaction

This is a dissertation by Michele O'Mara, PhD on the topic of Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction Among Lesbians.  Tap here to read the entire dissertation in a pdf format.

CHAPTER NINE

LESBIAN RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION

In order to correlate sexual frequency with relationship satisfaction, a clear understanding of lesbian relationship satisfaction must be established. This chapter explores the key areas of lesbian relationships and the corresponding levels of satisfaction that lesbians experience. Included in this discussion will be satisfaction levels associated with social compatibility, intellectual connections, spiritual compatibility, sexual aspects (chemistry, pleasure, and frequency), and emotional connection. The connection between relationship satisfaction and sexual frequency among lesbians is also examined.

Overall Relationship Satisfaction Levels

The curiosity about lesbian sexuality grew after Schwartz and Blumstein reported that lesbians were having less sex than any other couple pair. In the same publication, they noted that lesbians “do not feel less satisfied with their relationships when sex occurs infrequently” (Scwartz and Blumstein 1983, 201). Since then, much of the research that has been conducted on lesbian relationship satisfaction focused on proving the viability of lesbian relationships, which was usually achieved by comparing them to heterosexual relationships (Peplau and Cochran 1980; Testa et al. 1987; Crawford and Solliday 1996; Kurdek 1998). For example, Peplau and Ghavami confirmed that “same-sex couples do not differ significantly from heterosexual couples” (2009, 1). Essentially, this means there is equal opportunity for both good and bad relationships regardless of the sexual orientation of the partners.

Once researchers established that lesbian relationships are as satisfying as heterosexual relationships, a few researchers expanded their scope of inquiry to include the variables that may contribute to lesbian relationship satisfaction. Schreurs and Buunk were among these researchers, and they found that lesbian relationship satisfaction increases along with the increase in a lesbian’s perception of equity in her relationship (1996). Similarly, Peplau and Spalding discovered that when lesbians believe they have relatively equal levels of power and decision-making in their relationship, their satisfaction rates are higher (2000). Other researchers discovered that sexual satisfaction in women is linked most strongly with emotional variables, especially the quality of relationship rather than physical or sexual characteristics of a relationship (Hawton, Gath, and Day 1994; Herbert 1996; Hurlbert and Apt 1993).

Among the few studies conducted on lesbian relationships, sexual frequency has received more focus than many topics. However, the studies most often addressed the question, “Why are lesbians having sex less frequently than other couple pairs?” This researcher decided to observe the current state of sexual frequency among lesbians and to identify the influence sexual frequency has on lesbian relationship satisfaction.

Respondents in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey were asked in question seventeen, “How would you rate your satisfaction with the following aspects of your current or most recent relationship?” The aspects listed included the following: “emotional connectedness,” “sexual chemistry,” “intellectual connection,” “spiritual connection,” “social compatibility,” “frequency of sex with my partner,” “physical pleasure experienced during sex with my partner,” “amount of time spent during each sexual encounter,” and her “overall relationship satisfaction.” The response options included: “extremely satisfying,” “very satisfying,” “moderately satisfying,” “slightly satisfying,” and “not at all satisfying.” The responses to these questions are detailed in Table 17.

Table 17.   Satisfaction Ratings of Relationship Characteristics for Lesbians

Satisfaction Rating

Extremely Satisfied

Very
Satisfied

Moderately Satisfied

Slightly Satisfied

Not at All Satisfied

Intellectual Connection

51%

11%

28%

5%

5%

Physical Pleasure with Sex

45%

29%

16%

5%

4%

Emotional Connection

40%

27%

20%

7%

6%

Sexual Chemistry

39%

27%

23%

11%

7%

Overall Relationship Satisfaction

34%

34%

17%

9%

6%

Social Compatibility

31%

35%

23%

8%

4%

Time Spent on Sex

30%

37%

19%

7%

6%

Spiritual Connection

28%

28%

23%

14%

8%

Sexual Frequency

17%

22%

25%

16%

21%

 

To analyze these responses, this researcher combined the number of women who responded “extremely satisfying” with those who responded “very satisfying” and created a new category to describe this group as “Fully Satisfied.” The women who responded with “slightly satisfying” or “not at all satisfying” are placed in a newly created category, “Not Fully Satisfied.” The remaining group of responses is categorized as “moderately satisfied,” which will remain its own neutral category of neither fully satisfied nor under satisfied.

Analysis of lesbians in the fully satisfied and the not fully satisfied categories reveals that of all the relationship characteristics assessed, women were most satisfied with the physical pleasure they experienced with sex (74%). The second most highly rated characteristic by lesbians is their overall relationship satisfaction. This was considered fully satisfied by the majority (68%) of the sample, and only fifteen percent of the sample considered their relationship not fully satisfying. Thus, most lesbians are very satisfied with their relationships.

Lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey were least satisfied with their sexual frequency (39%). This finding suggests that despite the fact that lesbians endorse high levels of pleasure associated with sex, they are largely disappointed by their sexual infrequency. The second least satisfying characteristic reported by lesbians is their spiritual connection. Roughly half of the sample (56%) reported they were fully satisfied, and twenty-two percent reported they were not fully satisfied with their spiritual connection.

The remaining five characteristics were all similarly rated and included the following: “time spent on sex” (67%), “emotional connection” (67%), “sexual chemistry” (66%), “social compatibility” (66%), and “intellectual connection” (62%). These same characteristics were rated not fully satisfied by ten to eighteen percent of the sample, with sexual chemistry being the least satisfying (18%) of all the traits.

 

Figure 19.  Lesbians Fully Satisfied with Relationship Characteristics

 

 

Table 18.   Satisfaction Ratings for Lesbians, Based on Fully Satisfied and Not Fully Satisfied

Satisfaction Rating

Fully Satisfied (FS)

Not Fully Satisfied (NFS)

Physical Pleasure with Sex

74%

9%

Overall Relationship Satisfaction

68%

15%

Time Spent on Sex

67%

13%

Emotional Connection

67%

13%

Sexual Chemistry

66%

18%

Social Compatibility

66%

12%

Intellectual Connection

62%

10%

Spiritual Connection

56%

22%

Sexual Frequency

39%

37%

 

 

Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction

 Further analysis indicates that a slight increase or a slight decrease in sexual frequency does not negatively affect relationship satisfaction for lesbians. Couples who experienced a slight decrease in sexual frequency were still fully satisfied ninety-percent of the time, and couples who experienced a slight increase in sexual frequency were also fully satisfied ninety-percent of the time (Table 19). The groups who most frequently reported that their relationship was not satisfying were those who stopped having sex (24%), followed by lesbians who reported they had a significant increase in their sexual frequency (13%).

Lesbians who ceased all sexual activity had relationship satisfaction ratings that were distributed fairly evenly among the three levels of satisfaction. Thirty-four percent were fully satisfied, forty-two percent were moderately satisfied, and the lowest group was twenty-four percent, who were not fully satisfied. Of the lesbians who reported a significant decrease in sexual frequency, fifty-three percent indicated they were very satisfied with their overall relationship, forty-one percent reported they were moderately satisfied, and only six percent reported they were not satisfied.

There is no discernible pattern to these satisfaction ratings that would indicate a strong correlation between sexual frequency and overall relationship satisfaction. Moderate changes in sexual frequency (slight increase, slight decrease, moderate increase, no changes, and significant increase) do not seem to greatly impact the overall relationship satisfaction of lesbians.

The sexual frequency changes associated with the lowest satisfaction ratings (significant decrease and stopping all together) do not draw strong negative responses from lesbians when correlated with their overall relationship satisfaction. Interestingly, the two categories that draw the strongest negative ratings for overall relationship satisfaction are women with a significant increase in sexual frequency (13%) and women who have stopped having sex all together (24%).

A slight change in sexual frequency in either direction appears to have no serious consequences for lesbians. While not as helpful as a slight increase or decrease is in the overall relationship satisfaction, a moderate increase in sexual frequency also does not indicate serious harm to relationship satisfaction. Ultimately, it appears that any amount of sex is important to lesbians, and even though lesbians generally want more sex than they are having, the absence of sex does not decisively detract from relationship satisfaction.

Table 19.   Satisfaction Ratings for Lesbians Based on Changes in Sexual Frequency Listed from Most Satisfying to Least Satisfying

Changes in Sexual Frequency

Fully Satisfied

Moderately Satisfied

Not Fully Satisfied

Slight Increase

90%

11%

0%

Slight Decrease

90%

9%

1%

Moderate Increase

88%

12%

0%

No Changes

79%

17%

4%

Significant Increase

78%

13%

13%

Moderate Decrease

70%

26%

3%

Significant Decrease

53%

41%

6%

Stopped

34%

42%

24%

 

Figure 20.  Lesbians Fully Satisfied with Sexual Frequency as it Relates to Sexual Frequency Changes

 

Does sexual frequency influence satisfaction with the overall relationship for lesbians? The answer is not as simple as yes or no. When lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey were asked about their satisfaction with sexual frequency, 165 respondents (37% of the sample) reported they were not fully satisfied. There were 174 respondents who reported they were fully satisfied with their sexual frequency (39% of the sample), and the remaining 111 reported moderate satisfaction with their sexual frequency.

Ninety percent of lesbians who are fully satisfied with their sexual frequency are also fully satisfied with their overall relationship. This suggests that when sexual frequency is satisfying, there is a strong possibility that the relationship in general will be satisfying. However, when looked at from the opposite perspective, lesbians who report that they are not fully satisfied with their sexual frequency still state they are fully satisfied with their overall relationship thirty-nine percent of the time and moderately satisfied thirty-three percent of the time, which means the majority of lesbians (72%) do not identify their overall relationship as not fully satisfied, regardless of how infrequently they are having sex.

Only twenty-eight percent of lesbians with an unsatisfactory sexual frequency report they are not fully satisfied with their overall relationship. When sexual frequency is not fully satisfying, the negative impact on the overall relationship satisfaction is not as great as the positive impact when sexual frequency is fully satisfying. Therefore, the comparative benefit of fully satisfying sexual frequency contributes much more to a lesbian relationship than the disappointment of unsatisfying sexual frequency takes away from lesbian relationships.

Table 20.   Correlation of Sexual Frequency Satisfaction and Overall Relationship Satisfaction for Lesbians

Overall Relationship Satisfaction

FS with Sexual Frequency
n=174                       39% of Sample

Moderately Satisfied with Sexual Frequency                   n=111                                       25% of Sample

NFS with Sexual Frequency                    n= 165                                    37% of Sample

FS with Overall Relationship

90%

76%

39%

Moderately Satisfied with Overall Relationship

7%

12%

33%

NFS with Overall Relationship

3%

13%

28%

According to the respondents in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey, the most important aspect of a lesbian relationship is consistent with findings by other researchers, including Diamond, who stated that “women generally place less emphasis on the sexual component of their lesbian or bisexual identification” (2008, 50). There is little disagreement about the differences between what men value most and what women value most in a relationship. In the words of Peplau and Fingerhut, “ Men, regardless of sexual orientation, are more likely to emphasize a partner’s physical attractiveness; women, regardless of sexual orientation, give greater emphasis to personality characteristics” (2007, 407).

As Ossana stated, “Lesbians may place primary value on emotional relatedness when choosing a partner, which may subsequently lead to problems with boundary maintenance and sexual desire. Gay men, on the other hand, may emphasize sexual attractiveness when choosing a partner, which may subsequently contribute to problems with emotional intimacy” (2000, 283).

In order to test the validity of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey findings regarding sexual frequency and overall relationship satisfaction, this researcher also examined the correlation between emotional connection and overall relationship satisfaction. In table twenty-one it is apparent that unlike the sexual frequency variable, emotional connection appears to have an equally strong positive and negative impact on lesbian relationships depending on the satisfaction with one’s emotional connection. The majority of the sample (64%) reported a strong emotional connection, which correlates with ninety-one percent of these women reporting a fully satisfying relationship.

Conversely, eighteen percent of the sample reported that their emotional connection was not fully satisfied. This correlates with eighty-four percent of these women reporting that their overall relationship was also not fully satisfied. Thirty-nine percent of lesbians who were not fully satisfied with their sexual frequency reported that they were fully satisfied with their overall relationship. Whereas only seven percent of women who reported they were not fully satisfied with their emotional connection were fully satisfied with their relationship. This table suggests that emotional connection has a much stronger impact on lesbian relationships both positively and negatively than the impact of sexual frequency has on lesbian relationships.

Table 21.   Correlation of Emotional Satisfaction and Overall Relationship Satisfaction for Lesbians

Overall Relationship Satisfaction

FS with Sexual Frequency
n=305                       63% of Sample

Moderately Satisfied with Sexual Frequency                   n=91                                       19% of Sample

NFS with Sexual Frequency                    n= 87                                    18% of Sample

FS with Overall Relationship

91%

22%

7%

Moderately Satisfied with Overall Relationship

10%

33%

5%

NFS with Overall Relationship

<.01%

1%

84%

 

Another way to examine the importance of sexual frequency for lesbians is to inquire about their desired sexual frequency. This was the purpose of question number nine, which asked, “In the last six months, how many times would you have liked to have sex with your partner?” Similar to the findings by Lever in her 1995 survey, “No matter how much sex women are getting, most want more” (Lever 1995, 24). Though Lever’s report did not detail the rates of desired sexual frequency, she was clear that at every level of sexual frequency, lesbians desired more sex than they were having.

Figure twenty-one reveals the desired sexual frequency for lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Forty-three percent of lesbians desired to have sex one to three times per week, and only twenty-seven percent of the sample reported having sex this frequently. The most prevalent rate of sexual frequency among lesbians in the sample is once a month or less (37%), which is the desired frequency for only nineteen percent of the sample.

Figure 21.  Desired Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

Overall frequency of sex desired in the last six months for lesbians

 

 

How do these rates of desired frequency compare to the actual amount of sex lesbians are having? For every level of sexual frequency, the number of lesbians having sex at that level is less than the number of lesbians who desire it, except for those wanting sex once monthly or less. In this case, there are more lesbians having sex at this frequency than is desired. Lesbians having sex once monthly or less appear to be the least satisfied. Though fifty percent of the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey were having sex once monthly or less, only nineteen percent were satisfied with this frequency. The most desired sexual frequency is one to three times per week; however, only twenty five percent of lesbians are actually having sex at that frequency.

Figure 22.  Comparison of Actual and Desired Sexual Frequency Among Lesbians

 

Because the majority of lesbians (68%) surveyed in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported they were fully satisfied with their relationship, it is difficult to identify the variables that contribute to this satisfaction. The most compelling variable that correlates with relationship satisfaction is a strong emotional connection. The other significant correlation that surfaced among respondents is that higher rates of sexual frequency were most prevalent among lesbians who were partnered between six and eleven months.

When correlating length of relationship with overall relationship satisfaction, it is interesting to note that the most satisfied couples have been partnered between six and eleven months, followed by couples who have been partnered between one and two years. Only fifty-eight percent of lesbians who have been partnered between six and ten years report they are fully satisfied with their relationship. This group of couples is the least satisfied based on the length of relationship. Satisfaction rates begin to improve for lesbians once they are together for eleven to twenty years, with sixty-four percent reporting they are fully satisfied. For lesbians who celebrate twenty-one or more years together, the satisfaction rates are even better, with seventy percent reporting they are fully satisfied.

The patterns of satisfaction rates in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Study make the most sense when viewed through the stages of relationship development created by Harville and Helen Hendrix in their book, Getting the Love You Want (1988). The initial phase is the Romantic Stage, and it is the beginning period of attraction that brings two people together long enough to create a commitment. This stage involves the release of feel-good chemicals, which improves mood, energy, and overall positive feelings about oneself, one’s partner, and life. The focus of this stage is on the similarities between partners, with the goal of securing a relationship commitment. This blissfully euphoric state is also referred to as limerence, and the pleasing effects of this stage can last up to one or two years. Once a commitment is made, which often coincides with living together, the limerence begins to fade.

The second stage of the relationship development in the Imago Theory is the Power Struggle. This stage is the least enjoyable of the three, and it is often the one which lasts the longest. As time progresses and the feel-good chemicals fade, Hendrix suggests that couples switch their focus from how they are alike, and the primary focus of attention turns to how they are different. This researcher agrees with Hendrix’s theory that when couples make a commitment, they feel secure enough to disagree. Prior to the commitment, couples are too busy cementing the relationship to concern themselves with their differences. The research findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey also support this idea. Satisfaction rates are strongest before year three, and sexual frequency is also more frequent before year three. Couples also report higher rates of relationship satisfaction when they do not cohabitate. These findings support the idea that satisfaction rates are greater the less committed couples are.

According to Hendrix, some couples never exit the power struggle. It makes sense to this researcher that during the years typically associated with the Power Struggle Stage (year two and beyond), couples would experience a decline in relationship satisfaction that would continue to drop until they moved into stage three, Real Love. This is consistent with the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Relationship satisfaction rates start to decline during the third year of the relationship, and they drop even further when couples enter years six through ten. However, as couples progress through their relationship, and likely through their power struggles, their satisfaction rates improve with every year they are together after year ten.

The final stage in the Imago Theory by Harville and Helen Hendrix is Real Love. This is the stage most commonly associated with unconditional love. Real love is present when partners begin to fully accept one another and their differences. There is no longer a desire to change certain aspects about each other, and with this comes a sense of freedom to be more spontaneous and joyful. When couples enter this phase of their relationship, it makes sense that they would experience an increase in their relationship satisfaction, just as the women did in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. The longer lesbians stay together, the higher their satisfaction rates climb.

Table 22.   Correlation of Length of Relationship and Relationship Satisfaction for Lesbians

Overall Relationship Satisfaction

FS with Overall Relationship

Moderately Satisfied with Overall Relationship

NFS with Overall Relationship

< 6 Months

72%

17%

11%

6-11 Months

76%

12%

12%

1-2 Years

73%

12%

15%

3-5 Years

68%

23%

10%

6-10 Years

58%

22%

21%

11-20 Years

64%

14%

21%

21 + Years

70%

5%

25%

 

 

In summary, lesbians are on average most satisfied with the physical pleasure they experience during sex (74%), and they are least satisfied with their sexual frequency (39%). Lesbians identify the second least satisfying characteristic of relationships as spiritual connection. A slight change in sexual frequency in either direction appears to have no serious emotional consequences for lesbians. When sexual frequency is not fully satisfying, the negative impact on the overall relationship satisfaction does not outweigh the positive impact when sexual frequency is fully satisfying. In a lesbian relationship, the emotional connection of the partners has a much stronger influence than does sexual frequency. Lastly, relationship satisfaction rates mirror the stages of relationship development in the Imago Theory, with couples experiencing strong satisfaction in the early years, a dip in the middle years, with stronger rates of satisfaction in the later years of their relationship.

Read Chapter Eight

Read Chapter Ten

Sexual Frequency Changes for Lesbians

Sexual Frequency Changes for Lesbians

This is a dissertation by Michele O'Mara, PhD on the topic of Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction Among Lesbians.  Tap here to read the entire dissertation in a pdf format.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHANGES IN SEXUAL FREQUENCY OVER TIME

Changes in sexual frequency affect all couple pairs. However, in the American Couples study, Schwartz and Blumstein discovered that not only are lesbians less sexual than other couples, they also experience a faster and steeper decline in sexual frequency than other couple dyads. This chapter will provide an updated view of sexual frequency among lesbians. Attention will also be given to the reasons used to explain the decline in sexual frequency among lesbian couples.

Changes in Sexual Frequency

Prior to 1978, “Virtually no empirical research exist[ed] concerning the romantic and sexual relationships of lesbians” (Letitia Peplau, et al 1978, 7). Thirty-four years later, there is still limited research on the topic of lesbian sexuality. Of the studies that have been conducted, most reached the same two conclusions. Lesbians have less sex than other couple pairings, and they also experience a rapid decline in sexual frequency (Letitia Peplau, et al 1978; Schwartz and Blumstein 1983; Loulan 1987).

Only three studies that were conducted with large sample sizes (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983; Loulan 1987; Lever 1995) offer information that correlates sexual frequency with the length of the relationship. These studies will serve as a point of comparison for the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study.

In her survey of 2,525 lesbians from the gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, Lever reported that in the first year of their relationship, thirty-three percent of lesbians had sex three or more times per week. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported seven percent of lesbian couples had sex four times a week or more during the first six months of relationship, twenty-one percent during the second six months, and six percent during years one and two (Table 12).

Lever’s sample also reported that only twenty-percent of lesbians had sex three or more times per week in the second year of their relationship, which compared to six percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who had sex four or more times per week during their first and second year, and thirty-seven percent who had sex one to three times a week during the same time frame. There were no additional comparisons for couples beyond year two in Lever’s article. These comparisons suggest a slightly higher frequency of sexual activity among Lever’s sample than found in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

The 1983 findings by Schwartz and Blumstein represent even higher levels of sexual frequency compared to those reported in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. In both studies, there is a steady decline in sexual frequency, though the decline is more severe in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample than in the American Couples study. In the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, twenty-six percent of lesbians who were partnered two years or less reported they had sex four or more times per week, compared to seventy-six percent of lesbians in American Couples.

Twenty-two percent of couples in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study who were together between three and ten years (compared to 37% with American Couples who were together two to ten years), reported a sexual frequency of once or more times per week. In the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, only one lesbian out of seventy-six who were together eleven or more years reported having sex four or more times weekly, compared one percent of sixty-one lesbians who were partnered ten or more years in the American Couples study. This is an increase in sexual frequency for couples who were partnered ten or more years.

It is interesting to note that in general, sexual frequency among lesbian couples is lower in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey than the frequencies reported in the American Couples study. In this researcher’s study, however, lesbians demonstrated increasingly stronger staying power in their relationships. One of the most noticeable differences among the various surveys conducted over the last thirty years is the increase in length of time lesbians are in their relationship.

Couples in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study had been partnered longer than those represented in the American Couples study. Forty-six percent of the lesbians in the American Couples study were partnered two years or less, compared to thirty-five percent in this researcher’s study. Forty-six percent of lesbians in the American Couples study were partnered between two and ten years. This is similar to the forty-eight percent of lesbians partnered the same length of time in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. The two samples differ, however, with lesbians who have been together over ten years. Only eight-percent of the lesbians in the American Couples study had been partnered over ten years, compared to seventeen percent in this researcher’s study. The average length of relationship among the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey was between three and five years.

Table 12.  Sexual Frequency Based on Length of Relationship for Lesbian Couples

Length of Relationship

Once Monthly or Less

Two to Three Times Monthly

One to Three Times Weekly

4+ Week

< 6 months (n=41)

29%

27%

37%

7%

6-11 months (n=47)

28%

6%

45%

21%

1-2 years (n=82)

29%

28%

37%

6%

3-5 years (n=122)

51%

22%

22%

5%

6-10 years (n=93)

67%

17%

15%

1%

11-20 years (n=59)

75%

14%

10%

2%

21+ years (n=17)

76%

18%

6%

0%

 

Consistent with prior research, the trend among lesbian couples in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey revealed that lesbian couples experienced a decline in sexual frequency the longer they were partnered (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983; and Loulan 1987; Lever 1995). Lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reached their peak sexual frequency during months six through eleven, after which there is a steady decline in sexual frequency as the relationship continues. Figure 16 displays the percentage of lesbians who had sex once weekly or more during the last six months. After couples reach their peak sexual frequency during the second six months of their relationship, there is a noticeable and steady decline in the percentage of women who reported having sex once weekly or more as the length of relationship increases.

Figure 16.  Sexual Frequency of Lesbians According to Length of Relationship.

The percentages reflect the number of lesbians who report having sex once or more per week.

 

The most significant drop in activity experienced by respondents in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey occurred early in the relationship. Twenty-seven percent of lesbian couples partnered less than six months reported decreased sexual frequency. However, in the next six months of their relationship, fifty-eight percent of lesbians experienced a decrease in sexual frequency.

Eighty-two percent of lesbians who were partnered three to five years reported a decline in sexual frequency. After year five, the frequency changes were less significant. Of lesbians partnered five to twenty-one or more years, eleven percent reported decreased sexual activity. Thus, the sexual activity declined most dramatically (31%) for lesbians between their first and second six months of a relationship.

The findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey are consistent with those found in Loulan’s study of 1,566 lesbians (1987). Loulan used a graph which compared the number of times lesbians had sex in the last month with the length of their relationship (1987, 215). She reported that lesbians engaged in sex between ten and eleven times a month (2-3 times per week) throughout the first year of their relationship. Then following their one year anniversary, lesbian couples in her sample experienced a fifty percent decline in sexual frequency. This is a lower decline than the seventy-nine percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who reported a decline in sexual activity after being partnered one to two years.

Table 13.   Changes in Sexual Frequency According to Length of Relationship for Lesbians

Length of Relationship

No Change

Slight Increase

Moderate Increase

Significant Increase

Slight Decrease

Moderate Decrease

Significant Decrease

Stopped Having Sex

Total Decrease

Total Increase

< 6 months

47%

4%

9%

13%

16%

9%

0%

2%

27%

27%

6-11 months

15%

13%

10%

4%

29%

13%

10%

6%

58%

27%

1-2 years

8%

2%

6%

5%

27%

25%

23%

4%

79%

13%

3-5 years

6%

3%

4%

5%

21%

25%

30%

7%

82%

12%

6-10 years

6%

1%

2%

1%

10%

18%

53%

10%

90%

4%

11-20 years

5%

0%

5%

4%

4%

13%

48%

21%

85%

9%

21+ years

0%

0%

0%

7%

13%

20%

53%

7%

94%

7%

 

Age also impacts the changes in the sexual frequency for lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. The age group least likely to experience a significant decline in frequency is lesbians between eighteen and twenty-one years old. This makes sense, given that many lesbians are coming out and entering relationships during these years, and their sex lives are just getting started. The accumulative decrease in sexual frequency among each age group is the sum of lesbians who identified a “slight,” “moderate,” “or “significant” decrease, along with those who “stopped having sex” entirely.

The largest accumulative decrease in sexual frequency occurs with lesbians between the ages of fifty-one and sixty years old. Eighty-three percent of lesbians in this age group reported some level of decline in their sexual frequency. This also makes sense given that this is the decade in which most women enter menopause, which is a well-established period of sexual decline for most women. Interestingly, there does not appear to be a strong pattern of decline among the remaining age groups. Seventy-nine percent of lesbians who are between the ages thirty-one and forty and seventy-six percent of lesbians over the age of sixty reported a decrease in sexual frequency.

Table 14.   Changes in Sexual Frequency According to Age of Lesbian

Age

No Change

Slight Increase

Moderate Increase

Significant Increase

Slight Decrease

Moderate Decrease

Significant Decrease

Stopped Having Sex

Total Decrease

Total Increase

Under 21

33%

0%

33%

17%

17%

0%

0%

0%

17%

50%

Between 21-30

14%

4%

15%

6%

21%

19%

21%

0%

62%

25%

Between 31-40

14%

2%

3%

2%

16%

21%

37%

6%

79%

7%

Between 41-50

9%

6%

3%

6%

20%

20%

27%

10%

76%

15%

Between 51-60

8%

1%

5%

3%

13%

20%

40%

9%

83%

9%

Over 60

13%

0%

6%

6%

13%

0%

44%

19%

75%

12%

 

The most significant decrease in sexual frequency reported in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey is found among lesbians who live together, with or without children. Forty-one percent of couples who lived together and had children reported a “significant decrease” in sexual frequency, and six percent reported that they had no sex at all. Thirty-nine percent of lesbians who lived together without children reported a “significant decrease” in sexual frequency, and nine percent stopped having sex all together. The greatest accumulative decrease (91%) in sexual frequency occurred with women who lived with their partner and no children.

Lesbians who do not live together experience the least amount of decline in their sexual frequency. Those who live separately but spend most nights together experience the least disruption in their sex lives, with only twenty-nine percent having a decrease in sexual frequency. Forty-five percent of lesbians in long-distance relationships and fifty-seven percent of lesbians who live separately but spend a few nights together per week experience a decline in sexual frequency.

Not only is the average length of lesbian relationships longer than it used to be, more couples are also raising children. Twenty-six percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey included lesbian moms who live with their children. Because respondents were not asked if they had children, this figure does not include the lesbians who had adult children who no longer lived at home. It is likely that the actual number of lesbian parents in the survey is greater than twenty-six percent. However, this low estimate of parents in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample is still an increase (6%) over the twenty-two percent of lesbians in the 1994 Bryant and Demian survey who had children. This is also a slight increase (2%) over the twenty-two percent of the lesbians with children in the 1995 Lever study.

 

Table 15.   Changes in Sexual Frequency for Lesbian Couples, According to Living Situation

Living Situation

No Change

Slight Change

Moderate Increase

Significant Increase

Slight Decrease

Moderate Decrease

Significant Decrease

Stopped Having Sex

Total Decrease

Total Increase

Own Place,
Most Nights Together

4%

4%

21%

8%

4%

4%

21%

0%

29%

33%

Long Distance Relationship

17%

14%

21%

3%

17%

14%

7%

7%

45%

38%

Own Place, Few Nights Together

19%

6%

4%

15%

17%

23%

15%

2%

57%

25%

With Partner and Kids

9%

0%

3%

1%

16%

25%

41%

6%

88%

4%

With Partner,
No Kids

2%

2%

1%

3%

22%

21%

39%

9%

91%

7%

 

Table 16.   Sexual Frequency of Lesbian Couples, Based on Living Situation

Living Situation

Number of Women

Percent of Sample

Average Sexual Frequency

I have my own place, but my partner
and I spend a few nights together

55

14%

1x/Week

I have my own place, but my partner and I spend most nights together

23

6%

1x/Week

My partner and I have a long-distance relationship

31

8%

2-3x/Month

I live with my partner and children

101

26%

1x/Month or less

I live with my partner, no children

172

45%

2-3x/Month

Average sexual frequency among lesbian couples

382

100%

2-3x/Month

 

Causes for Decline in Sexual Frequency

Most couples report a decline in sexual frequency over the course of their relationship. Lesbians, however, declined at a rate faster than any other couple dyads and to a frequency lower than any other couple pairs (Schwartz and Blumstein, 1983). In the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, only twenty-one (5%) of the lesbians in a relationship reported having sex four or more times per week (Figure 16). Only two of the twenty-one women who had sex a minimum of four times per week had been in a relationship for longer than five years. None of the women having sex this frequently had been in a relationship longer than twenty-one years.

 

Figure 17.  Frequency of Sex for Lesbians Couples

 

Many reasons are offered by various theorists to explain the reduction in sexual activity among lesbian couples. For a long time, lesbians have been accused of merging their relationships too quickly and too intensely, as expressed in Burch’s 1987 introduction of the concept of “the urge to merge” (Burch 1982, 201). This concept refers to the speed with which lesbians move toward commitment and intensity as an expression of their desire to be close and connected. The result, it is suggested, causes lesbians to create a connection so emotionally close that it undermines, and ultimately replaces, sexual desire. Data in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey supports the idea that the more committed a couple is, which this researcher based solely on their living situation, the less sex the couple tends to have. It was established earlier in this chapter that couples who do not cohabitate maintained stronger rates of sexual frequency than couples who do cohabitate. This applies equally to couples with and without children.

An entertaining blogger from lesbilicious.co.uk provides anecdotal advice for lesbians who have succumbed to the “urge to merge.” With humor, the post says, “lesbians do make a lot of mistakes that lead to ‘bed death.’ Like sharing too much. Don’t share your shampoo and soap. It will make you smell alike, and that’s weird. Don’t share your clothes… and for god sake don’t share your underwear. Don’t be in the bathroom together unless you’re having shower sex. What I mean is, don’t go use the toilet while your girlfriend is brushing her teeth. Don’t sleep together naked unless you’re going to actually do something. All this stuff kills the mystery that caused the initial attraction” (Michelle, 2009).

Theorists like Fisher agree with this blogger and the power of novelty. Novelty, which is anything unexpected or never before experienced, is known to “elevate levels of dopamine—the chemical associated with romantic love” (2004, 194). This theory is helpful in understanding the dramatic decline in sexual frequency that occurs with lesbians in the first year of their relationship. The rapid pace with which lesbians familiarize themselves with one another may diminish the novelty involved in initial courtship, thus decreasing sexual desire more quickly than in other couple dyads.

One of the explanations for the rapid decline in sexual frequency among lesbians relates to the difficulty that lesbians (and women in general) have initiating sex. The idea is that when a couple is comprised of two women, neither partner feels like they should be the one to initiate sex, because initiating sex has traditionally been a masculine role in our culture (Blumstein & Schwartz 1983; Letitia Peplau, et al 2004).

Adding her thoughts on the topic, Nichols wrote about women being socialized to repress sexual feelings, leading to difficulty recognizing feelings of desire, and ultimately reducing the amount of sex that is initiated by lesbians in relationships (1987). Blumstein and Schwartz also offered their opinion that “lesbians are not comfortable in the role of sexual aggressor and it is a major reason why they have sex less often than other kinds of couples” (1983, 214).

It is this researcher’s clinical experience that some lesbians are comfortable initiating sex. Typically, lesbian couples present in counseling with differing libidos, and the partner who has a higher sex drive will usually be the primary initiator of sex. However, when the initiator experiences too much rejection, she stops asking, and at this point sex may cease altogether for the couple. This dynamic does seem different from that found in heterosexual relationships, where men are known to pursue sex with their wives regardless of countless experiences with rejection.

Another explanation about lower sexual frequency among lesbians points to the fact that men simply have higher sex drives and are more interested in sex than women. Therefore, the suggestion is that when there is not a male in the relationship to maintain the frequency, sexual frequency naturally declines due to the lower levels of sexual interest experienced by women (Nichols 2005).

Internalized homophobia has been cited as another obstacle for lesbians who wish to have more frequent sex (Nichols 1988, 1990). Internalized homophobia results when a lesbian internalizes the negative judgments of society at large. When a lesbian adopts these negative beliefs about herself, this leads to feelings of shame and self-disgust. A negative self-perception is then thought to reduce her desire to be sexual.

Other theorists conclude that low frequency is not a problem. Fassinger and Morrow asked, “Is lack of sexual desire or genital activity a ‘problem’ in a loving and romantic woman-to-woman relationship? From whose point of view… Who determines what is sexually normative for lesbians?” (1995, 200). The conversation about lesbian sex, including discussions within its scientific study, tends to minimize lesbian sexuality, reducing the entire experience to a numbers game. How many times are you doing it? The irony is that if lesbians want to enter a contest for sexual frequency, they can likely beat any other couple dyad because of their anatomical advantage.

Women are physically well equipped for endless amounts of sexual pleasure. In fact, a woman’s clitoris serves no other purpose than that of pleasure. For a male, the penis has multiple functions, including urination. A woman can have multiple orgasms without interruption, and often there is no need for a recovery period. In the event that a woman wants to have sex multiple times per day, and orgasm multiple times per sexual session, her body would support this desire. The irony of lower sexual frequency for lesbians is that if lesbians desired to do so, they could outperform (if measured by orgasm) any other couple dyad because of the necessary refractory period for men, and the male’s inability to experience multiple orgasms.

Is it possible that sexual decline is a normative state for the majority of women, regardless of her sexual orientation? In a study of 2,400 multi-ethnic women from six U.S. cities, forty percent of women reported that they never, or infrequently, experienced sexual desire. Of these women, only thirteen percent indicated concerns about their sexual experiences, which would suggests that despite how pleasurable sex is, it is not something she desires frequently (Basson 2006).

This researcher proposes that there may be another variable that contributes to reduced sexual frequency among lesbian couples. This variable is partner selection. One of the most common concerns expressed by single lesbians in this researcher’s private counseling practice has been the question, “How am I going to meet someone?” The fear that she will not meet someone, or that there are not many lesbians from which to choose, creates a scarcity perspective when it comes to dating prospects. In turn, this can lead lesbians to settle into relationships with women who are “good enough,” even when this new partner does not elicit a strong physical or sexual attraction.

It has not been uncommon throughout this researcher’s counseling career (since 1997), to work with lesbians who report a limited attraction to their partner in the beginning of the relationship. Among the clients with whom this researcher has worked, it has been the case that couples rarely, if ever, resume a sexual attraction that supersedes the sexual feelings they experienced when they first partnered. Therefore, poor partner selection is another possible contributor to the low levels of sexual frequency.

After reflecting on the multiple theories put forth by various researchers over the last few decades about the causes of rapid decline of sexual frequency, this researcher has concluded that decline in sexual frequency is explained by multiple variables. What makes sense to this researcher is that women, not just lesbians, have a complicated process of sexual development which starts with early messages that discourage healthy sexual development, regardless of sexual orientation. The gist of these messages is, “guys just want one thing (sex),” and that gals should be “good (not sexual).” These early messages received by young women in our society create a double-edged sword. The message is that sex is for men, and that “good girls” don’t participate.

Then lesbians develop into young women, and they begin to identify feelings of attraction for other women. With this comes self-judgment that results from the internalization of negative societal beliefs. These internalized, negative messages lead to self-doubt and cause lesbians to question their sexual feelings. Once a lesbian is able to move through these obstacles, she is faced with the prospect of actually finding a potential mate, which, despite the proliferation of dating sites in the last decade, can be a daunting task for many lesbians.

With the knowledge that lesbians are inclined to pursue emotional connection as a primary source of comfort and satisfaction, it seems possible that a contributing factor to the declining sexual frequency among lesbians could be the result of the partner selection process. When there is a scarcity mentality about the availability of lesbians, a woman may be more inclined to settle for a partner to whom she is not sufficiently attracted in the first place.

In the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, question twelve asked respondents to identify the statement that best describes the reason sexual frequency in their current or most recent relationship declined, if applicable. The choices for question twelve were the following: “one or both of us has recently experienced a major life stressor,” “our frequency did not decline, my desire/libido declined,” “I do not feel connected/attuned to my partner,” “I find my partner to be too dependent on me/needy in our relationship,” and the last option was a fill-in-the-blank, free response space.

The most commonly reported (29%) reason for the sexual decline was “one (or both) of us has recently experienced a major life stressor” (Figure 18). Stressors were broadly defined in the survey description as “death of a loved one, job change, coming out, legal issues, financial stresses, job loss, etc.”

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, lesbians were not alone in their experience of stress and sexual frequency. After looking at 400 premenopausal women with low sexual desire, sixty-percent of the study participants attributed low desire to stress or fatigue (Zerbe 2011). In fact, stress is a rising concern for forty-eight percent of Americans, according to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (Mintz 2010).

Only twenty percent of the sample indicated that they did not experience a decline in their sexual activity. Of the twenty percent that reported no decline in sexual frequency, seventy-two percent were in their relationship five years or less, and forty percent of this group were together less than six months. Eighteen percent of the participants that reported a decline in frequency were in their relationship between six and twenty years, and none were in a relationship over twenty years.

Figure 18.  Reasons for Decline in Sexual Frequency Among Lesbians

 

In summary, lesbian sexual activity declines most dramatically after couples have been partnered only a year. The most significant decrease in sexual frequency is found among lesbians who live together, regardless of whether or not children are living with them. Lesbians between the ages of twenty-one and thirty years old report the lowest rates of decline in their sexual frequency. The highest drop in frequency occurs with lesbians who are fifty-one to sixty years old. The most commonly reported reason for a decline in sexual frequency is stress, and only twenty percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey sample reported no loss of sexual frequency. The next chapter will discuss how satisfied lesbians are with their relationships and with their sexual frequency. Conclusions will also be drawn about the correlation between sexual frequency and relationship satisfaction.

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