Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and History

Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and History

Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and History

Is the death bed really a thing for lesbian couples?


lesbian bed death, death bed, lesbian sex quiz, lesbian death bedWhat is lesbian bed death?

When I first heard this term, I associated its meaning with violence (like a lesbian killing her partner in bed) and death (or a lesbian dying in bed). Yes, pretty concrete of me. I share this in case you have had a similar thought run through your head. Fortunately, lesbian bed death has nothing to do with lesbians killing or lesbians dying in bed.

It’s a strange, but sticky phrase that dates back to the ’80s. While it is not clear when and precisely where or by whom the term was created, there is a long and winding journey (which I traced while working on my Ph.D. dissertation on lesbian sexuality) that reveals the history and development of this phrase.

Admittedly, for some, this part of this article will be too much (boring) information and you may wish to skip to learning how often lesbians report having sex.

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Where it all started

In 1983, a research study was published that identified lesbian couples as the least sexual couple pairing (Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein). This research led to more research which further confirmed that lesbians were not only having less sex than other couples, they were also experiencing a more rapid and dramatic drop in sexual frequency as their relationships continued (Loulan 1984). Soon, these statistics were broadcast in the media and just like that, a narrative of lesbians as non-sexual started to coalesce in our culture. And, it still lingers in our collective conscience today.

The three-word phrase that captured the essence of this emerging concept of lesbians having infrequent sexual activity, combined with a rapid decline in sexual frequency in long-term relationships is lesbian bed death (LBD).


Lesbian Bed Death Meaning

Lesbian Bed Death describes a phenomenon in which lesbian couples experience a comparatively lower rate of sexual frequency as well as a rapid decline in sexual frequency the longer they are coupled.

Who coined the phrase lesbian bed death?

 Three women are most commonly credited for the phrase, lesbian bed death: researcher and co-author of the book American Couples, Pepper Schwartz;  author of Lesbian Sex  (1984) Joann Loulan; and famous lesbian comedian Kate Clinton.  

When American Couples was published in 1983, it provided a credible source to describe lesbians as less sexually active than other couple pairs. How they arrived at this conclusion was through a massive study of 12,000 couples, in which Schwartz and Blumstein explored the behaviors of four couple pairings: married, co-habitating (heterosexuals), gay males and lesbian couples. Lesbians were identified as the pairing with the lowest rates of sexual frequency. When I asked Dr. Schwartz if she coined the phrase lesbian bed death in response to their research, she said, “It is attributed to me—people I know say I said it—but I never wrote it. Sadly, I have no memory about it—so I can’t deny or confirm!”



Shortly after American Couples was published, Joann Loulan authored Lesbian Sex in 1984. In a conversation with Loulan, she shared with me, “I did not coin the phrase Lesbian Bed Death.” She explained, “I used it frequently, but of course my life was (and is) trying to make that change within the lesbian community and make sex sexy again.” 

The last source credited for this phrase, Kate Clinton, also denied creating this unflattering narrative. She did, however, joke that rather than a same-sex relationship, she often joked that lesbians have a “some sex relationship.” Clinton led me to LGBT advocate Sue Hyde and her partner Jade McGleughlin. Sue Hyde thought her partner, Jade McGleughlin, was the one who captured the “entire phenomenon of decreasing lesbian sex activity in long term couples” into the well-known phrase in 1985 or so.  In a conversation with Jade McGleughlin, however, she said she believed the phrase “coalesced spontaneously among a group of lesbians for whom it captured an experience particular to that moment.”

This is consistent with Sue Moir, another lesbian whose name surfaced during my search for the roots of LBD, who said she heard this phrase “at a dyke gabfest in Newton,” and shared it with McGleughlin. McGleughlin was working on a Master’s thesis at the time on the topic of lesbian bed death. While she didn’t coin the phrase, she said she viewed herslf as a messenger. During the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, McGleughlin gave a speech during the Sex and Politics Forum. Sue Moir was there, and Moir said, “I can tell you it was the first time that the audience had heard it [lesbian bed death].”

The timing of McGleughlin’s speech also coincided with the lesbian sexuality research (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983, Loulan 1984, 1987) at the time, which became an accelerant for the spread of the LBD message. Ultimately, Lesbian Bed Death took on a new and unintended meaning that gave shape to lesbian sexuality as inferior, and in some way doomed. McGleughlin expressed regret about the impact of this phrase. In her opinion, the phrase “collapsed the complexity of lesbian sexuality,” and what might otherwise have been a historical phenomenon became a “condensation” and “condemnation” of lesbian sexuality. Ultimately, it took a village of lesbians to create a shared narrative about the experience of declining sexual activity in lesbian relationships and this message spread like wildfire across the United States.

Three women are commonly credited with the phrase lesbian bed death.

Pepper Schwartz, Co-Author of American Couples

“It is attributed to me—people I know say I said it—but I never wrote it. Sadly, I have no memory about it—so I can’t deny or confirm!”

Joann Loulan, author of Lesbian Sex

“I did not coin the phrase Lesbian Bed Death.” She admitted, “I used it frequently, but of course my life was (and is) trying to make that change within the lesbian community and make sex sexy again.”

Kate Clinton, Lesbian Comedian

Always the comedian, Clinton joked that lesbians aren’t in a same-sex relationships, they are in a “some-sex relationships.”

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

Until the 80’s lesbians were judged negatively if they had sex with women. Therefore, as lesbian bed death gained some traction, and the collective conscious shifted, it was an ironic flip of the script when lesbians were being judged for not having enough sex with women. Go figure! Most of the research between the 80’s and 2010 (when I conducted my own research) was consistently reporting lower levels of sexual frequency for lesbians than other couple pairings. 

I was also seeing lesbian couples in my private practice who were reporting low levels of sexual activity. Same-sex female couples would report having minimal and sometimes no sexual activity for years. This was a key motivation for my return to school in 2010 to get my PhD in Clinical Sexology. I wanted to understand lesbian sexuality better, therefore, the focus of my research was lesbian sexual frequency and how this affects lesbian relationship satisfaction.

I conducted my research with 498 lesbians. Using a snowball approach to finding lesbians, I started with the large sample of lesbians I knew from providing same-sex couples counseling to females for over a decade. With the help of social media, the initial group of lebians I contacted were able to then reach out to other lesbians across the United States to create a wider-reaching sample. Lesbians from most states were represented, and 

This is what I learned:

  • 12% reported having no sex in the last six months
  • 37% reported having sex once or less per month
  • 20% report having sex 2-3 x’s per month
  • 27% report having sex 1- 3 x’s weekly
  • 5% report having sex 5 or more times weekly

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians Based on Age


4+ x’s
Per Week

1-3 x’s
Per Week

2-3 x’s
Per Month

1x Monthly
or Less

1x weekly or more

< 21 Years (n=6)






21-30 Years (n=50)






31-40 Years (n=127)






41-50 Years (n=169)






51-60 Years (n=72)






60 + Years (n=15)






(Percentages reflect sexual frequencies per age group and n=lesbians per age )

Summary of Sexual Frequency of Lesbians Based on Age

As might be expected, lesbians in their 20’s report the greatest frequency of sexual activity, followed by women in their 30’s. There is a minimal decline in reported sexual frequency for women in their 40’s and the most significant drop occurs with lesbians once they turn 50. Because 51 is the average age of menopause, and menopause is known to affect women’s libido, the 10% drop in sexual frequency that is reported by women in their 50’s is not a shocking discovery. 

What is important about sexual frequency is whether or not you are happy and satisfied with your sexual relationship with your partner. There is no right amount of sex that anyone “should” be having, regardless of your sexual orientation. Sex is personal, and it plays a different role in the lives of different women. The key is to understand what sex means to you, what sex means to your partner or wife, and to maintain open communication about your respective needs, and how each of you can get your needs met in your relationship. 


july, 2019

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Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach and psychotherapist with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. As a side-hobby, she operates a quirky site called “AskLesbians.com” where she randomly polls lesbians to satisfy the quirkiest of curiosities. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co.

This article is an adaption of Chapter Six of a dissertation written by Michele O'Mara, PhD. Tap here t read the entire dissertation in a pdf format.

Survey Results: Most Important Lesbian Relationship Goals

Survey Results: Most Important Lesbian Relationship Goals

lesbian relationship goals

Lesbian Relationship Goals


When it comes to lesbian relationship goals, our survey says that above all else, feeling loved is most important. In a very brief, no-nonsense survey on asklesbians.com, lesbians were asked not only about how important it is to feel loved, but also to rate 13 other aspects of a relationship according to importance. The scale was 1-5, with one being very low importance, and 5 being the highest importance.

Twenty-four lesbians completed the survey. Their ages ranged from age from 18 to over 54 with the majority falling into two age groups:

  • 38% ages 18-24
  • 29% ages 35-44

The bulk of women completing the survey identify as cis-gender female (which means they were assigned female at birth and this gender assignment suits them just fine). Four participants did not identify as cis (one transfemale, and three non-binary).


Lesbian Relationship Goals

The following numbers represent the weighted scores for each variable on the survey. The numbers are on a scale of 1-5, and the higher the number, the more important this variable is to the lesbians who completed the survey. This list is in order of the most important lesbian relationship goals to least important:

  • 4.25 Feeling Loved
  • 4.17 Feeling Understood
  • 4.09 Humor
  • 4.08 Overall Relationship Satisfaction
  • 4.04 Sexual Chemistry
  • 3.92 Emotional Connection
  • 3.92 Emotional Safety and Security
  • 3.88 Fidelity/Faithfulness
  • 3.83 Intellectual Connection
  • 3.71 Pleasure from Sex
  • 3.46 Social Compatibility
  • 3.33 Frequency of Sex
  • 2.96 Spiritual Connection
  • 2.5 Financial Security

What surprised me most about these results is that Safety and Security were not identified as a more important lesbian relationship goal than it was (3.92 out of 5). Granted, the survey sample is small. I’m also curious about what makes financial security so low. I find myself wondering if that is a reflection of not wanting to place the value of money above the value of love? However, for this survey, you can have both (rate them both a 5), so it’s curious to me if there is a rejection of or disinterest in financial security?

The top four most important lesbian relationship goals make sense to me. Although, it is curious to me that feeling loved doesn’t ring in at a solid 5. Does this mean that there are a couple of lesbians that find that to feel loved is overrated? Or feeling understood is only generally important, but not always important?

  • 4.25 Feeling Loved
  • 4.17 Feeling Understood
  • 4.09 Humor
  • 4.08 Overall Relationship Satisfaction

What are your thoughts about these results? Do you agree it’s most important to feel loved in your relationship? Do any of the findings surprise you, when it comes to what lesbians are saying are the most important goals in their relationships?




After You Master How to Come Out, Use These 3 Strategies for Being Out


How to come out involves informing the people in your life that you do not identify as heterosexual. The assumption for most people is that everyone is heterosexual until proven or informed otherwise. I find it most helpful to assume that everyone is gay. This way I can more efficiently identify those who are heterosexual because they make no bones about letting it be known. Coming out is directed at the people already in your life who have assumed you to heterosexual.

How to be out, on the other hand, is different than how to come out. Being out is the experience of living without censorship of, or hiding your sexual orientation from others. This happens after you’ve done the work of figuring out how to come out to all of your friends and family. Being out is more about stopping something (to stop censoring) than it is about sharing something (“I’m gay”).

When you think about it, to proclaim, “I am gay,” is awkward for reason’s unrelated to your sexual orientation. When this statement is lobbed out into the air, it is difficult to know how to respond. It’s not a question, an instruction, a request or even a helpful tip. It’s random, possibly unsolicited, information. It’s sort of like saying, “I got my hair cut.” It’s as if you are inviting feedback, seeking commentary or soliciting an opinion by stating a fact. How is someone supposed to respond to these kinds of statements? “Uh, duh!?” or, “Congratulations!??” or maybe, “That’s wonderful, how do you like it?” Or, “I thought so.” Awkward.

The following strategies are about how to be out, not how to come out. Once you are out, it’s time to practice the art of being out. These three strategies make being out a natural and straight (hmmm) forward experience:

1.  UNCENSORED SHARING. Talk openly about your life without censoring pronouns, partner relationships, and other orientation-revealing information. Just as heterosexuals do, share stories with your co-worker about your weekend. When you refer to your girlfriend or wife in ways that affirm her relationship to you, this is a natural function of being out. Discuss your everyday life as you ordinarily would. For example, “My girlfriend/wife and I went to a great show this weekend.” If someone is uncomfortable, they are not being invited to share their discomfort with you. You are not putting a statement out there for their commentary. PUBLIC SERVICE (COMMON SENSE) ANNOUNCEMENT: If you have concerns about your safety when being out — always choose safety first.


2. CORRECT MIS-ASSUMPTIONS. “No, actually I don’t have a boyfriend, I have a girlfriend/wife.” Again, this is a natural correction to a wrong assumption. It is no different than saying, “No, I am not married, my boyfriend and I haven’t tied the knot yet.” It’s a natural part of communication to correct someone who has made an erroneous assumption.

3. NON-VERBALS. There are many ways to communicate that you are a lesbian through non-verbals. You can place a picture on your desk of your wedding day. You can put a pride flag or HRC sticker on your car or somewhere in your office. You can wear gay-pride jewelry, apparel, and other accessories that tell a story without having to speak.

Sometimes people do not want to hear what you are telling them. Early in my being out process, I was often experimenting with how to come out. One time that stands out is when I attempted to correct an assumption that I was heterosexual that was shockingly unsuccessful. This happened years ago when gay marriage was but a blip on the radar screen.

I was working at a private psychiatric hospital, and it was the end of a very long workday. I walked my last client out to the lobby, and, as I turned back toward the receptionist to head back to my office, she informed me that I had a personal call waiting. She asked if I wanted the call transferred to my office, or if I wanted to take it there at the front desk. I opted to take the call right there in the lobby. After transferring the call, she picked up her Bible and started reading again — which is how she spent her time between calls.

The call was brief. I talked about what time I’d be home, what I wanted to do for dinner, then I hung up the phone.

The receptionist, with whom I had only had limited and playful communication, turned to me and said, “You’re married, right, Michele?” And I casually replied, “Nope, not married.” So she followed up with, “Well, you’re engaged, aren’t you?” To which I again replied, “No, I’m not engaged either.” Finally, she throws up her hands and says, “Well, why did I think that?” And as casually as I had replied to the questions before, I said, “I’m not sure why because I’m gay.”

To my surprise, she burst into laughter, only pausing long enough to respond with a playful response: “You’re so funny, you’re always joking!” We both smiled, and I headed back to my office.

As I tried out various strategies for revealing the truth about my life and my relationships, I discovered that it was much easier (and often more fun) to stop working so hard to break things down for other people. Over time I just stopped censoring anything (within reason!) that I said about my relationship, my partner, and all of the usual social topics shared with friends, acquaintances, family, and even strangers. If I’m talking about my wife, I say, “my wife” and I use the pronoun “she.” There — I’m out. It’s that easy.

If, for example, I need to hire a service person to fix my toilet, I will indicate that I may not be there, but I reference my wife, saying, “she will be when you arrive.” I don’t pause for permission or acceptance, and I don’t invite comments or feedback about my sexual orientation either. To do so would indicate that it matters to me what the plumber thinks about my relationship status. I don’t. And, that his the key, to genuinely realize that it is of no concern what the plumber thinks about your sexual orientation. He is there to fix a toilet, not to judge my relationship. I will not pretend I have a husband or that I am single so that the plumber feels more comfortable. Sadly, there was a time I would have, though.

I vote we raise the bar. Instead of striving to come out, let’s be more specific about this — let’s set our sights on the never-ending process of being out.

❤️ Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those here.

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Sexual Frequency Among Lesbians Copy Copy

Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and History Is bed death really a thing for lesbian couples? Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and Roots In 1983, Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein published research that identified lesbian couples as the least sexual couple pairing. This...

Sexual Frequency Among Lesbians Copy

Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and History Is bed death really a thing for lesbian couples? Lesbian Bed Death Meaning and Roots In 1983, Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein published research that identified lesbian couples as the least sexual couple pairing. This...

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What is KIKI? Inquiring minds want to know.

What is KIKI? Inquiring minds want to know.

What is Kiki?

Q. What is Kiki?

A. A fiercely authentic and non-conforming self-expression.what is Kiki?

While researching lesbian sexuality for my Ph.D. dissertation, I discovered that kiki is a term that lesbians used to describe lesbian couples who did not conform to the expected butch-femme pairings in the ’50s and ’60s. Instead, these doubly stigmatized couples (both by society at large and by their women-loving peers) were labeled kiki because of their desire to express their authentic gender. I had an immediate appreciation for their independent and brave self-expression. Kiki women are my hero. They paved the way for women-loving-women to not only reject heterosexual expectations, but they also rejected the expectations of the subculture of lesbians in honor of their truth.

Get your kiki on with this tee —————–>

For those of you who follow my writing, you are already aware of how I feel about labels. Cliff-notes version: labels are for things, not people, or read about it here. What I love about this is that it’s more an adjective than a noun – it’s a way of being that was intended as an insult, but as it turns out, it’s an amazing character trait to express yourself authentically.

Imagine living at a time where the only acceptable public place to socialize was underground bars that were at risk of invasion by police. Because of this, lesbians sought to mimic heterosexual pairings through gender expression with one partner appearing masculine (butch) and the other presenting feminine (femme).  Lesbians who defied this butch-femme pairing were considered kiki. Kiki women could be found in femme-femme pairings, as well as butch-butch pairings, or they may have presented in neither butch or femme appearance. What is kiki? Kiki is people expressing themselves authentically. In my opinion, butch-femme pairings are also kiki if this is what is authentic to them.

Kiki women were not only willing to embrace their non-conforming sexuality but they were also fiercely attached to authentic gender expression despite the expectations of their already non-conforming subgroup of lesbian peers. So you ask, what is kiki? Kiki describes people who are iconically authentic and the bravest of the brave when it comes to fiercely honest self-expression. These women are my heroes. In honor of these women, I want to reclaim their label as a positive statement on self-expression and I invite you to get kiki with me.

Get your kiki on, people, it’s time to embrace who you really are. Live your truth, fiercely, boldly and without apology, no matter who expects you to be different.

I’m kiki, are you?

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