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).

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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!”

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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

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)

17%

17%

33%

33%

34%

21-30 Years (n=50)

10%

38%

18%

34%

48%

31-40 Years (n=127)

6%

28%

20%

47%d

34%

41-50 Years (n=169)

4%

27%

24%

44%

31%

51-60 Years (n=72)

6%

15%

17%

63%

21%

60 + Years (n=15)

7%

7%

13%

73%

14%

(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. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

Sexual Frequency Among Lesbians Copy  Copy

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 research led to more research which further confirmed that not only were lesbians having less sex than other couples, but they were also experiencing a more rapid and dramatic drop in frequency as their relationships continued (Loulan 1984). Soon, these statistics were broadcast in the media and just like that, a vision of lesbians as non-sexual started to emerge in our culture and it has stuck in our collective conscience since then. During this time, a powerfully descriptive and derogatory three-letter phrase emerged to describe the lower sexual frequency and rapid decline of sexual frequency among lesbian couples. The phrase used to describe this phenomenon is lesbian bed death (LBD).

Who coined the phrase lesbian bed death?

Once the phrase, Lesbian bed death, grabbed the attention of the researchers and media, comedians jumped in the mix too. When I set out to research the history of this phrase, I didn’t expect to find multiple people credited for coming up with it, and it seems no one who was crediting these various people did the work of verifying their source. The three people most commonly cited for coining the phrase are the author of the book Lesbian Sex Joann Loulan; lesbian comedian Kate Clinton; and researcher and co-author of the book American Couples, Pepper Schwartz. 

Naturally, I reached out to all three credited sources. First, I contacted Dr. Pepper Schwartz, co-author of American Couples. American Couples is a book written in 1983 that summarizes research she and her co-author Phillip Blumstein conducted with 12,000 couples, including four couple pairings: married, co-habitating (heterosexuals), gay males and lesbian couples. In this book, lesbians were identified as the couple pairing with the lowest rates of sexual frequency. Her research is often credited as the source from which this phrase evolved. Pepper Schwartz responded to my inquiry about this by  saying, “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!”  Unsatisfied, I moved on to the next most commonly  -quoted source, Joann Loulan.

Joann Loulan, Author of Lesbian Sex

I reached out to Joann Loulan, author of Lesbian Sex (which was published in 1984, and used copies are still available on amazon).  Lesbian Sex was the first most comprehensive book written by a lesbian, and for lesbians, on the topic of lesbian sex. Frankly, few books have been written since. Loulan shared with me, “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.” Strike two. No confirmation that this term was developed by her. 

Kate Clinton, Lesbian Comedian

Finally, this researcher contacted Kate Clinton, who also denied coining the term. Always the comedian, she shared a phrase that she used in her comedy, and she expressed much pride in it. Rather than a same-sex relationship, Clinton jokes that lesbians have a “some sex relationship.” Clinton suggested contacting Sue Hyde, the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference. Clinton recalled that Hyde’s partner, Jade McGleughlin, may have been responsible for the phrase lesbian bed death (LBD).

Sue Hyde

In an email response to this researcher’s inquiry, Sue Hyde wrote, “Jade McGleughlin coined the phrase ‘lesbian bed death’ in about 1985 or so. She will need to relate to you the particulars of how her brilliant mind compressed into a three-word unforgettable phrase the entire phenomenon of decreasing lesbian sex activity in long term couples.” She stated, “I believe she used the term in a paper she wrote while at Smith School of Social Work, where she was proceeding towards her LICSW” (Hyde 2011).

Jade McGleughlin

In a phone conversation, Jade McGleughlin stated that she did not know exactly how LBD came into being, but she thought that it “coalesced spontaneously among a group of lesbians for whom it captured an experience particular to that moment.” McGleughlin said that she and the other lesbians in her community, whom she described as sex-positive feminist queers, “wanted the sexiness of talking about sex and to have butch-femme power be translated into hot sex” (McGleughlin 2012). McGleughlin reported that the term does not have concrete, traceable roots. Rather, it is something best credited to a group of women at a specific point in history. While she denied credit for coining the phrase, McGleughlin identified herself as the messenger.

She thought she popularized the phrase during the 1987 March on Washington, where she gave a speech during the Sex and Politics Forum, and she also wrote about LBD in her master’s thesis around the same time. Confirming this was Sue Moir, another lesbian whose name surfaced during the search for the roots of lesbian bed death. Moir was a friend of McGleughlin’s, and also a part of the group of women discussing this topic. Moir explained to this researcher that she heard this phrase lesbian bed death “at a dyke gabfest in Newton,” and that McGleughlin got it from her. What Moir reported is consistent with what McGleughlin recalled. McGleughlin does not take ownership for creating the phrase, and she speculated that the phrase surfaced within lesbian group discussions. Thus, two separate people, neither of whom claims credit for the phrase, corroborate that the idea of LBD evolved through lesbian group conversations.

Sue Moir

Moir also stated that she was present when McGleughlin first used the phrase publicly, saying, “I can tell you it was the first time that the audience had heard it” (Moir 2011). McGleughlin stated there was a synergistic effect between the talk of sex within a community of feminist women, and the positive influence this talk had on the sex lives of lesbians engaged in these conversations. McGleughlin’s perception was that LBD included more than the diminishing sex in a lesbian’s personal relationship at the time. She felt it also captured the larger loss of a sexual community where women had grown accustomed to having a public space for sexual discussions and the excitement of the sexually charged women’s movement.

Lesbian bed death was about more than sex. McGleughlin recalled that at the tail end of the sex wars, the whole experience “seemed to collapse into this phrase—kind of like a screen memory.” There was a real phenomenon of waning sex within lesbian relationships, and lesbians further lost connection to the sexual community once the sex wars ended. McGleughlin stated a few times, “sex couldn’t keep pace with rhetoric—but the rhetoric was dying and rhetoric in part produced sex.” This was something of a dialectic, she said, “The theory and the practice were held in tension and constructing and deconstructing each other” (McGleughlin 2012).

Jade McGleughlin stated that LBD “captured a historical moment” during the waning of the sex wars. By giving a name to this moment, she sparked a notion that eventually spread across the United States like wildfire. The message traveled far and wide and it stuck.

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 (McGleughlin 2012).

Pepper Schwartz, Co-Author of American Couples

When asked if she coined the phrase, she replied, “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!”

Kate Clinton, Lesbian Comedian

Always the comedian, she denied that she is the one who came up with the term lesbian bed death. Howver, she quickly added that she did joke in her shows that lesbians aren’t in a same-sex relationships, they are in a “some sex relationship” Clinton did lead me to Sue Hyde, the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference. Clinton recalled that Hyde’s partner, Jade McGleughlin, may have been responsible for the phrase lesbian bed death (LBD).

Joann Loulan, author of Lesbian Sex

Loulan shared with me, “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.”

How did the Narrative of Lesbian Bed Death Impact Lesbian Sexuality?

The search for understanding about how Lesbian Bed Death influenced lesbian sexuality over the last three produces more questions than answers. There is great curiosity about how the topic of lesbian sex, and the phrase lesbian bed death, was carried from the east coast to the west coast so swiftly and effectively during an era when the internet was not available to spread information at viral rates. Though it is interesting to uncover the roots of this phrase, the ultimate goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how this phrase assumed enough power in our culture to influence the perceptions of lesbians as sexually inferior. How did this message spread so quickly, and then remain so active in the cultural consciousness?

The label of Lesbian Bed Death devalues lesbian relationships by suggesting that lesbians are inadequate, or worse yet, sexually broken. When the measurement is frequency, lesbians lose the race against heterosexual or gay pairings when it comes to sex.

 

 

Who benefits if lesbian sex is viewed as inadequate, or inferior to the sex had by heterosexuals?

One theory is that lesbians pose a threat to social order. Historically, men have held the power in our culture, and women have been raised to depend on them, primarily financially, for survival. This pattern has broken down over the years, thanks to the women’s liberation movement and the increase of women in the workforce. However, women still struggle to find equal footing with men in most areas of life. In South Africa, raping a lesbian can make a man a township hero. “Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims: ‘We’ll show you-you’re a woman,’ the report said. Such attacks are often referred to as ‘corrective rapes’ in South Africa” (Guardian 2011, 1). A woman without a man in South Africa is not considered a woman at all. As archaic as this perspective seems in 21st century America, it is not unreasonable to think that we are a culture that is not yet finished moving slowly out of one view (women are defined by men) and into a new perspective (women are defined by themselves). As we have learned from many other oppressed groups, such as Blacks in America, cultural change is slow, regardless of what is true and right.

Another curiosity that surfaced during this research is about the momentum required to get the message of LBD off the ground. Groups of women were reportedly having regular chats about sex, which served to enhance their own sex lives, and simultaneously fulfilled an important need for a sense of belonging. These participants of these chats percolated the unifying concept of lesbian bed death. From these chats what rose to the surface was the message of lesbian bed death. If McGleughlin’s perception of this phrase is true, it expresses a dual message about the loss of sex and loss of community. In that case, the message itself has somehow changed over time, losing the emphasis once placed on the “death” of the community of lesbians who talk about sex.

An alternate theory about the spread of this message is the possibility that it was simply true, and lesbians themselves were seeking personal validation for their own experience. It is possible that the continued discussions, which also kept LBD alive and spreading, provided an outlet for lesbians to validate their experience. Although there has not been much research about lesbian sexuality over the last three decades, the existing research consistently reported low rates of sexual activity for lesbians, with few exceptions (Alicia Mathews et al 2003, Lelita Peplau et al 1997). Research has also consistently shown a quick decline in frequency over the course of lesbian relationships. The reality seems to be that lesbians had, and still have, less sex. This researcher keeps returning to one question. Who cared, and why was this a problem?

 

Is lower sexual frequency a problem for lesbians?

Coming out in the 70s and 80s was avant-garde behavior. Lesbians were not previously visible to the general public. The best way to establish a sense of belonging is to identify the ways in which you are similar to those with whom you wish to join. If research revealed that lesbians are sexually inadequate during the same time that lesbians were seeking approval for their identity, it seems possible that lesbians themselves would have difficulty accepting this information.

Instead of embracing what is, advocates of lesbians sought, and seem to still be seeking, to disprove the amount of sexual activity that occurs between women, as if to say, “We are like you.” Presumably, the assumption is that being like heterosexuals will allow lesbians to be seen as “normal.” This researcher believes that the greatest power is sourced from the truth. It is not important how much sex lesbians are having, or how often lesbians are having sex. What is important is whether or not lesbians are satisfied with their intimate relationships and whether or not they feel empowered to create these relationships according to their own truth, and not a social standard randomly transferred from other couple pairings.

Gay men are reportedly the most sexual of all pairings. If the frequency or amount of sex determines health, then why are gay men not considered the healthiest of all couples? What would have happened if Schwartz and Blumstein discovered that heterosexuals were having the least amount of sex and that their sexual activity declined more rapidly than the other couple pairs? It is likely that this paper would be evaluating the concern with sexually overactive lesbians, even if their sexual behaviors were exactly as they are now.

Another question that evolved from this research is; How far did the phrase lesbian bed death travel? This researcher decided to briefly explore perceptions of lesbian sexuality in other countries. A cursory look for information about sexual frequency among lesbians in other countries did not reveal much. There was one report on lesbians in The Netherlands/Holland by Karin Van Rosmalen-Nooijens, et al which was conducted in 2008. This study indicated that seventy-six percent of lesbians of all ages experienced a decline in sexual activity.  It appears that the phrase lesbian bed death did not spread far beyond the borders of the United States, but perhaps the phenomena of lower sexual frequency is a shared experience regardless of the country in question.

What does appear consistent is that how lesbians are viewed within a culture is rooted in how women are viewed within that culture. The attitude towards lesbian behavior is directly affected by the role a woman is expected to play in her culture. For example, in Asia, a woman’s role is primarily concerned with reproduction. The concept of sexual orientation is irrelevant because sex for women is not about sex, it is about having babies. In Asia, any sexual behavior that doesn’t have the goal of procreation is considered an aberration. Thus, homosexuality is not acceptable behavior because it is by its very nature about pleasure.

Lesbian bed death stereotyped the sex lives of lesbians as defective, inadequate, and inferior to others. This label added another layer of oppression very similarly to the way “sexual inverts” did in the early 20th century. It is useful to consider the history of the term sexual invert, and the influence this term had on cultural perceptions of lesbians. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s, lesbians were considered “sick,” “disturbed,” and “deviant.” It took a half-century to transcend the damaging perceptions of lesbians as mentally ill.

History, it is said, often repeats itself. Given this, it is possible, or even likely, that lesbian bed death, much like sexual inversion, will cycle out of the collective consciousness and be replaced by a new, improved perception of lesbians. If lesbian bed death is a concept that evolved in the mid-1980s, history would indicate that by the year 2030, LBD should be nearly erased from the collective consciousness. This does not, of course, mean that lesbians will be having more sex, but the absence of the label will clarify cultural perceptions about lesbian sexuality, and how those perceptions play out in the sex lives of lesbians.

What makes the most sense to this researcher when assessing the history and influence of the phrase lesbian bed death, is that there was a melting pot of motivations, which led to a conversion of agendas that served multiple purposes simultaneously. Whether it was used as a form of oppression, a way to keep women in their place in society, or whether it was simply because it is true and lesbians needed validation for their truth, the side-effects of this phrase on the sex lives of lesbians have proved unhelpful.

This researcher has concluded that lesbian bed death is a disparaging phrase used to criticize the sexual realities of lesbians in comparison to heterosexuals. It is not the behavior of lesbians that is the problem, it is the grossly inaccurate and irresponsible categorization of these behaviors as inadequate or dysfunctional that is the problem. Debating lesbian bed death validates its merit. This researcher’s conclusion is that lesbians have a bed (a sex life) and it is different than other couple pairs. That difference does not make it dead, it simply makes it different.

To defend lesbian bed death suggests that there is something legitimate to argue against. This researcher does not believe in the legitimacy of LBD. It is a misunderstood concept that filled a void of understanding during a time that lesbians were stepping out and exploring the uncharted territory of a visible life among the heterosexual population. The mistake, it seems, was to agree that a lesbian relationship should mirror that of a heterosexual relationship in order to be successful.

As it turns out, in the limited research conducted about the difference between gay and heterosexual relationships, authors such as John Gottman have concluded that gays and lesbians are more inclined to fight fairly, are not as belligerent with one another as heterosexuals are, and are less domineering and not as fearful with each other. He also discovered that lesbians and gay men make better use of humor when they argue than do their heterosexual counterparts (John Gottman, et al 2003). Is frequent sex more important to a relationship than fair fighting and being kind?

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

What is the current sexual frequency of lesbians? Question number eight in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey asked, “In the last six months, how many times have you had sex (intimate contact intended to create sexual pleasure) with your partner?” Respondents were prompted to fill in the number of times they had sex in the last six months. Four separate categories of frequency were created to quantify the amount of sex that lesbians were having. Women who reported having sex zero to nine times were placed in the category labeled “once monthly or less.” Women who reported having sex between ten and twenty-one times in the last six months were assigned to the category of “two to three times per month.” Women who reported having sex twenty-two to eighty-three times in the last six months were categorized as having sex “one to three times a week.” The final category of “four or more times per week” included women who reported eighty-four or more episodes of sexual activity in the last six months.

The reported sexual frequencies were then rounded to the nearest category. For example, if a woman reported she had sex nine times in the last six months she would be assigned to the category of “once monthly or less.” Nine times in the last six months is obviously more than once monthly, however, it is closer to this category than it is to the next category of “two to three times a month,” and thus the best fit.

Question eight was completed by 416 women. Twelve percent (50 lesbians) of the sample reported having no sex in the last six months. Thirty-seven percent (154 lesbians) of the sample reported having sex once monthly or less. Combined, these groups represent almost half of the sample population, suggesting that the majority of lesbians are having sex once monthly or less. Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex two to three times a month. Twenty-seven percent of lesbians reported having sex one to three times weekly. Only five percent reported having sex five or more times weekly.

Few studies have been conducted on the sexual frequency of lesbians. One of the most recent studies was published in 2003 by Matthews, Tartaro, and Hughes. In a comparative study of lesbian and heterosexual women in committed relationships, Alicia Matthews, et al found that sixty-nine percent of lesbians and seventy-six percent of heterosexual women reported having sex at least once weekly. These findings are significantly higher than those of this study. Only thirty-four percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample reported having sex at least weekly, as seen in figure seven. It is important to note, however, that the sample size for the Alicia Matthews, et al. study was based on thirty-six lesbians. The small sample size raises questions about the validity of these findings, and the authors acknowledge that the small sample limits their ability to make any generalizations about lesbian sexuality.

Another study was done in 1997 by Letitia Peplau, et al also revealed higher rates of sexual frequency among lesbians. This particular study focused on the sexual behaviors of 398 Black lesbians (Letitia Peplau, et al 1997). The findings showed that eleven percent of Black lesbians reported having sex more than three times a week. This is slightly higher than the eight-percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study. Forty-seven percent of lesbians in Letitia Peplau, et al’s study reported having sex one to three times per week, which is significantly higher than the twenty-nine percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Forty-one percent of the Black lesbians reported having sex less than once a week, which is significantly lower than the sixty-five percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

Letitia Peplau, et al acknowledge that the sample is non-representative; however, it does offer insight to the variability of lesbian sexuality. What accounts for the higher rate of sexual frequency among Black women? This is valuable information, given that most of the studies conducted on lesbian sexuality are based on the histories of Caucasian women, including the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. While this question is outside the scope of this paper, it is none-the-less a valuable question to note.

The most commonly cited source about lesbian sexual frequency is still Schwartz and Blumstein (1983). The frequency of lesbian sex is presented in the context of length of relationship and the rating of one’s quality of sex life. For the American Couples study, it appears these statistics were based on a total of 768 lesbians. Of these lesbians, 195 reports having sex once a month or less, which equals twenty-five percent of the sample. This is significantly lower than the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey which suggest that forty-eight percent of all lesbians in the sample (44% of lesbian couples) are having sex once monthly or less.

The same calculation process reveals that twenty-seven percent of the American Couples sample have “sex between once a month and once a week” This compares to sixty-eight percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample who have sex between once a month and once a week. The third category offered is “sex between one and three times a week.” This includes 274 lesbians or thirty-six percent of the American Couple’s sample. This finding does not differ much from the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, which indicated that twenty-nine percent of lesbians are having sex one to three times per week. The final category of frequency, “Sex three times a week or more,” comprised nineteen percent of the sample. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported eight percent of women at this level of sexual frequency, which is less than half of the findings by Schwartz and Blumstein (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983, 27).

Loulan’s 1987 study revealed remarkably similar findings to the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Twelve percent of women in both samples report having no sex. Loulan categorized sexual frequency as “once or fewer times” (presumably per month) and “two to five times a month,” which compare closely to the fifty-three percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who reported having sex up to one or two times per month (Figure 7). Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex six to ten times a month in Loulan’s survey, compared to twenty-six percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study who reported having sex one to two times weekly. Those reporting sexual activity three or more times a week in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey comprise eight percent of the sample, and for Loulan’s study, fourteen percent reported having sex “eleven or more times in a month.” The similarity in these findings is striking.

Figure 6.  General Overview of Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Figure 7.  Detailed Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Women aged twenty-one to thirty are the most sexually active of the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study, with forty-eight percent having sex once weekly or more (Table 9). A noticeable drop in sexual frequency does not begin until after age fifty. At fifty-one, there is a ten percent drop in weekly sexual frequency. Thirty-one percent of forty-one to fifty-year-olds report having weekly sex. This drops to twenty-one percent at age fifty-one and to fourteen percent at age sixty-one. According to the National Institute on Aging, the average age of menopause is fifty-one, which seems to be the strongest explanation for this drop. One of the common side effects reported about menopause is a decrease in libido. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction findings is also similar to the findings of Loulan (1987), where she reports a general decline in sexual frequency as women age, with the most notable drop in frequency occurring between the age group forty to forty-nine, and fifty to fifty-nine.

Table 9.  Sexual Frequency Based on Age of Lesbians

Age

Four or More
Times Per Week

One to Three
Times Per Week

Two to Three
Times Per Month

Once Monthly
or Less

Once weekly or more

< 21 Years (n=6)

17%

17%

33%

33%

34%

21-30 Years (n=50)

10%

38%

18%

34%

48%

31-40 Years (n=127)

6%

28%

20%

47%

34%

41-50 Years (n=169)

4%

27%

24%

44%

31%

51-60 Years (n=72)

6%

15%

17%

63%

21%

60 + Years (n=15)

7%

7%

13%

73%

14%

 

Percentages reflect sexual frequencies per age group

n=lesbians per age

To explore the desire for sex as thoroughly as possible, the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey inquired with participants about the frequency of non-partner sex in the last six months. Question ten asks, “In the last six months, how many times did you have sex with someone other than your partner?” Of the 498 respondents, only forty-two (12%) reported having non-partner sex. The most non-partner sex occurs with couples who have been partnered between six and ten years, followed by women who are newly partnered for up to six months (21%).

Of the forty-two women who report non-partner sex, thirty-nine responded to the question about whether or not their relationship is open or closed to outside sex. Of these thirty-nine who reported having sex outside their relationship in the last six months, thirteen are not currently partnered. This might suggest that thirteen (3%) of women pursued another relationship or at least sex, and it may or may not have been the cause of their relationship break-up. Eight (2%) of the women who had non-partner sex report that they have agreements with their partner to engage in sex outside the relationship. Eighteen of the women (4%) reported no such agreement, so were likely engaged in acts of infidelity.

The incidence of non-partner sex with or without partner approval is nominal. These findings are lower than the incidence of non-partner sex found in 1983 by Schwartz and Blumstein. Ten percent of their sample of lesbians reported infidelity, compared to four percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. Of those with an agreement about non-partner sex, twenty-five percent engaged in sex outside of their relationship.

There are two possibilities that may account for this decline in non-partner sex. One, the onset of AIDS occurred around the time Schwartz and Blumstein reported their findings, which would place participants of their survey at the tail end of the sexual liberation movement where sex was viewed less restrictively in our culture. This era put a damper on the sex lives of all couple pairs.

Another possibility is that during the 70s and 80s, lesbians were less visible than they are in today’s culture. With this visibility comes an increased level of validation and possibly accountability. A client who was in her prime dating years during the years of Schwartz and Blumstein’s study explained to this researcher that she had been unfaithful in every relationship from around age twenty to age forty. She stated that now that she is approaching sixty years old, she has come to see that she never valued her relationships, that she did not see lesbian relationships as important as heterosexual relationships. She shared that she had trouble conceiving that they would last in the same way that married couples believed their relationships would last. She explained that she feels differently now, that she has come to see her relationship as something that has meaning, and she experienced this only after coming out and having others (particularly heterosexuals) know about her relationship.

Once lesbians became more visible, it is possible they began to take their own relationships more seriously, which may have contributed to the decline in non-partner sex among those without agreements.

Figure 8.  Instances of Sex Outside the Relationship Among Lesbians

In summary, research largely supports the fact that lesbians are less sexual than other couple pairings. However, there is no evidence to support the belief that this translates into a deficiency, or that a lower frequency is in any way unhealthy. The assumption that heterosexuals are the healthy standard by which lesbians must be compared is a paradigm this researcher rejects. Some lesbians have a lot of sex. Some lesbians have none. Lesbians of all ages are sexual, and most are disinclined to stray sexually from their primary relationship. Lesbian sex does appear to continue at a rate similar to that found in 1987 by Loulan, though fewer lesbians appear to engage in non-partner sex than in previous years. Chapter Seven will shift attention to what is important to lesbians when it comes to their intimate relationships

How did the Narrative of Lesbian Bed Death Impact Lesbian Sexuality?

The search for understanding about how Lesbian Bed Death influenced lesbian sexuality over the last three produces more questions than answers. There is great curiosity about how the topic of lesbian sex, and the phrase lesbian bed death, was carried from the east coast to the west coast so swiftly and effectively during an era when the internet was not available to spread information at viral rates. Though it is interesting to uncover the roots of this phrase, the ultimate goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how this phrase assumed enough power in our culture to influence the perceptions of lesbians as sexually inferior. How did this message spread so quickly, and then remain so active in the cultural consciousness?

The label of Lesbian Bed Death devalues lesbian relationships by suggesting that lesbians are inadequate, or worse yet, sexually broken. When the measurement is frequency, lesbians lose the race against heterosexual or gay pairings when it comes to sex.

 

 

Who benefits if lesbian sex is viewed as inadequate, or inferior to the sex had by heterosexuals?

One theory is that lesbians pose a threat to social order. Historically, men have held the power in our culture, and women have been raised to depend on them, primarily financially, for survival. This pattern has broken down over the years, thanks to the women’s liberation movement and the increase of women in the workforce. However, women still struggle to find equal footing with men in most areas of life. In South Africa, raping a lesbian can make a man a township hero. “Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims: ‘We’ll show you-you’re a woman,’ the report said. Such attacks are often referred to as ‘corrective rapes’ in South Africa” (Guardian 2011, 1). A woman without a man in South Africa is not considered a woman at all. As archaic as this perspective seems in 21st century America, it is not unreasonable to think that we are a culture that is not yet finished moving slowly out of one view (women are defined by men) and into a new perspective (women are defined by themselves). As we have learned from many other oppressed groups, such as Blacks in America, cultural change is slow, regardless of what is true and right.

Another curiosity that surfaced during this research is about the momentum required to get the message of LBD off the ground. Groups of women were reportedly having regular chats about sex, which served to enhance their own sex lives, and simultaneously fulfilled an important need for a sense of belonging. These participants of these chats percolated the unifying concept of lesbian bed death. From these chats what rose to the surface was the message of lesbian bed death. If McGleughlin’s perception of this phrase is true, it expresses a dual message about the loss of sex and loss of community. In that case, the message itself has somehow changed over time, losing the emphasis once placed on the “death” of the community of lesbians who talk about sex.

An alternate theory about the spread of this message is the possibility that it was simply true, and lesbians themselves were seeking personal validation for their own experience. It is possible that the continued discussions, which also kept LBD alive and spreading, provided an outlet for lesbians to validate their experience. Although there has not been much research about lesbian sexuality over the last three decades, the existing research consistently reported low rates of sexual activity for lesbians, with few exceptions (Alicia Mathews et al 2003, Lelita Peplau et al 1997). Research has also consistently shown a quick decline in frequency over the course of lesbian relationships. The reality seems to be that lesbians had, and still have, less sex. This researcher keeps returning to one question. Who cared, and why was this a problem?

 

Is lower sexual frequency a problem for lesbians?

Coming out in the 70s and 80s was avant-garde behavior. Lesbians were not previously visible to the general public. The best way to establish a sense of belonging is to identify the ways in which you are similar to those with whom you wish to join. If research revealed that lesbians are sexually inadequate during the same time that lesbians were seeking approval for their identity, it seems possible that lesbians themselves would have difficulty accepting this information.

Instead of embracing what is, advocates of lesbians sought, and seem to still be seeking, to disprove the amount of sexual activity that occurs between women, as if to say, “We are like you.” Presumably, the assumption is that being like heterosexuals will allow lesbians to be seen as “normal.” This researcher believes that the greatest power is sourced from the truth. It is not important how much sex lesbians are having, or how often lesbians are having sex. What is important is whether or not lesbians are satisfied with their intimate relationships and whether or not they feel empowered to create these relationships according to their own truth, and not a social standard randomly transferred from other couple pairings.

Gay men are reportedly the most sexual of all pairings. If the frequency or amount of sex determines health, then why are gay men not considered the healthiest of all couples? What would have happened if Schwartz and Blumstein discovered that heterosexuals were having the least amount of sex and that their sexual activity declined more rapidly than the other couple pairs? It is likely that this paper would be evaluating the concern with sexually overactive lesbians, even if their sexual behaviors were exactly as they are now.

Another question that evolved from this research is; How far did the phrase lesbian bed death travel? This researcher decided to briefly explore perceptions of lesbian sexuality in other countries. A cursory look for information about sexual frequency among lesbians in other countries did not reveal much. There was one report on lesbians in The Netherlands/Holland by Karin Van Rosmalen-Nooijens, et al which was conducted in 2008. This study indicated that seventy-six percent of lesbians of all ages experienced a decline in sexual activity.  It appears that the phrase lesbian bed death did not spread far beyond the borders of the United States, but perhaps the phenomena of lower sexual frequency is a shared experience regardless of the country in question.

What does appear consistent is that how lesbians are viewed within a culture is rooted in how women are viewed within that culture. The attitude towards lesbian behavior is directly affected by the role a woman is expected to play in her culture. For example, in Asia, a woman’s role is primarily concerned with reproduction. The concept of sexual orientation is irrelevant because sex for women is not about sex, it is about having babies. In Asia, any sexual behavior that doesn’t have the goal of procreation is considered an aberration. Thus, homosexuality is not acceptable behavior because it is by its very nature about pleasure.

Lesbian bed death stereotyped the sex lives of lesbians as defective, inadequate, and inferior to others. This label added another layer of oppression very similarly to the way “sexual inverts” did in the early 20th century. It is useful to consider the history of the term sexual invert, and the influence this term had on cultural perceptions of lesbians. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s, lesbians were considered “sick,” “disturbed,” and “deviant.” It took a half-century to transcend the damaging perceptions of lesbians as mentally ill.

History, it is said, often repeats itself. Given this, it is possible, or even likely, that lesbian bed death, much like sexual inversion, will cycle out of the collective consciousness and be replaced by a new, improved perception of lesbians. If lesbian bed death is a concept that evolved in the mid-1980s, history would indicate that by the year 2030, LBD should be nearly erased from the collective consciousness. This does not, of course, mean that lesbians will be having more sex, but the absence of the label will clarify cultural perceptions about lesbian sexuality, and how those perceptions play out in the sex lives of lesbians.

What makes the most sense to this researcher when assessing the history and influence of the phrase lesbian bed death, is that there was a melting pot of motivations, which led to a conversion of agendas that served multiple purposes simultaneously. Whether it was used as a form of oppression, a way to keep women in their place in society, or whether it was simply because it is true and lesbians needed validation for their truth, the side-effects of this phrase on the sex lives of lesbians have proved unhelpful.

This researcher has concluded that lesbian bed death is a disparaging phrase used to criticize the sexual realities of lesbians in comparison to heterosexuals. It is not the behavior of lesbians that is the problem, it is the grossly inaccurate and irresponsible categorization of these behaviors as inadequate or dysfunctional that is the problem. Debating lesbian bed death validates its merit. This researcher’s conclusion is that lesbians have a bed (a sex life) and it is different than other couple pairs. That difference does not make it dead, it simply makes it different.

To defend lesbian bed death suggests that there is something legitimate to argue against. This researcher does not believe in the legitimacy of LBD. It is a misunderstood concept that filled a void of understanding during a time that lesbians were stepping out and exploring the uncharted territory of a visible life among the heterosexual population. The mistake, it seems, was to agree that a lesbian relationship should mirror that of a heterosexual relationship in order to be successful.

As it turns out, in the limited research conducted about the difference between gay and heterosexual relationships, authors such as John Gottman have concluded that gays and lesbians are more inclined to fight fairly, are not as belligerent with one another as heterosexuals are, and are less domineering and not as fearful with each other. He also discovered that lesbians and gay men make better use of humor when they argue than do their heterosexual counterparts (John Gottman, et al 2003). Is frequent sex more important to a relationship than fair fighting and being kind?

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

What is the current sexual frequency of lesbians? Question number eight in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey asked, “In the last six months, how many times have you had sex (intimate contact intended to create sexual pleasure) with your partner?” Respondents were prompted to fill in the number of times they had sex in the last six months. Four separate categories of frequency were created to quantify the amount of sex that lesbians were having. Women who reported having sex zero to nine times were placed in the category labeled “once monthly or less.” Women who reported having sex between ten and twenty-one times in the last six months were assigned to the category of “two to three times per month.” Women who reported having sex twenty-two to eighty-three times in the last six months were categorized as having sex “one to three times a week.” The final category of “four or more times per week” included women who reported eighty-four or more episodes of sexual activity in the last six months.

The reported sexual frequencies were then rounded to the nearest category. For example, if a woman reported she had sex nine times in the last six months she would be assigned to the category of “once monthly or less.” Nine times in the last six months is obviously more than once monthly, however, it is closer to this category than it is to the next category of “two to three times a month,” and thus the best fit.

Question eight was completed by 416 women. Twelve percent (50 lesbians) of the sample reported having no sex in the last six months. Thirty-seven percent (154 lesbians) of the sample reported having sex once monthly or less. Combined, these groups represent almost half of the sample population, suggesting that the majority of lesbians are having sex once monthly or less. Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex two to three times a month. Twenty-seven percent of lesbians reported having sex one to three times weekly. Only five percent reported having sex five or more times weekly.

Few studies have been conducted on the sexual frequency of lesbians. One of the most recent studies was published in 2003 by Matthews, Tartaro, and Hughes. In a comparative study of lesbian and heterosexual women in committed relationships, Alicia Matthews, et al found that sixty-nine percent of lesbians and seventy-six percent of heterosexual women reported having sex at least once weekly. These findings are significantly higher than those of this study. Only thirty-four percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample reported having sex at least weekly, as seen in figure seven. It is important to note, however, that the sample size for the Alicia Matthews, et al. study was based on thirty-six lesbians. The small sample size raises questions about the validity of these findings, and the authors acknowledge that the small sample limits their ability to make any generalizations about lesbian sexuality.

Another study was done in 1997 by Letitia Peplau, et al also revealed higher rates of sexual frequency among lesbians. This particular study focused on the sexual behaviors of 398 Black lesbians (Letitia Peplau, et al 1997). The findings showed that eleven percent of Black lesbians reported having sex more than three times a week. This is slightly higher than the eight-percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study. Forty-seven percent of lesbians in Letitia Peplau, et al’s study reported having sex one to three times per week, which is significantly higher than the twenty-nine percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Forty-one percent of the Black lesbians reported having sex less than once a week, which is significantly lower than the sixty-five percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

Letitia Peplau, et al acknowledge that the sample is non-representative; however, it does offer insight to the variability of lesbian sexuality. What accounts for the higher rate of sexual frequency among Black women? This is valuable information, given that most of the studies conducted on lesbian sexuality are based on the histories of Caucasian women, including the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. While this question is outside the scope of this paper, it is none-the-less a valuable question to note.

The most commonly cited source about lesbian sexual frequency is still Schwartz and Blumstein (1983). The frequency of lesbian sex is presented in the context of length of relationship and the rating of one’s quality of sex life. For the American Couples study, it appears these statistics were based on a total of 768 lesbians. Of these lesbians, 195 reports having sex once a month or less, which equals twenty-five percent of the sample. This is significantly lower than the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey which suggest that forty-eight percent of all lesbians in the sample (44% of lesbian couples) are having sex once monthly or less.

The same calculation process reveals that twenty-seven percent of the American Couples sample have “sex between once a month and once a week” This compares to sixty-eight percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample who have sex between once a month and once a week. The third category offered is “sex between one and three times a week.” This includes 274 lesbians or thirty-six percent of the American Couple’s sample. This finding does not differ much from the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, which indicated that twenty-nine percent of lesbians are having sex one to three times per week. The final category of frequency, “Sex three times a week or more,” comprised nineteen percent of the sample. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported eight percent of women at this level of sexual frequency, which is less than half of the findings by Schwartz and Blumstein (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983, 27).

Loulan’s 1987 study revealed remarkably similar findings to the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Twelve percent of women in both samples report having no sex. Loulan categorized sexual frequency as “once or fewer times” (presumably per month) and “two to five times a month,” which compare closely to the fifty-three percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who reported having sex up to one or two times per month (Figure 7). Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex six to ten times a month in Loulan’s survey, compared to twenty-six percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study who reported having sex one to two times weekly. Those reporting sexual activity three or more times a week in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey comprise eight percent of the sample, and for Loulan’s study, fourteen percent reported having sex “eleven or more times in a month.” The similarity in these findings is striking.

General Overview of Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Detailed Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Women aged twenty-one to thirty are the most sexually active of the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study, with forty-eight percent having sex once weekly or more (Table 9). A noticeable drop in sexual frequency does not begin until after age fifty. At fifty-one, there is a ten percent drop in weekly sexual frequency. Thirty-one percent of forty-one to fifty-year-olds report having weekly sex. This drops to twenty-one percent at age fifty-one and to fourteen percent at age sixty-one. According to the National Institute on Aging, the average age of menopause is fifty-one, which seems to be the strongest explanation for this drop. One of the common side effects reported about menopause is a decrease in libido. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction findings is also similar to the findings of Loulan (1987), where she reports a general decline in sexual frequency as women age, with the most notable drop in frequency occurring between the age group forty to forty-nine, and fifty to fifty-nine.

Sexual Frequency Based on Age of Lesbians

Age

Four or More
Times Per Week

One to Three
Times Per Week

Two to Three
Times Per Month

Once Monthly
or Less

Once weekly or more

< 21 Years (n=6)

17%

17%

33%

33%

34%

21-30 Years (n=50)

10%

38%

18%

34%

48%

31-40 Years (n=127)

6%

28%

20%

47%

34%

41-50 Years (n=169)

4%

27%

24%

44%

31%

51-60 Years (n=72)

6%

15%

17%

63%

21%

60 + Years (n=15)

7%

7%

13%

73%

14%

 

Percentages reflect sexual frequencies per age group

n=lesbians per age

To explore the desire for sex as thoroughly as possible, the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey inquired with participants about the frequency of non-partner sex in the last six months. Question ten asks, “In the last six months, how many times did you have sex with someone other than your partner?” Of the 498 respondents, only forty-two (12%) reported having non-partner sex. The most non-partner sex occurs with couples who have been partnered between six and ten years, followed by women who are newly partnered for up to six months (21%).

Of the forty-two women who report non-partner sex, thirty-nine responded to the question about whether or not their relationship is open or closed to outside sex. Of these thirty-nine who reported having sex outside their relationship in the last six months, thirteen are not currently partnered. This might suggest that thirteen (3%) of women pursued another relationship or at least sex, and it may or may not have been the cause of their relationship break-up. Eight (2%) of the women who had non-partner sex report that they have agreements with their partner to engage in sex outside the relationship. Eighteen of the women (4%) reported no such agreement, so were likely engaged in acts of infidelity.

The incidence of non-partner sex with or without partner approval is nominal. These findings are lower than the incidence of non-partner sex found in 1983 by Schwartz and Blumstein. Ten percent of their sample of lesbians reported infidelity, compared to four percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. Of those with an agreement about non-partner sex, twenty-five percent engaged in sex outside of their relationship.

There are two possibilities that may account for this decline in non-partner sex. One, the onset of AIDS occurred around the time Schwartz and Blumstein reported their findings, which would place participants of their survey at the tail end of the sexual liberation movement where sex was viewed less restrictively in our culture. This era put a damper on the sex lives of all couple pairs.

Another possibility is that during the 70s and 80s, lesbians were less visible than they are in today’s culture. With this visibility comes an increased level of validation and possibly accountability. A client who was in her prime dating years during the years of Schwartz and Blumstein’s study explained to this researcher that she had been unfaithful in every relationship from around age twenty to age forty. She stated that now that she is approaching sixty years old, she has come to see that she never valued her relationships, that she did not see lesbian relationships as important as heterosexual relationships. She shared that she had trouble conceiving that they would last in the same way that married couples believed their relationships would last. She explained that she feels differently now, that she has come to see her relationship as something that has meaning, and she experienced this only after coming out and having others (particularly heterosexuals) know about her relationship.

Once lesbians became more visible, it is possible they began to take their own relationships more seriously, which may have contributed to the decline in non-partner sex among those without agreements.

Instances of Sex Outside the Relationship Among Lesbians

In summary, research largely supports the fact that lesbians are less sexual than other couple pairings. However, there is no evidence to support the belief that this translates into a deficiency, or that a lower frequency is in any way unhealthy. The assumption that heterosexuals are the healthy standard by which lesbians must be compared is a paradigm this researcher rejects. Some lesbians have a lot of sex. Some lesbians have none. Lesbians of all ages are sexual, and most are disinclined to stray sexually from their primary relationship. Lesbian sex does appear to continue at a rate similar to that found in 1987 by Loulan, though fewer lesbians appear to engage in non-partner sex than in previous years. Chapter Seven will shift attention to what is important to lesbians when it comes to their intimate relationships.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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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 research led to more research which further confirmed that not only were lesbians having less sex than other couples, but they were also experiencing a more rapid and dramatic drop in frequency as their relationships continued (Loulan 1984). Soon, these statistics were broadcast in the media and just like that, a vision of lesbians as non-sexual started to emerge in our culture and it has stuck in our collective conscience since then. During this time, a powerfully descriptive and derogatory three-letter phrase emerged to describe the lower sexual frequency and rapid decline of sexual frequency among lesbian couples. The phrase used to describe this phenomenon is lesbian bed death (LBD).

Who coined the phrase lesbian bed death?

Once the phrase, Lesbian bed death, grabbed the attention of the researchers and media, comedians jumped in the mix too. When I set out to research the history of this phrase, I didn’t expect to find multiple people credited for coming up with it, and it seems no one who was crediting these various people did the work of verifying their source. The three people most commonly cited for coining the phrase are the author of the book Lesbian Sex Joann Loulan; lesbian comedian Kate Clinton; and researcher and co-author of the book American Couples, Pepper Schwartz. 

Naturally, I reached out to all three credited sources. First, I contacted Dr. Pepper Schwartz, co-author of American Couples. American Couples is a book written in 1983 that summarizes research she and her co-author Phillip Blumstein conducted with 12,000 couples, including four couple pairings: married, co-habitating (heterosexuals), gay males and lesbian couples. In this book, lesbians were identified as the couple pairing with the lowest rates of sexual frequency. Her research is often credited as the source from which this phrase evolved. Pepper Schwartz responded to my inquiry about this by  saying, “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!”  Unsatisfied, I moved on to the next most commonly  -quoted source, Joann Loulan.

Joann Loulan, Author of Lesbian Sex

I reached out to Joann Loulan, author of Lesbian Sex (which was published in 1984, and used copies are still available on amazon).  Lesbian Sex was the first most comprehensive book written by a lesbian, and for lesbians, on the topic of lesbian sex. Frankly, few books have been written since. Loulan shared with me, “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.” Strike two. No confirmation that this term was developed by her. 

Kate Clinton, Lesbian Comedian

Finally, this researcher contacted Kate Clinton, who also denied coining the term. Always the comedian, she shared a phrase that she used in her comedy, and she expressed much pride in it. Rather than a same-sex relationship, Clinton jokes that lesbians have a “some sex relationship.” Clinton suggested contacting Sue Hyde, the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference. Clinton recalled that Hyde’s partner, Jade McGleughlin, may have been responsible for the phrase lesbian bed death (LBD).

Sue Hyde

In an email response to this researcher’s inquiry, Sue Hyde wrote, “Jade McGleughlin coined the phrase ‘lesbian bed death’ in about 1985 or so. She will need to relate to you the particulars of how her brilliant mind compressed into a three-word unforgettable phrase the entire phenomenon of decreasing lesbian sex activity in long term couples.” She stated, “I believe she used the term in a paper she wrote while at Smith School of Social Work, where she was proceeding towards her LICSW” (Hyde 2011).

Jade McGleughlin

In a phone conversation, Jade McGleughlin stated that she did not know exactly how LBD came into being, but she thought that it “coalesced spontaneously among a group of lesbians for whom it captured an experience particular to that moment.” McGleughlin said that she and the other lesbians in her community, whom she described as sex-positive feminist queers, “wanted the sexiness of talking about sex and to have butch-femme power be translated into hot sex” (McGleughlin 2012). McGleughlin reported that the term does not have concrete, traceable roots. Rather, it is something best credited to a group of women at a specific point in history. While she denied credit for coining the phrase, McGleughlin identified herself as the messenger.

She thought she popularized the phrase during the 1987 March on Washington, where she gave a speech during the Sex and Politics Forum, and she also wrote about LBD in her master’s thesis around the same time. Confirming this was Sue Moir, another lesbian whose name surfaced during the search for the roots of lesbian bed death. Moir was a friend of McGleughlin’s, and also a part of the group of women discussing this topic. Moir explained to this researcher that she heard this phrase lesbian bed death “at a dyke gabfest in Newton,” and that McGleughlin got it from her. What Moir reported is consistent with what McGleughlin recalled. McGleughlin does not take ownership for creating the phrase, and she speculated that the phrase surfaced within lesbian group discussions. Thus, two separate people, neither of whom claims credit for the phrase, corroborate that the idea of LBD evolved through lesbian group conversations.

Sue Moir

Moir also stated that she was present when McGleughlin first used the phrase publicly, saying, “I can tell you it was the first time that the audience had heard it” (Moir 2011). McGleughlin stated there was a synergistic effect between the talk of sex within a community of feminist women, and the positive influence this talk had on the sex lives of lesbians engaged in these conversations. McGleughlin’s perception was that LBD included more than the diminishing sex in a lesbian’s personal relationship at the time. She felt it also captured the larger loss of a sexual community where women had grown accustomed to having a public space for sexual discussions and the excitement of the sexually charged women’s movement.

Lesbian bed death was about more than sex. McGleughlin recalled that at the tail end of the sex wars, the whole experience “seemed to collapse into this phrase—kind of like a screen memory.” There was a real phenomenon of waning sex within lesbian relationships, and lesbians further lost connection to the sexual community once the sex wars ended. McGleughlin stated a few times, “sex couldn’t keep pace with rhetoric—but the rhetoric was dying and rhetoric in part produced sex.” This was something of a dialectic, she said, “The theory and the practice were held in tension and constructing and deconstructing each other” (McGleughlin 2012).

Jade McGleughlin stated that LBD “captured a historical moment” during the waning of the sex wars. By giving a name to this moment, she sparked a notion that eventually spread across the United States like wildfire. The message traveled far and wide and it stuck.

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 (McGleughlin 2012).

Pepper Schwartz, Co-Author of American Couples

When asked if she coined the phrase, she replied, “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!”

Kate Clinton, Lesbian Comedian

Always the comedian, she denied that she is the one who came up with the term lesbian bed death. Howver, she quickly added that she did joke in her shows that lesbians aren’t in a same-sex relationships, they are in a “some sex relationship” Clinton did lead me to Sue Hyde, the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference. Clinton recalled that Hyde’s partner, Jade McGleughlin, may have been responsible for the phrase lesbian bed death (LBD).

Joann Loulan, author of Lesbian Sex

Loulan shared with me, “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.”

How did the Narrative of Lesbian Bed Death Impact Lesbian Sexuality?

The search for understanding about how Lesbian Bed Death influenced lesbian sexuality over the last three produces more questions than answers. There is great curiosity about how the topic of lesbian sex, and the phrase lesbian bed death, was carried from the east coast to the west coast so swiftly and effectively during an era when the internet was not available to spread information at viral rates. Though it is interesting to uncover the roots of this phrase, the ultimate goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how this phrase assumed enough power in our culture to influence the perceptions of lesbians as sexually inferior. How did this message spread so quickly, and then remain so active in the cultural consciousness?

The label of Lesbian Bed Death devalues lesbian relationships by suggesting that lesbians are inadequate, or worse yet, sexually broken. When the measurement is frequency, lesbians lose the race against heterosexual or gay pairings when it comes to sex.

 

 

Who benefits if lesbian sex is viewed as inadequate, or inferior to the sex had by heterosexuals?

One theory is that lesbians pose a threat to social order. Historically, men have held the power in our culture, and women have been raised to depend on them, primarily financially, for survival. This pattern has broken down over the years, thanks to the women’s liberation movement and the increase of women in the workforce. However, women still struggle to find equal footing with men in most areas of life. In South Africa, raping a lesbian can make a man a township hero. “Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims: ‘We’ll show you-you’re a woman,’ the report said. Such attacks are often referred to as ‘corrective rapes’ in South Africa” (Guardian 2011, 1). A woman without a man in South Africa is not considered a woman at all. As archaic as this perspective seems in 21st century America, it is not unreasonable to think that we are a culture that is not yet finished moving slowly out of one view (women are defined by men) and into a new perspective (women are defined by themselves). As we have learned from many other oppressed groups, such as Blacks in America, cultural change is slow, regardless of what is true and right.

Another curiosity that surfaced during this research is about the momentum required to get the message of LBD off the ground. Groups of women were reportedly having regular chats about sex, which served to enhance their own sex lives, and simultaneously fulfilled an important need for a sense of belonging. These participants of these chats percolated the unifying concept of lesbian bed death. From these chats what rose to the surface was the message of lesbian bed death. If McGleughlin’s perception of this phrase is true, it expresses a dual message about the loss of sex and loss of community. In that case, the message itself has somehow changed over time, losing the emphasis once placed on the “death” of the community of lesbians who talk about sex.

An alternate theory about the spread of this message is the possibility that it was simply true, and lesbians themselves were seeking personal validation for their own experience. It is possible that the continued discussions, which also kept LBD alive and spreading, provided an outlet for lesbians to validate their experience. Although there has not been much research about lesbian sexuality over the last three decades, the existing research consistently reported low rates of sexual activity for lesbians, with few exceptions (Alicia Mathews et al 2003, Lelita Peplau et al 1997). Research has also consistently shown a quick decline in frequency over the course of lesbian relationships. The reality seems to be that lesbians had, and still have, less sex. This researcher keeps returning to one question. Who cared, and why was this a problem?

 

Is lower sexual frequency a problem for lesbians?

Coming out in the 70s and 80s was avant-garde behavior. Lesbians were not previously visible to the general public. The best way to establish a sense of belonging is to identify the ways in which you are similar to those with whom you wish to join. If research revealed that lesbians are sexually inadequate during the same time that lesbians were seeking approval for their identity, it seems possible that lesbians themselves would have difficulty accepting this information.

Instead of embracing what is, advocates of lesbians sought, and seem to still be seeking, to disprove the amount of sexual activity that occurs between women, as if to say, “We are like you.” Presumably, the assumption is that being like heterosexuals will allow lesbians to be seen as “normal.” This researcher believes that the greatest power is sourced from the truth. It is not important how much sex lesbians are having, or how often lesbians are having sex. What is important is whether or not lesbians are satisfied with their intimate relationships and whether or not they feel empowered to create these relationships according to their own truth, and not a social standard randomly transferred from other couple pairings.

Gay men are reportedly the most sexual of all pairings. If the frequency or amount of sex determines health, then why are gay men not considered the healthiest of all couples? What would have happened if Schwartz and Blumstein discovered that heterosexuals were having the least amount of sex and that their sexual activity declined more rapidly than the other couple pairs? It is likely that this paper would be evaluating the concern with sexually overactive lesbians, even if their sexual behaviors were exactly as they are now.

Another question that evolved from this research is; How far did the phrase lesbian bed death travel? This researcher decided to briefly explore perceptions of lesbian sexuality in other countries. A cursory look for information about sexual frequency among lesbians in other countries did not reveal much. There was one report on lesbians in The Netherlands/Holland by Karin Van Rosmalen-Nooijens, et al which was conducted in 2008. This study indicated that seventy-six percent of lesbians of all ages experienced a decline in sexual activity.  It appears that the phrase lesbian bed death did not spread far beyond the borders of the United States, but perhaps the phenomena of lower sexual frequency is a shared experience regardless of the country in question.

What does appear consistent is that how lesbians are viewed within a culture is rooted in how women are viewed within that culture. The attitude towards lesbian behavior is directly affected by the role a woman is expected to play in her culture. For example, in Asia, a woman’s role is primarily concerned with reproduction. The concept of sexual orientation is irrelevant because sex for women is not about sex, it is about having babies. In Asia, any sexual behavior that doesn’t have the goal of procreation is considered an aberration. Thus, homosexuality is not acceptable behavior because it is by its very nature about pleasure.

Lesbian bed death stereotyped the sex lives of lesbians as defective, inadequate, and inferior to others. This label added another layer of oppression very similarly to the way “sexual inverts” did in the early 20th century. It is useful to consider the history of the term sexual invert, and the influence this term had on cultural perceptions of lesbians. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s, lesbians were considered “sick,” “disturbed,” and “deviant.” It took a half-century to transcend the damaging perceptions of lesbians as mentally ill.

History, it is said, often repeats itself. Given this, it is possible, or even likely, that lesbian bed death, much like sexual inversion, will cycle out of the collective consciousness and be replaced by a new, improved perception of lesbians. If lesbian bed death is a concept that evolved in the mid-1980s, history would indicate that by the year 2030, LBD should be nearly erased from the collective consciousness. This does not, of course, mean that lesbians will be having more sex, but the absence of the label will clarify cultural perceptions about lesbian sexuality, and how those perceptions play out in the sex lives of lesbians.

What makes the most sense to this researcher when assessing the history and influence of the phrase lesbian bed death, is that there was a melting pot of motivations, which led to a conversion of agendas that served multiple purposes simultaneously. Whether it was used as a form of oppression, a way to keep women in their place in society, or whether it was simply because it is true and lesbians needed validation for their truth, the side-effects of this phrase on the sex lives of lesbians have proved unhelpful.

This researcher has concluded that lesbian bed death is a disparaging phrase used to criticize the sexual realities of lesbians in comparison to heterosexuals. It is not the behavior of lesbians that is the problem, it is the grossly inaccurate and irresponsible categorization of these behaviors as inadequate or dysfunctional that is the problem. Debating lesbian bed death validates its merit. This researcher’s conclusion is that lesbians have a bed (a sex life) and it is different than other couple pairs. That difference does not make it dead, it simply makes it different.

To defend lesbian bed death suggests that there is something legitimate to argue against. This researcher does not believe in the legitimacy of LBD. It is a misunderstood concept that filled a void of understanding during a time that lesbians were stepping out and exploring the uncharted territory of a visible life among the heterosexual population. The mistake, it seems, was to agree that a lesbian relationship should mirror that of a heterosexual relationship in order to be successful.

As it turns out, in the limited research conducted about the difference between gay and heterosexual relationships, authors such as John Gottman have concluded that gays and lesbians are more inclined to fight fairly, are not as belligerent with one another as heterosexuals are, and are less domineering and not as fearful with each other. He also discovered that lesbians and gay men make better use of humor when they argue than do their heterosexual counterparts (John Gottman, et al 2003). Is frequent sex more important to a relationship than fair fighting and being kind?

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

What is the current sexual frequency of lesbians? Question number eight in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey asked, “In the last six months, how many times have you had sex (intimate contact intended to create sexual pleasure) with your partner?” Respondents were prompted to fill in the number of times they had sex in the last six months. Four separate categories of frequency were created to quantify the amount of sex that lesbians were having. Women who reported having sex zero to nine times were placed in the category labeled “once monthly or less.” Women who reported having sex between ten and twenty-one times in the last six months were assigned to the category of “two to three times per month.” Women who reported having sex twenty-two to eighty-three times in the last six months were categorized as having sex “one to three times a week.” The final category of “four or more times per week” included women who reported eighty-four or more episodes of sexual activity in the last six months.

The reported sexual frequencies were then rounded to the nearest category. For example, if a woman reported she had sex nine times in the last six months she would be assigned to the category of “once monthly or less.” Nine times in the last six months is obviously more than once monthly, however, it is closer to this category than it is to the next category of “two to three times a month,” and thus the best fit.

Question eight was completed by 416 women. Twelve percent (50 lesbians) of the sample reported having no sex in the last six months. Thirty-seven percent (154 lesbians) of the sample reported having sex once monthly or less. Combined, these groups represent almost half of the sample population, suggesting that the majority of lesbians are having sex once monthly or less. Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex two to three times a month. Twenty-seven percent of lesbians reported having sex one to three times weekly. Only five percent reported having sex five or more times weekly.

Few studies have been conducted on the sexual frequency of lesbians. One of the most recent studies was published in 2003 by Matthews, Tartaro, and Hughes. In a comparative study of lesbian and heterosexual women in committed relationships, Alicia Matthews, et al found that sixty-nine percent of lesbians and seventy-six percent of heterosexual women reported having sex at least once weekly. These findings are significantly higher than those of this study. Only thirty-four percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample reported having sex at least weekly, as seen in figure seven. It is important to note, however, that the sample size for the Alicia Matthews, et al. study was based on thirty-six lesbians. The small sample size raises questions about the validity of these findings, and the authors acknowledge that the small sample limits their ability to make any generalizations about lesbian sexuality.

Another study was done in 1997 by Letitia Peplau, et al also revealed higher rates of sexual frequency among lesbians. This particular study focused on the sexual behaviors of 398 Black lesbians (Letitia Peplau, et al 1997). The findings showed that eleven percent of Black lesbians reported having sex more than three times a week. This is slightly higher than the eight-percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study. Forty-seven percent of lesbians in Letitia Peplau, et al’s study reported having sex one to three times per week, which is significantly higher than the twenty-nine percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Forty-one percent of the Black lesbians reported having sex less than once a week, which is significantly lower than the sixty-five percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

Letitia Peplau, et al acknowledge that the sample is non-representative; however, it does offer insight to the variability of lesbian sexuality. What accounts for the higher rate of sexual frequency among Black women? This is valuable information, given that most of the studies conducted on lesbian sexuality are based on the histories of Caucasian women, including the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. While this question is outside the scope of this paper, it is none-the-less a valuable question to note.

The most commonly cited source about lesbian sexual frequency is still Schwartz and Blumstein (1983). The frequency of lesbian sex is presented in the context of length of relationship and the rating of one’s quality of sex life. For the American Couples study, it appears these statistics were based on a total of 768 lesbians. Of these lesbians, 195 reports having sex once a month or less, which equals twenty-five percent of the sample. This is significantly lower than the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey which suggest that forty-eight percent of all lesbians in the sample (44% of lesbian couples) are having sex once monthly or less.

The same calculation process reveals that twenty-seven percent of the American Couples sample have “sex between once a month and once a week” This compares to sixty-eight percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample who have sex between once a month and once a week. The third category offered is “sex between one and three times a week.” This includes 274 lesbians or thirty-six percent of the American Couple’s sample. This finding does not differ much from the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, which indicated that twenty-nine percent of lesbians are having sex one to three times per week. The final category of frequency, “Sex three times a week or more,” comprised nineteen percent of the sample. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported eight percent of women at this level of sexual frequency, which is less than half of the findings by Schwartz and Blumstein (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983, 27).

Loulan’s 1987 study revealed remarkably similar findings to the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Twelve percent of women in both samples report having no sex. Loulan categorized sexual frequency as “once or fewer times” (presumably per month) and “two to five times a month,” which compare closely to the fifty-three percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who reported having sex up to one or two times per month (Figure 7). Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex six to ten times a month in Loulan’s survey, compared to twenty-six percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study who reported having sex one to two times weekly. Those reporting sexual activity three or more times a week in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey comprise eight percent of the sample, and for Loulan’s study, fourteen percent reported having sex “eleven or more times in a month.” The similarity in these findings is striking.

Figure 6.  General Overview of Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Figure 7.  Detailed Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Women aged twenty-one to thirty are the most sexually active of the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study, with forty-eight percent having sex once weekly or more (Table 9). A noticeable drop in sexual frequency does not begin until after age fifty. At fifty-one, there is a ten percent drop in weekly sexual frequency. Thirty-one percent of forty-one to fifty-year-olds report having weekly sex. This drops to twenty-one percent at age fifty-one and to fourteen percent at age sixty-one. According to the National Institute on Aging, the average age of menopause is fifty-one, which seems to be the strongest explanation for this drop. One of the common side effects reported about menopause is a decrease in libido. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction findings is also similar to the findings of Loulan (1987), where she reports a general decline in sexual frequency as women age, with the most notable drop in frequency occurring between the age group forty to forty-nine, and fifty to fifty-nine.

Table 9.  Sexual Frequency Based on Age of Lesbians

Age

Four or More
Times Per Week

One to Three
Times Per Week

Two to Three
Times Per Month

Once Monthly
or Less

Once weekly or more

< 21 Years (n=6)

17%

17%

33%

33%

34%

21-30 Years (n=50)

10%

38%

18%

34%

48%

31-40 Years (n=127)

6%

28%

20%

47%

34%

41-50 Years (n=169)

4%

27%

24%

44%

31%

51-60 Years (n=72)

6%

15%

17%

63%

21%

60 + Years (n=15)

7%

7%

13%

73%

14%

 

Percentages reflect sexual frequencies per age group

n=lesbians per age

To explore the desire for sex as thoroughly as possible, the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey inquired with participants about the frequency of non-partner sex in the last six months. Question ten asks, “In the last six months, how many times did you have sex with someone other than your partner?” Of the 498 respondents, only forty-two (12%) reported having non-partner sex. The most non-partner sex occurs with couples who have been partnered between six and ten years, followed by women who are newly partnered for up to six months (21%).

Of the forty-two women who report non-partner sex, thirty-nine responded to the question about whether or not their relationship is open or closed to outside sex. Of these thirty-nine who reported having sex outside their relationship in the last six months, thirteen are not currently partnered. This might suggest that thirteen (3%) of women pursued another relationship or at least sex, and it may or may not have been the cause of their relationship break-up. Eight (2%) of the women who had non-partner sex report that they have agreements with their partner to engage in sex outside the relationship. Eighteen of the women (4%) reported no such agreement, so were likely engaged in acts of infidelity.

The incidence of non-partner sex with or without partner approval is nominal. These findings are lower than the incidence of non-partner sex found in 1983 by Schwartz and Blumstein. Ten percent of their sample of lesbians reported infidelity, compared to four percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. Of those with an agreement about non-partner sex, twenty-five percent engaged in sex outside of their relationship.

There are two possibilities that may account for this decline in non-partner sex. One, the onset of AIDS occurred around the time Schwartz and Blumstein reported their findings, which would place participants of their survey at the tail end of the sexual liberation movement where sex was viewed less restrictively in our culture. This era put a damper on the sex lives of all couple pairs.

Another possibility is that during the 70s and 80s, lesbians were less visible than they are in today’s culture. With this visibility comes an increased level of validation and possibly accountability. A client who was in her prime dating years during the years of Schwartz and Blumstein’s study explained to this researcher that she had been unfaithful in every relationship from around age twenty to age forty. She stated that now that she is approaching sixty years old, she has come to see that she never valued her relationships, that she did not see lesbian relationships as important as heterosexual relationships. She shared that she had trouble conceiving that they would last in the same way that married couples believed their relationships would last. She explained that she feels differently now, that she has come to see her relationship as something that has meaning, and she experienced this only after coming out and having others (particularly heterosexuals) know about her relationship.

Once lesbians became more visible, it is possible they began to take their own relationships more seriously, which may have contributed to the decline in non-partner sex among those without agreements.

Figure 8.  Instances of Sex Outside the Relationship Among Lesbians

In summary, research largely supports the fact that lesbians are less sexual than other couple pairings. However, there is no evidence to support the belief that this translates into a deficiency, or that a lower frequency is in any way unhealthy. The assumption that heterosexuals are the healthy standard by which lesbians must be compared is a paradigm this researcher rejects. Some lesbians have a lot of sex. Some lesbians have none. Lesbians of all ages are sexual, and most are disinclined to stray sexually from their primary relationship. Lesbian sex does appear to continue at a rate similar to that found in 1987 by Loulan, though fewer lesbians appear to engage in non-partner sex than in previous years. Chapter Seven will shift attention to what is important to lesbians when it comes to their intimate relationships

How did the Narrative of Lesbian Bed Death Impact Lesbian Sexuality?

The search for understanding about how Lesbian Bed Death influenced lesbian sexuality over the last three produces more questions than answers. There is great curiosity about how the topic of lesbian sex, and the phrase lesbian bed death, was carried from the east coast to the west coast so swiftly and effectively during an era when the internet was not available to spread information at viral rates. Though it is interesting to uncover the roots of this phrase, the ultimate goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of how this phrase assumed enough power in our culture to influence the perceptions of lesbians as sexually inferior. How did this message spread so quickly, and then remain so active in the cultural consciousness?

The label of Lesbian Bed Death devalues lesbian relationships by suggesting that lesbians are inadequate, or worse yet, sexually broken. When the measurement is frequency, lesbians lose the race against heterosexual or gay pairings when it comes to sex.

 

 

Who benefits if lesbian sex is viewed as inadequate, or inferior to the sex had by heterosexuals?

One theory is that lesbians pose a threat to social order. Historically, men have held the power in our culture, and women have been raised to depend on them, primarily financially, for survival. This pattern has broken down over the years, thanks to the women’s liberation movement and the increase of women in the workforce. However, women still struggle to find equal footing with men in most areas of life. In South Africa, raping a lesbian can make a man a township hero. “Attackers boast publicly of their crimes and declare to their victims: ‘We’ll show you-you’re a woman,’ the report said. Such attacks are often referred to as ‘corrective rapes’ in South Africa” (Guardian 2011, 1). A woman without a man in South Africa is not considered a woman at all. As archaic as this perspective seems in 21st century America, it is not unreasonable to think that we are a culture that is not yet finished moving slowly out of one view (women are defined by men) and into a new perspective (women are defined by themselves). As we have learned from many other oppressed groups, such as Blacks in America, cultural change is slow, regardless of what is true and right.

Another curiosity that surfaced during this research is about the momentum required to get the message of LBD off the ground. Groups of women were reportedly having regular chats about sex, which served to enhance their own sex lives, and simultaneously fulfilled an important need for a sense of belonging. These participants of these chats percolated the unifying concept of lesbian bed death. From these chats what rose to the surface was the message of lesbian bed death. If McGleughlin’s perception of this phrase is true, it expresses a dual message about the loss of sex and loss of community. In that case, the message itself has somehow changed over time, losing the emphasis once placed on the “death” of the community of lesbians who talk about sex.

An alternate theory about the spread of this message is the possibility that it was simply true, and lesbians themselves were seeking personal validation for their own experience. It is possible that the continued discussions, which also kept LBD alive and spreading, provided an outlet for lesbians to validate their experience. Although there has not been much research about lesbian sexuality over the last three decades, the existing research consistently reported low rates of sexual activity for lesbians, with few exceptions (Alicia Mathews et al 2003, Lelita Peplau et al 1997). Research has also consistently shown a quick decline in frequency over the course of lesbian relationships. The reality seems to be that lesbians had, and still have, less sex. This researcher keeps returning to one question. Who cared, and why was this a problem?

 

Is lower sexual frequency a problem for lesbians?

Coming out in the 70s and 80s was avant-garde behavior. Lesbians were not previously visible to the general public. The best way to establish a sense of belonging is to identify the ways in which you are similar to those with whom you wish to join. If research revealed that lesbians are sexually inadequate during the same time that lesbians were seeking approval for their identity, it seems possible that lesbians themselves would have difficulty accepting this information.

Instead of embracing what is, advocates of lesbians sought, and seem to still be seeking, to disprove the amount of sexual activity that occurs between women, as if to say, “We are like you.” Presumably, the assumption is that being like heterosexuals will allow lesbians to be seen as “normal.” This researcher believes that the greatest power is sourced from the truth. It is not important how much sex lesbians are having, or how often lesbians are having sex. What is important is whether or not lesbians are satisfied with their intimate relationships and whether or not they feel empowered to create these relationships according to their own truth, and not a social standard randomly transferred from other couple pairings.

Gay men are reportedly the most sexual of all pairings. If the frequency or amount of sex determines health, then why are gay men not considered the healthiest of all couples? What would have happened if Schwartz and Blumstein discovered that heterosexuals were having the least amount of sex and that their sexual activity declined more rapidly than the other couple pairs? It is likely that this paper would be evaluating the concern with sexually overactive lesbians, even if their sexual behaviors were exactly as they are now.

Another question that evolved from this research is; How far did the phrase lesbian bed death travel? This researcher decided to briefly explore perceptions of lesbian sexuality in other countries. A cursory look for information about sexual frequency among lesbians in other countries did not reveal much. There was one report on lesbians in The Netherlands/Holland by Karin Van Rosmalen-Nooijens, et al which was conducted in 2008. This study indicated that seventy-six percent of lesbians of all ages experienced a decline in sexual activity.  It appears that the phrase lesbian bed death did not spread far beyond the borders of the United States, but perhaps the phenomena of lower sexual frequency is a shared experience regardless of the country in question.

What does appear consistent is that how lesbians are viewed within a culture is rooted in how women are viewed within that culture. The attitude towards lesbian behavior is directly affected by the role a woman is expected to play in her culture. For example, in Asia, a woman’s role is primarily concerned with reproduction. The concept of sexual orientation is irrelevant because sex for women is not about sex, it is about having babies. In Asia, any sexual behavior that doesn’t have the goal of procreation is considered an aberration. Thus, homosexuality is not acceptable behavior because it is by its very nature about pleasure.

Lesbian bed death stereotyped the sex lives of lesbians as defective, inadequate, and inferior to others. This label added another layer of oppression very similarly to the way “sexual inverts” did in the early 20th century. It is useful to consider the history of the term sexual invert, and the influence this term had on cultural perceptions of lesbians. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1970s, lesbians were considered “sick,” “disturbed,” and “deviant.” It took a half-century to transcend the damaging perceptions of lesbians as mentally ill.

History, it is said, often repeats itself. Given this, it is possible, or even likely, that lesbian bed death, much like sexual inversion, will cycle out of the collective consciousness and be replaced by a new, improved perception of lesbians. If lesbian bed death is a concept that evolved in the mid-1980s, history would indicate that by the year 2030, LBD should be nearly erased from the collective consciousness. This does not, of course, mean that lesbians will be having more sex, but the absence of the label will clarify cultural perceptions about lesbian sexuality, and how those perceptions play out in the sex lives of lesbians.

What makes the most sense to this researcher when assessing the history and influence of the phrase lesbian bed death, is that there was a melting pot of motivations, which led to a conversion of agendas that served multiple purposes simultaneously. Whether it was used as a form of oppression, a way to keep women in their place in society, or whether it was simply because it is true and lesbians needed validation for their truth, the side-effects of this phrase on the sex lives of lesbians have proved unhelpful.

This researcher has concluded that lesbian bed death is a disparaging phrase used to criticize the sexual realities of lesbians in comparison to heterosexuals. It is not the behavior of lesbians that is the problem, it is the grossly inaccurate and irresponsible categorization of these behaviors as inadequate or dysfunctional that is the problem. Debating lesbian bed death validates its merit. This researcher’s conclusion is that lesbians have a bed (a sex life) and it is different than other couple pairs. That difference does not make it dead, it simply makes it different.

To defend lesbian bed death suggests that there is something legitimate to argue against. This researcher does not believe in the legitimacy of LBD. It is a misunderstood concept that filled a void of understanding during a time that lesbians were stepping out and exploring the uncharted territory of a visible life among the heterosexual population. The mistake, it seems, was to agree that a lesbian relationship should mirror that of a heterosexual relationship in order to be successful.

As it turns out, in the limited research conducted about the difference between gay and heterosexual relationships, authors such as John Gottman have concluded that gays and lesbians are more inclined to fight fairly, are not as belligerent with one another as heterosexuals are, and are less domineering and not as fearful with each other. He also discovered that lesbians and gay men make better use of humor when they argue than do their heterosexual counterparts (John Gottman, et al 2003). Is frequent sex more important to a relationship than fair fighting and being kind?

Sexual Frequency of Lesbians

What is the current sexual frequency of lesbians? Question number eight in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey asked, “In the last six months, how many times have you had sex (intimate contact intended to create sexual pleasure) with your partner?” Respondents were prompted to fill in the number of times they had sex in the last six months. Four separate categories of frequency were created to quantify the amount of sex that lesbians were having. Women who reported having sex zero to nine times were placed in the category labeled “once monthly or less.” Women who reported having sex between ten and twenty-one times in the last six months were assigned to the category of “two to three times per month.” Women who reported having sex twenty-two to eighty-three times in the last six months were categorized as having sex “one to three times a week.” The final category of “four or more times per week” included women who reported eighty-four or more episodes of sexual activity in the last six months.

The reported sexual frequencies were then rounded to the nearest category. For example, if a woman reported she had sex nine times in the last six months she would be assigned to the category of “once monthly or less.” Nine times in the last six months is obviously more than once monthly, however, it is closer to this category than it is to the next category of “two to three times a month,” and thus the best fit.

Question eight was completed by 416 women. Twelve percent (50 lesbians) of the sample reported having no sex in the last six months. Thirty-seven percent (154 lesbians) of the sample reported having sex once monthly or less. Combined, these groups represent almost half of the sample population, suggesting that the majority of lesbians are having sex once monthly or less. Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex two to three times a month. Twenty-seven percent of lesbians reported having sex one to three times weekly. Only five percent reported having sex five or more times weekly.

Few studies have been conducted on the sexual frequency of lesbians. One of the most recent studies was published in 2003 by Matthews, Tartaro, and Hughes. In a comparative study of lesbian and heterosexual women in committed relationships, Alicia Matthews, et al found that sixty-nine percent of lesbians and seventy-six percent of heterosexual women reported having sex at least once weekly. These findings are significantly higher than those of this study. Only thirty-four percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample reported having sex at least weekly, as seen in figure seven. It is important to note, however, that the sample size for the Alicia Matthews, et al. study was based on thirty-six lesbians. The small sample size raises questions about the validity of these findings, and the authors acknowledge that the small sample limits their ability to make any generalizations about lesbian sexuality.

Another study was done in 1997 by Letitia Peplau, et al also revealed higher rates of sexual frequency among lesbians. This particular study focused on the sexual behaviors of 398 Black lesbians (Letitia Peplau, et al 1997). The findings showed that eleven percent of Black lesbians reported having sex more than three times a week. This is slightly higher than the eight-percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study. Forty-seven percent of lesbians in Letitia Peplau, et al’s study reported having sex one to three times per week, which is significantly higher than the twenty-nine percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Forty-one percent of the Black lesbians reported having sex less than once a week, which is significantly lower than the sixty-five percent in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey.

Letitia Peplau, et al acknowledge that the sample is non-representative; however, it does offer insight to the variability of lesbian sexuality. What accounts for the higher rate of sexual frequency among Black women? This is valuable information, given that most of the studies conducted on lesbian sexuality are based on the histories of Caucasian women, including the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. While this question is outside the scope of this paper, it is none-the-less a valuable question to note.

The most commonly cited source about lesbian sexual frequency is still Schwartz and Blumstein (1983). The frequency of lesbian sex is presented in the context of length of relationship and the rating of one’s quality of sex life. For the American Couples study, it appears these statistics were based on a total of 768 lesbians. Of these lesbians, 195 reports having sex once a month or less, which equals twenty-five percent of the sample. This is significantly lower than the findings in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey which suggest that forty-eight percent of all lesbians in the sample (44% of lesbian couples) are having sex once monthly or less.

The same calculation process reveals that twenty-seven percent of the American Couples sample have “sex between once a month and once a week” This compares to sixty-eight percent of the women in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample who have sex between once a month and once a week. The third category offered is “sex between one and three times a week.” This includes 274 lesbians or thirty-six percent of the American Couple’s sample. This finding does not differ much from the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey, which indicated that twenty-nine percent of lesbians are having sex one to three times per week. The final category of frequency, “Sex three times a week or more,” comprised nineteen percent of the sample. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey reported eight percent of women at this level of sexual frequency, which is less than half of the findings by Schwartz and Blumstein (Schwartz and Blumstein 1983, 27).

Loulan’s 1987 study revealed remarkably similar findings to the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey. Twelve percent of women in both samples report having no sex. Loulan categorized sexual frequency as “once or fewer times” (presumably per month) and “two to five times a month,” which compare closely to the fifty-three percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey who reported having sex up to one or two times per month (Figure 7). Twenty percent of lesbians reported having sex six to ten times a month in Loulan’s survey, compared to twenty-six percent of lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study who reported having sex one to two times weekly. Those reporting sexual activity three or more times a week in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction Survey comprise eight percent of the sample, and for Loulan’s study, fourteen percent reported having sex “eleven or more times in a month.” The similarity in these findings is striking.

General Overview of Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Detailed Lesbian Sexual Frequency

Women aged twenty-one to thirty are the most sexually active of the lesbians in the Frequency vs. Satisfaction study, with forty-eight percent having sex once weekly or more (Table 9). A noticeable drop in sexual frequency does not begin until after age fifty. At fifty-one, there is a ten percent drop in weekly sexual frequency. Thirty-one percent of forty-one to fifty-year-olds report having weekly sex. This drops to twenty-one percent at age fifty-one and to fourteen percent at age sixty-one. According to the National Institute on Aging, the average age of menopause is fifty-one, which seems to be the strongest explanation for this drop. One of the common side effects reported about menopause is a decrease in libido. The Frequency vs. Satisfaction findings is also similar to the findings of Loulan (1987), where she reports a general decline in sexual frequency as women age, with the most notable drop in frequency occurring between the age group forty to forty-nine, and fifty to fifty-nine.

Sexual Frequency Based on Age of Lesbians

Age

Four or More
Times Per Week

One to Three
Times Per Week

Two to Three
Times Per Month

Once Monthly
or Less

Once weekly or more

< 21 Years (n=6)

17%

17%

33%

33%

34%

21-30 Years (n=50)

10%

38%

18%

34%

48%

31-40 Years (n=127)

6%

28%

20%

47%

34%

41-50 Years (n=169)

4%

27%

24%

44%

31%

51-60 Years (n=72)

6%

15%

17%

63%

21%

60 + Years (n=15)

7%

7%

13%

73%

14%

 

Percentages reflect sexual frequencies per age group

n=lesbians per age

To explore the desire for sex as thoroughly as possible, the Frequency vs. Satisfaction survey inquired with participants about the frequency of non-partner sex in the last six months. Question ten asks, “In the last six months, how many times did you have sex with someone other than your partner?” Of the 498 respondents, only forty-two (12%) reported having non-partner sex. The most non-partner sex occurs with couples who have been partnered between six and ten years, followed by women who are newly partnered for up to six months (21%).

Of the forty-two women who report non-partner sex, thirty-nine responded to the question about whether or not their relationship is open or closed to outside sex. Of these thirty-nine who reported having sex outside their relationship in the last six months, thirteen are not currently partnered. This might suggest that thirteen (3%) of women pursued another relationship or at least sex, and it may or may not have been the cause of their relationship break-up. Eight (2%) of the women who had non-partner sex report that they have agreements with their partner to engage in sex outside the relationship. Eighteen of the women (4%) reported no such agreement, so were likely engaged in acts of infidelity.

The incidence of non-partner sex with or without partner approval is nominal. These findings are lower than the incidence of non-partner sex found in 1983 by Schwartz and Blumstein. Ten percent of their sample of lesbians reported infidelity, compared to four percent of the Frequency vs. Satisfaction sample. Of those with an agreement about non-partner sex, twenty-five percent engaged in sex outside of their relationship.

There are two possibilities that may account for this decline in non-partner sex. One, the onset of AIDS occurred around the time Schwartz and Blumstein reported their findings, which would place participants of their survey at the tail end of the sexual liberation movement where sex was viewed less restrictively in our culture. This era put a damper on the sex lives of all couple pairs.

Another possibility is that during the 70s and 80s, lesbians were less visible than they are in today’s culture. With this visibility comes an increased level of validation and possibly accountability. A client who was in her prime dating years during the years of Schwartz and Blumstein’s study explained to this researcher that she had been unfaithful in every relationship from around age twenty to age forty. She stated that now that she is approaching sixty years old, she has come to see that she never valued her relationships, that she did not see lesbian relationships as important as heterosexual relationships. She shared that she had trouble conceiving that they would last in the same way that married couples believed their relationships would last. She explained that she feels differently now, that she has come to see her relationship as something that has meaning, and she experienced this only after coming out and having others (particularly heterosexuals) know about her relationship.

Once lesbians became more visible, it is possible they began to take their own relationships more seriously, which may have contributed to the decline in non-partner sex among those without agreements.

Instances of Sex Outside the Relationship Among Lesbians

In summary, research largely supports the fact that lesbians are less sexual than other couple pairings. However, there is no evidence to support the belief that this translates into a deficiency, or that a lower frequency is in any way unhealthy. The assumption that heterosexuals are the healthy standard by which lesbians must be compared is a paradigm this researcher rejects. Some lesbians have a lot of sex. Some lesbians have none. Lesbians of all ages are sexual, and most are disinclined to stray sexually from their primary relationship. Lesbian sex does appear to continue at a rate similar to that found in 1987 by Loulan, though fewer lesbians appear to engage in non-partner sex than in previous years. Chapter Seven will shift attention to what is important to lesbians when it comes to their intimate relationships.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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Three Essential Lesbian Relationship Goals for Lesbian Couples

Three Essential Lesbian Relationship Goals for Lesbian Couples

lesbian relationship goals, lesbian couple goals, lesbian goals

THREE ESSENTIAL LESBIAN RELATIONSHIP GOALS

FOR LESBIAN COUPLES

 

Start your relationship on the right foot with these three essential lesbian relationship goals. Much of what we learn in relationships comes from trial and error. However, there are also some great strategies that you can intentionally practice to increase your odds of a happy and satisfying relationship. These three lesbian relationship goals will get you headed in the right direction.

1. Seek Security Within Before Expecting it From a Relationship

Security is the result of accurately predicting what to expect from your partner and responding effectively to that which you are not anticipating. You will know that you are secure in your relationship with yourself when you have faith that no matter what life brings you, you will be able to make the next right choice to move you into a better place. Sometimes we are unable to predict what our partner will do, say, think or how she will behave because many variables in life are out of control for both of us. An unexpected accident on the interstate could make her late coming home from work. A canceled flight could prevent her from making it back in time for your birthday party. The key to finding security within is to have generally accurate predictions about what you can expect from your partner, and to allow room for logical and believable explanations when your predictions are off, or to respond with confidence when explanations are not believable.

On the other hand, when there is a lack of security within your self and within your relationship, the confidence that you can predict what to expect is replaced by expectations, demands, and a need for her to be a certain way, and do and say certain things, in order for you to feel safe with her. When you approach relationships from this perspective, you will notice yourself feeling more reactive, panicky, worried and angry when things do not go as you want. 

The best way to improve your sense of security is to recognize what is your business, or “in your lane,” and what is not. The only thing in this life that you can control or influence is that which is in your lane. Byron Katie, the author of Loving What Is, says all things in life fall in one of three categories: your business (what you can control), my business (what I can control), and the business of the universe or God (what is not controlled by humans).  When you get good at recognizing what is “my business,” you will feel increasingly more secure in this world. Insecurity stems from trying to control the uncontrollable. 

 

2. Maintain Your Interests, Hobbies, and Friendships

Maintaining friendships (with the exception of your ex), hobbies and interests are the second of three essential lesbian relationship goals. Because security is one of the most important things to women (not just lesbians) in relationships, women will often trade their independence for a sense of security. When this happens, the differentiation of who I am, and who you are, begin to breakdown and lesbian couples begin to think and operate very similarly, even if it is not authentically how each of them feels. This is referred to as “fusion,” or “merging,” and one of the adverse side effects of this is that there is not enough distance between partners to create the feeling of longing or desire. 

At the start of a relationship, you have the opportunity to see your partner from a distance, with more objectivity and curiosity. She is someone you want to know better. You are literally drawn to her, eager to move closer, closing the gap that exists when we do not know someone well.  You see her in HER environrment, doing her thing, being who she is – separate from you. I call this the desire gap. The desire gap is created by the independence you express in your relationship that produces enough distance, but not too much, between partners to generate a desire and longing for closeness. 

The instinct for lesbians is to bond rapidly, commit quickly, settle in and nest with her new partner, and to stop nurturing self-interests, hobbies, and friendships that are not shared. In time, this begins to close the desire gap, leaving little to no distance necessary for desire and longing. There must be a “you,” and there must be a “her,” separately, for you to experience desire for one another. It is difficult to generate longing and desire for a “we.”

If you are already in a relationship and have allowed your interests to fall away, you can make a movement toward this lesbian relationship goal by slowly returning to your natural interests and nurturing your friendships and hobbies. While you may be met with some resistance, suspicion or even anxiety at first, the benefits to you and your relationship, in the long run, are worth the discomfort involved in getting to this point. 

 

3. Allowing Emotional Wiggle Room

The third of three essential lesbian relationship goals is allowing. I call this giving one another the emotional wiggle room to have feelings without having to process and rid oneself of them immediately. In my work with lesbian couples over the past two decades, I have noticed a recurring pattern of aversion to any form of negative emotion among lesbians, whether it is directed toward a partner or elsewhere. 

In the presence of strong negative emotions, lesbian partners will often respond in one of two ways:

1) efforts to minimize or fix the negative feelings by acquiescing to what she believes her partner wants; or defensiveness and;

2) personalization of the negative emotions that can result in an extended conflict, brooding by one partner, or a hard withdrawal by both partners.

None of these responses offers the partner with the original feelings the time or space to process her experience and allow her emotions to run their course, or the opportunity to be understood by her partner for how she is feeling.

Interestingly, commonly cited research, by John Gottman, reports that during fights gay and lesbian couples take things less personally than heterosexual couples. This is not consistent with my experience in working with lesbian couples for the past two decades. In fact, it is quite common for women in relationships with women to take very personally all of the comments made by her partner, and for the two of them to spend countless hours processing these hurt feelings. I am inclined to think that the sample of only 12 lesbian couples in Gottman’s study is not large enough to accurately describe the common lesbian relationship experience. 

Women are emotionally attuned to one another more intensely than other couple pairings that involve men (gay or heterosexual). While emotional awareness and attunement to one another is generally a very positive relationship characteristic, there are times when it can create obstacles and limit emotional wiggle room in the context of relationships. To strengthen your ability to allow your partner emotional wiggle room, begin to notice when you are responding to her mood and not her words. If you find yourself wanting to ask, “what’s wrong?” or to “fix” her mood by pleasing her, instead, extend an invitation to talk when and if she wishes to. You might say, “Seems like something’s on your mind. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” If she says, “I’m fine,” and her body language screams “My mouth is saying I am fine, but I am not fine,” it is important to honor her words and let her come to you if she decides to. Your anxiety will make this difficult. Tend to your own feelings in these moments instead of hers, and see what a difference that makes.

More article by Michele O’Mara, PhD, LCSW

How to make relationships work when you have no common interests

5 Common Issues for Lesbian Couples

How to learn what your relationship imago is

…………………………………………………….

❤️ 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.

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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