The Truth About Lesbian Bed Death

Members of the queer community are all too familiar with stereotypes. Whether it’s generalizations made through the media, or just plain ignorance, stereotypes tend to come up a lot in our community.

One particularly persistent stereotype is the idea of lesbian bed death. To get an idea of what this term means, both in the past and how it fits into queer culture today, we spoke to Katie Hauser, LCSW, a therapist at the Chelsea and Brooklyn locations of the Gay Therapy Center.

What is lesbian bed death, anyway?

Katie defines lesbian bed death as “the idea that lesbians not only have less sex than other types of couples but that there’s a noticeable drop in sexuality in long term lesbian relationships.”

Here’s where it gets dicey: the data doesn’t back it up. Katie continues, “It’s really only supported by anecdotal evidence and very old survey research, from over 25 years ago., The surveys were reporting low rates of sexual activity and relatively high rates of celibacy among lesbians in comparison with other types of couples. So that brought about this idea that lesbians just aren’t as sexual.”

The problem with the old studies is not only that they are outdated but that many of them didn’t capture the full range of human sexuality. These studies tended to focus on heteronormative standards of sex and intimacy, without taking into account the other types of sexual intimacy that aren’t penis in vagina sex. The myth of lesbian bed death is simply that: a myth, with little actual evidence proving its existence.

There is a nugget of truth in the myth: sexual activity tends to decrease in all long term relationships. Katie says, “The problem is that the myth is particular to lesbians. It stigmatizes one group by asserting that it’s their particular problem. That just frankly isn’t true. And there’s ample evidence from more recent studies that support the opposite notion, actually.”

What the numbers really show

Katie gave us a sample of some of the evidence that contradicts the myth of lesbian bed death. Katie explains: “Studies from the last 20 years show that lesbians tend to report equal or greater sexual satisfaction than heterosexual counterparts. They’re engaging in a variety of sexual activities throughout their relationship, and experiencing higher rates of orgasm and longer sexual encounters than heterosexual couples.”

Sexual activity doesn’t always stay the same over time

It is common to experience a decrease in sexual activity in many long term relationships, regardless of orientation. Katie has some words of advice for folks experiencing this: “It is absolutely natural to expect a drop off in desire, a drop off in sexual intimacy, and in the priority of sex in your relationship, and to feel a little freaked out about it when it happens. I would advise people who are afraid about that not to panic.” Instead of panicking, Katie suggests taking the time to prioritize sex in your relationship (if sex is important to you) and confront the barriers that are standing in the way of the sex life you want.

She continues, “I think it’s really important to acknowledge that individuals and couples often are experiencing different sexual motivations, and different aspects of their sexuality and are bringing different pieces of themselves to the table. So, motivation, desire, and preferences can be shifting and changing in your relationship over time, regardless. Those changes are nuanced and individualized. So there’s a lot to work with in there.”

If couples want to make sexuality a priority in their life they can schedule sex, or they can have more intentional forms of sexual contact with their partner. Some couples choose to focus on pleasure in other ways in their relationship that maybe have nothing to do with sex such as going out and experiencing a really good dinner. Sometimes it is important to take the pressure piece off the table, and to find ways to connect, even if there are certain barriers in place like exhaustion, or emotional difficulty. ”

Is there anything lesbians should actually be worried about, sex wise?

We can agree that the idea of lesbian bed death is an outdated term that isn’t really relevant in queer culture today. However, there are some specific sexual concerns that do apply to lesbians. Some of these, according to Katie, are “the length of time that it takes to achieve orgasm, and the amount of time that is invested into a sexual experience. These can be vastly different than the sexual experiences in heterosexual or gay male relationships. The more common issues are things like exhaustion or emotional difficulty within the relationship, but there’s also the element of sexual trauma that can come into play when we’re talking about a relationship between two people who identify as women.” When this comes up, Katie recommends seeking out counseling, of course, but also taking your own sexual inventory to determine how to improve your sex life yourself.

Allow your libido to be what it is

That’s another hugely important piece to this conversation that often gets left out: sex is an individual and personal experience. Katie reiterated this point, “The thing that I just want to make sure is clear is that sexuality and the idea that a decline in sexuality is a problem is an individualized experience. It’s one where, if sex is a priority to you, then it’s okay to treat it as such. And if it’s not, it's okay to accept a decline in your sex life if that feels like it is okay. It’s really important that people allow for their libidos to be what they are. And simply because we’re experiencing a dip in sexuality or sexual charge in a relationship, [or] at one point in time in a relationship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to continue - but also [it doesn't necessarily mean] that has to be a problem that needs to be fixed. Work on it if you want to.”

Work on it if you want to

It seems like people have an idea of what sexuality is supposed to be and then their experiences don’t match up with it and they’re not sure what to make of it. That doesn’t mean that there actually is anything wrong with your sex life. If you are concerned, then you can use that as a jumping off point with your partner to determine how sex fits into your relationship now and how you want it to in the future.

It’s all up to you rather than an outdated myth.

Want to read more?  Here are our articles on lesbian issues:

Comment

The information on this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and no psychotherapist-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. The suggestions offered in this blog are just one perspective of many approaches to dealing with problems and should not be your only source when making life decisions. This website is not intended to replace professional mental health treatment.