Lesbian bed death

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Lesbian bed death is a term coined by University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz in her 1983 book American Couples.[1] According to Schwartz, lesbian couples in committed relationships have less sex than any other type of couple, and they generally experience less sexual intimacy the longer the relationship lasts.[1] The study has been criticized by the lesbian community and some psychologists as popular myth.[2][3][4][5][6]

Research and societal impact[edit]

Schwartz's findings[edit]

Schwartz and Philip Blumstein concluded that lesbian couples in committed relationships have less sex than any other type of couple (heterosexual married, heterosexual co-habitating or gay male) and that they generally experience less sexual intimacy the longer the relationship lasts. This was based on analysis of responses to the question "About how often during the last year have you and your partner had sex relations?". The results signified less sexual activity than their counterparts. Emphasizing "had sex" in their sample, only about one-third of lesbians in relationships of 2 years or longer had sex once a week or more; 47% of lesbians in long-term relationships had sex once a month or less, and among heterosexual married couples, only 15% had sex once a week or less. They also reported that lesbians seemed to be more limited in the range of their sexual techniques than did other couples, and that lesbian couples are less sexual as couples and as individuals than anyone else.[4][5]

Following the survey, many 1980s books and articles by lesbian practitioners were written about lesbian sexuality, by well-known clinicians such as Marny Hall, JoAnn Loulan and Marge Nichols, dealing with inhibited sexual desire, lack of sexual initiation and low sexual self-esteem in regards to lesbian sexuality.[5]

Other findings and criticism[edit]

In addition to Schwartz's survey, a German study concluded that the female sex drive greatly diminishes once a woman is in a secure relationship.[7] Thus, from an evolutionary psychological point of view, lesbian couples are expected to seek sex less frequently than heterosexual or gay male couples.[8]

The methodology of Schwartz's survey format was criticized when lesbian feminist scholar Marilyn Frye questioned the validity of sex research that compares the numbers of times that couples of different sexual orientations have sex, feeling that Schwartz's question is too ambiguous when applied to the sexual behavior of lesbian couples. Frye and other researchers since her first questioning[who?] have stated that this ambiguity could account for the finding of a statistically low frequency of sexual behavior among lesbian couples if "sex relations" is interpreted too narrowly,[4][5] with Frye indicating that Schwartz's comparison is not accurate because the focus has been on sexual activity in which a penis is inserted.[4] Frye stated, "...What 85 percent of long-term, married couples do more than once a month takes on average 8 minutes to do... What we (lesbians) do that, on average, we do considerably less frequently, takes, on the average, considerably more than 8 minutes to do. Maybe about 30 minutes at least."[5]

Frye's statements regarding satisfaction and technique comparisons are supported by studies such as ones done by Alfred Kinsey in 1953[9] and Masters and Johnson in 1979. Masters and Johnson's 1979 study on lesbian sexual practices concluded that lesbian sexual behaviors more often have qualities associated with sexual satisfaction than their heterosexual counterparts, focusing on more full-body sexual contact rather than genital-focused contact, less preoccupation or anxiety about achieving orgasm, more sexual assertiveness and communication about sexual needs, longer lasting sexual encounters and greater satisfaction with the overall quality of one's sexual life.[4][5] On the contrary, a study done in The Journal of Sex Research found that women in same-sex relationships enjoyed identical sexual desire, sexual communication, sexual satisfaction, and satisfaction with orgasm as their heterosexual counterparts.[10]

"Back then, sex pretty much meant penis in vagina," stated Nikki Dowling of TheFrisky.com. "Even now, some people—including lesbians—question whether gay women can have actual sex."[3] Dowling surmised that "Lesbian bed death is probably only sticking around" due to lesbophobia.[3] Winnie McCroy of The Village Voice stated, "Although [Schwartz's] methodology and results were later challenged, the idea of lesbian bed death has taken on a life of its own, with damaging results."[2] Dowling's sentiment echoed this, stating, "There are websites and people all over the place that claim they can cure your lesbian bed death. Most of them offer cliché advice—watch porn, be spontaneous, fantasize, etc. I’ve never heard a lesbian complain about or lend any credence to lesbian bed death. I know a lot of women who have been in long-term, serious relationships and they’ve never had a problem."[3] McCroy, as well as researchers, argue that all couples get tired of "marathon sex," citing the Coolidge effect. Sex educator and author Tristan Taormino stated that sex gets old regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation.[2] Psychotherapist Suzanne Iasenza said, "Read heterosexual sex therapist David Schnarch's work if you don't believe heterosexual couples grapple with similar issues." She added, "In the 1995 Advocate Survey of Lesbian Sexuality and Relationships, results showed that lesbian women had more enjoyable sex than most American women. Somehow, this data has not received the same attention as the 1983 report from Blumstein and Schwartz. Why is that?"[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Blumstein, Philip and Schwartz, Pepper (1983) American Couples. William Morrow
  2. ^ a b c McCroy, Winnie (June 22, 2010). "The Myth of Lesbian Bed Death". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dowling, Nikki (February 25, 2010). "Girl On Girl: Lesbian Bed Death Is A Big, Fat Myth". The Frisky (website). TheFrisky.com. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Jerrold S. Greenberg, Clint E. Bruess, Sarah C. Conklin (2007). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 884. ISBN 0-7637-4148-5, ISBN 978-0-7637-4148-8. Retrieved 2010-12-19. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Iasenza, Suzanne (November 9, 2001). "the big lie: lesbian bed death". fridae.com. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  6. ^ Geier, Patt. "The Truth About Lesbian Bed Death". 4therapy.com. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Security 'bad news for sex drive'". BBC News. August 14, 2006. 
  8. ^ Symons, D. (1981), The Evolution of Human Sexuality, Oxford University Press.
  9. ^ Kinsey, A.; Pomeroy, W.; Martin, C., & Gebhard, P. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Philadelphia: Saunders (1953), ISBN 978-0-253-33411-4.
  10. ^ Holmberg, Diane; Blair, Karen Lyndsay (2009). "Sexual Desire, Communication, Satisfaction, and Preferences of Men and Women in Same-Sex Versus Mixed-Sex Relationships" (PDF). The Journal of Sex Research. Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. 46 (1): 57–66. ISSN 1559-8519. doi:10.1080/00224490802645294. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-21.