Several years ago when volunteering at Outfest, I ended up the sole male in a conclave of lesbians. When the conversation turned to sex, I learned a new term, “lesbian bed death.” A young woman in the group who quite enjoyed, shall we say, intimate encounters with members of her own sex, denounced those older ladies who don’t have such encounters as regularly as did she.
When she became older, she vowed, she would continue to be as active as she then was. She seemed almost angry at her older counterparts for not partaking as much as she did. I interjected that maybe, as she aged, she would come to value other things more. But, she was adamant. She would remain sexually active throughout her life. As should all women.
Now, I had never previously heard the term — and would later learn the notion has often been discussed, its conclusion has also been disputed:
But where did this idea of “lesbian bed death” come from? Thank sociologist Pepper Schwartz, who, in her 1983 book American Couples, asserted that lesbians have less sex and intimacy than other couples. Although her methodology and results were later challenged, the idea of lesbian bed death has taken on a life of its own, with damaging results.
Despite the shibboleth that women’s sexuality is something wild that has to be controlled, and the stereotype of lesbians as the asexual mirror-image of horndog gay men, the truth lies somewhere in between: Lesbians who have been sleeping together for decades manage to keep their love lives spicy. Besides, the lesbians who are in long-term relationships would argue that all couples get tired of marathon sex.
As I pondered this notion that summer when it seemed I was exclusively managing theaters screening women’s films with overwhelmingly female patrons, I noted that most of the older lesbian couples seemed perfectly happy. If a healthy sex life is conducive to human happiness, then clearly these women had such a life.
Perhaps, some of those (apparently) happy couples did indeed suffer from bed death. Could it be that at a certain stage in the relationship, physical intimacy is no longer necessary to maintain emotional intimacy, that is, they didn’t need sex to remain connected?
Or, simply put, I was asking if a committed couple could indeed find happiness without having an active sex life? [Read more…]