Zelda had been in a few short-lived live-in relationships with women before she became smitten with Amy. Amy was newly out and recently divorced from her husband of nine years. She was swept away by Zelda's take-charge attitude, both in and out of bed, and filled with enthusiasm about being a lesbian. Being new to the wide-ranging cultures and communities of lesbians, Amy approached all of it with great zeal.
The two had been living together for about a year when, on her day off, Amy was flipping through pages at her local women's bookstore and she came upon a discussion of "lesbian bed death." A chill ran down her spine as she realized how much less frequently she and Zelda had actually had sex over the past few months.
How could this "bed death" thing have happened to them? They had been so passionate, so consumed with lovemaking when they first got together. Now, they would often kiss and cuddle, even make out. But orgasms had dwindled, and genital contact had become rare.
Before stumbling upon the disturbing term, Amy hadn't minded that the passion had cooled. It had seemed like a normal phase, which she assumed would be followed by other, more sexually active phases. But now, Amy was worried. She didn't want to be "bed-dead." She walked home briskly, lit some candles, put on a k.d. lang CD and a very touchable T-shirt, and waited patiently for her honey.
When Zelda finally got home after a tough day at the office, she appreciated the music and the candlelight. She gave Amy a long, slow kiss, lovingly touched her touchable T-shirt, and then exhaustedly walked off to collapse in front of the television. Clearly, Zelda wasn't "seduce-able" tonight. Amy worried some more. She tried to talk to Zelda about it, but Zelda just chuckled and tried to be reassuring.
While snuggling with her lover in front of the TV, Amy remembered that, early on, when they were first sharing stories about their previous love lives, Zelda had admitted that part of the reason her other relationships ended was that the sex had waned. Amy's worrying was quickly becoming a full-fledged panic.
"Lesbian bed death" is a deadly, thoroughly unhelpful notion. Sure, as "bed death" proponents say, we've been conditioned to know what "good girls" do and don't do. We've learned what is "pretty" and "sexy," and that we don't measure up unless we lose more weight, drink the right soda pop, and wear the right makeup. Add to that the number of women who have suffered sexual trauma as children or adults.
As a result of all this negativity connected to sexual feelings and experiences, many women...straight, gay, or otherwise...have trouble initiating or even discussing sex, suffer low self-esteem and shame about their bodies and their sexual desires, and may "protect" themselves with an inhibited sexual drive.
However, the "bed death" hypothesis stretches these truthful contentions to maintain that a same-sex lesbian couple will run out of sexual steam faster and more profoundly than either a gay male or a heterosexual couple.
Liar, liar, pants on fire. Probably because this nasty myth contains a few particles of truth, it took hold among lesbians with a vengeance. We laugh about it in groups, secretly fear it in private, and are quick to remember it when our lover doesn't want to have sex when we do. The "bed death" notion also coincides with our internalized homophobia, which tells us that two women making love are "missing something" ( i.e., a penis ) .
The idea got an extra boost from a 1983 book called American Couples by Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz. Their study showed that lesbian couples have less sex than any other type of couple, i.e., gay male and heterosexual married or unmarried. The study asked couples, "About how often during the last year have you and your partner had sexual relations?" Not to get all Clintonesque about it, but nobody defined "sexual relations" for study participants. Nobody measured duration or asked about pleasure.
If they had, lesbians would probably come out on top. A more recent study, the 1995 Advocate Survey of Lesbian Sexuality and Relationships, showed that lesbian women have more enjoyable sex than most American women. This is consistent with several previous studies, which showed that lesbians tend to be "more sexually assertive, arousable, and communicative about sexual needs than non-lesbian women, and more generally satisfied with the quality of their sexual lives." [ From "The Big Lie: Lesbian Bed Death," by Suzanne Iasenza, Ph.D., In the Family, April 1999. ]
Even in the Blumstein and Schwartz study, interviews showed that lesbian couples valued non-genital contact ( e.g., touching, hugging ) not only as foreplay but as an end in itself. In other words, lesbian sex doesn't always have to lead to orgasm. All that touching and kissing that Zelda and Amy are engaged in...it matters. It counts.
Plus, according to this study along with many others, including analyses of brain chemistry and the facts you'd get from honest friends in couples, it is completely normal for sexual frequency to drop off in long-term relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. People have demanding lives, they get tired, they get accustomed to each other, they forget to make love.
That said, psychological blocks can still be a factor if a person is experiencing true sexual aversion. And couples are a "system" of two people who may be unconsciously using sex as an arena to do their battles in. Therapy can be useful in these cases.
But Amy and Zelda? They seem to be just fine, that is, provided Amy starts adding a grain of salt ( or maybe a whole shaker ) to whatever she reads about lesbian relationships.