By Wendy Bostwick, Ph.D.
What is the truth about lesbians' sex lives? On the one hand, lesbian relationships have frequently been stereotyped as sexless, with the specter of 'lesbian bed death' always looming in the shadows. However, newer cultural representations—seen on such shows as The L Word—seem to suggest that lesbians are very sexually active ( comparable, in fact, to some gay male counterparts ) .
There is very little information about the sexual lives and overall sexual health of lesbian women. The Chicago Health and Life Experiences of Women ( CHLEW ) study has a number of questions about lesbians' sexual health and inquires about things such as sexual behaviors, attitudes and overall sexual satisfaction.
According to the study, half of the women surveyed reported that sex was 'quite' or 'very' important to them. This compares to 36 percent of heterosexual women in a similar national study of women. Nearly 90 percent of women in CHLEW said that, over their lifetimes, they have usually felt 'pretty good' or 'very good' about sex, as compared to 74 percent of heterosexual women nationally.
Two areas of sexual health in which lesbians differed markedly from heterosexual women was related to self-pleasure or masturbation, and orgasm. While 50 percent of lesbians reported reaching sexual climax 'just about all of the time' when having sex with a partner, only 25 percent of heterosexual women reported this. When asked if it was possible to enjoy being sexual by themselves, 66 percent of lesbians in CHLEW said that this was usually possible. In contrast, the majority of heterosexual women reported that it was not possible to enjoy being sexual by themselves.
While the results discussed here are not necessarily representative of all lesbian women, they at least suggest that the lesbians in our study were generally satisfied with their sex life overall and with their partners. Clearly the notion that lesbians do not have or do not enjoy sex is misguided. With more research being done to better understand the reality of lesbians', as well as all women's, sexual health, perhaps we will have a more nuanced—and accurate—understanding of lesbians' sex lives.
CHLEW is seeking funding for a third round of interviews. To ensure continued success of the study, it is important that we stay in contact with as many of our study participants as possible, regardless of where they currently. If you participated in the study and have not received a mailing from us in the past several months please call the study office toll free at 866-933-3459 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .