2 women lying in bed What to do when sex becomes Priority #703

My partner and I have been together for over ten years. At the beginning of our relationship, we had sex on a regular basis. We made our sexual encounters a priority and finding time for sex seemed easy.

As we began to face life’s everyday challenges together, our intimacy grew in other ways, but our sex life changed. Work, house chores, health, family, and friends began to take centre stage and finding the time, energy, and desire to have sex became more challenging.

Although we were both aware of our dwindling sex life, we felt comfortable – almost content. Sex was treated like an item on a chore list, sandwiched between laundry and dishes. When we found the time to connect, the experience was usually mind-blowingly satisfying. I wondered if other lesbian couples faced the same sexual struggles.

I had heard the catchphrase “lesbian bed death,” or LBD, used to define the lack of sexual intimacy between lesbian couples in long-term relationships. Coined by sociologist, Pepper Schwartz in her book, American Couples (1983), Schwartz found that “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.”

Were we experiencing LBD?

I asked a few friends if they, too, shared similar sexual hurdles. Sure enough, they did. In fact, several of our friends were relieved to know that a couple as loving, happy, and faithful as us found it difficult to connect in the bedroom.

Still, I wanted to know more, so I called Certified Somatic Coach and Sex Educator, Felice Newman, to get some answers. As the author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us, Newman works with couples throughout the world, of all sexual orientations, to improve and strengthen sexual relationships. Newman was kind enough to offer her insights on LBD and provide advice to improve sexual intimacy.

Lesbian Bed Death – fact or myth?

Newman says that this question is not so simple. First, we must define the term, “sex”. Does sex include penetration, orgasm, toys, or oral stimulation?

Second, we must consider sexual frequency versus quality. “Heterosexual couples may have sex more often than lesbians, but with fewer orgasms,” says Newman. “Lesbian sex may be less frequent, but more satisfying.”

Even when couples have sex on a regular basis, sex can be unfulfilling. When Newman first began her research on the subject of sexual intimacy, she was in a sexually unsatisfying relationship. “It’s not that I never had sex, I just wasn’t happy with the quantity or type of sex we were having.”

Newman feels that LBD is not only a myth, but may become be a self-fulfilling prophecy – if couples believe that LBD exists and that their sexual relationship will hit rock bottom and never come back up, that’s what will happen. “The truth is that it’s challenging for most humans to maintain a fulfilling sex life, but it can be done.”

Is there an ideal sexual frequency?

According to Newman, frequency and satisfaction vary from couple to couple. Some couples are content having sex once per month. Others prefer having sex once or twice per week and anything less than that is worrisome.

Newman suggests that couples consider quality and not just frequency. “If a couple has excellent communication around sexuality and the quality is good, then I’m not as worried about frequency.”

Why do long-term couples sometimes struggle sexually?

There are several reasons for dwindling sex life, says Newman. “For women in long-term relationships, the stakes have risen. It’s hard to tell a long-term partner that you’re not happy for fear of hurting feelings.” For this reason, one partner may begin to avoid sex or pretend that they are content with the status quo.

Sexual trauma might also be involved. “Sexual trauma may have been dealt with in therapy, but never in the lens of sexual therapy. It’s a different process,” advises Newman.

Research shows that aging, illness, raising children, work stress, and hormonal changes can also impact libido, although Newman feels that these examples are often used to justify inaction. “Libido is erotic energy. We can learn how to generate more of this energy. I’m 61 years old. Following our date night this week, my partner and I had the best sex we’ve had in years.”

Newman’s 5 tips to regenerate erotic energy:

1. Communicate

Have conversations about your sexual desires, expectations, and fears. If this conversation is too difficult, get a third party involved. Find someone who’s sex-positive and has experience working with lesbian couples.

If your partner is reluctant to see a therapist, Newman suggests saying to your partner, “I’ve made a commitment to myself to have a vibrant sex life and I think we can have more than what we have here. I know you are satisfied as things are, but I want you to explore with me what is possible for us so we can both have the lives that we would like to have. There may be areas in your life that you aren’t happy with and need to work through. I want to explore what we both want and need.”

2. Commit

Declare a commitment to having a sex life. Couples make commitments to have kids, travel and retire, but often fail to commit to sex.

Also, make a commitment to deal with your own demons (trauma, shame, internalized homophobia, past relationships, etc.). You can’t offer yourself up as a lifelong sex partner without working on yourself first.

3. Date

Have a date night every week. Don’t let anything interfere with date night. Have sex on date night. If you’re too tired to have sex after date night, have sex before you go out.

4. Have sex

Sex generates arousal. You can have sex even when you’re not already aroused. It doesn’t have to be spontaneous. Once you start having some type of sexual contact with your partner, your arousal will follow.

5. Masturbate

Masturbate together and separately. It’s a myth that there’s this finite amount of sexuality and that when you masturbate you won’t want to have sex. Masturbation can generate sexual interest.

Newman admits that it takes a lot more than five things to rekindle passion, as each couple poses unique challenges and opportunities, but these foundational tools are necessary to get started.

After speaking with Newman and sharing her thoughts with my wife, we decided to put our energy into improving our sexual relationship rather than defining the problem. Fortunately, we had already utilized several of the tools suggested by Newman, but realized that we forgot to define “sex” and create a commitment to have sex early on in our relationship. Now, we feel more confident in our future and can’t wait to reignite that passion!