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September 28, 2000
My girlfriend and I have been living together for two years now, and it seems as though lesbian bed death is setting in. Pretending everything is fine isn't working. Being romantic, going out to dinner, and wooing her isn't working. Being frustrated and bringing this up as an issue ends with her asking, essentially, "Isn't cuddling enough?" Yikes! I love this woman and want to share my life with her--I am sharing a really great life with her now--but what do you do when one partner needs sex more often than the occasional bank holiday? The first year was plenty hot, with plenty o' sex. This year, it's the desert. How can this be resolved?
"It's not fair to have one year of hot sex and then say that's enough for a lifetime," said Dr. Pepper Schwartz, the University of Washington sociologist who coined the phrase "lesbian bed death." "It's false advertising and you shouldn't put up with it. You have to find out what is causing the problem. Is she mad at you? Is she depressed? You can talk through the first problem and get medication and help for the second. If neither is true, would she be willing to go to a doctor and see if she has a hormonal imbalance? This can be a cause of low sexual desire, and it can be helped."
You also might want to take a look in the mirror. "Have you changed drastically?" asked Dr. Pepper. "For example, a significant weight gain could cool the ardor of both the person who is overweight and the person who still loves--but is not attracted to--this new shape."
If it's not any of the above, Dr. Pepper thought you might be suffering from the relatively common problem of incompatible sex drives. "It may well be that your girlfriend just has a lot less sex drive than you do," said Dr. Pepper, "and she is willing to let what's left of her sexual interest be satisfied by hugs and kisses." Which sucks for you, doesn't it? But your girlfriend can't just plead low sex drive and expect to be let off the hook--not if her low sex drive is making you, the woman she loves, absolutely miserable. "Love is making sure that your partner's needs are also fulfilled," pointed out Dr. Pepper. "And so you need to be direct with her. Your needs are not being met."
In other words, you need to tell the girlfriend that there's only so long you intend to put up with this bullshit. Sit the girlfriend down and say, "Look, honey, if you can't get horny, I'm going to dump your ass or cheat on it--which would you prefer?" Dr. Pepper isn't a big fan of cheating, but she agrees that this relationship is doomed if your lover doesn't get her ass in gear. "Over time, if you don't have a sexual life you are going to be angry, deprived, and ultimately, on the market," said Dr. Pepper. "If she loves you, and understands that this is serious, she is going to try and locate her libido."
(Pepper Schwartz co-authored the classic book American Couples, a study of heterosexual, gay, and lesbian couples. Her new book, Everything You Know about Love and Sex Is Wrong, comes out this fall.)
Hey, speaking of lesbians....
I was sitting in a beer garden in Munich when I opened The International Herald Tribune and learned--oh, the humanity!--that Anne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres broke up. Needless to say, I was upset, practically inconsolable. Why? Because by the time I got home from my vacation, the story would be stone cold dead, and I wouldn't be able to justify writing about it. You see, I wanted to say... I actually can't resist saying... I am now about to say... I told you so. I predicted Anne and Ellen wouldn't last, and for my trouble I got hate mail from thousands of angry lesbians all over the world. These angry lesbians wanted to know why I was so cynical. Couldn't I just be happy for America's Looniest Lesbian Couple? Why was I playing into the hands of anti-gay bigots by predicting that their lesbian love wouldn't last? Did I want to make all gays and lesbians look bad?!
I wasn't being bitchy, of course, just honest. Anne and Ellen were running around the country acting like a couple of spot-faced teenagers. They couldn't keep their hands off each other, wouldn't shut up about their beautiful relationship, and they had been together about a month before they bought a house and exchanged rings. Are there any bigger signs that a relationship is doomed? Instead of cheering them on, as so many gays and lesbians did, we should've told Anne and Ellen to shut the fuck up. Declaring their undying love on Oprah didn't make Anne and Ellen lesbo-love heroes, it made them love-struck morons. No one takes heterosexuals who get married during the infatuation stage seriously (will anyone be shocked when Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie go boom?), so why should anyone take gays and lesbians seriously when we make reckless, premature, public commitments?
So how come I'm writing about Anne and Ellen now? Because I've got a fresh news hook to hang my I-told-you-so on: Rocker Melissa Etheridge and her girlfriend Julie Cypher just announced that--oh, the humanity!--they're breaking up, too. Etheridge and Cypher have been together for 12 years and have two children (a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son) fathered by rock legend David Crosby. Earlier this year, I watched Melissa and Julie on Larry King Live swear that, yes indeed, they would be together forever. Jesus Christ, is every high-profile lesbian couple going to break up? Who's next? Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner? Sandra Bernhard and Janet Reno? Hell, let's dig up Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas and break them up, too.
Listen, lesbians, relationships are delicate, perishable things, and no relationship should be used to make points about the visibility, validity, or stability of gay and lesbian luv. The more public a spectacle you make of your relationship--the more times you go on Oprah or Larry King--the worse you'll feel if your relationship should fall apart, as so many of them do. Ask any straight people who have gone through a divorce: The bigger the wedding, the more the fool they felt when the relationship ended. So if there's any chance, however slight, that your relationship will end in the next five years, DO NOT go on Oprah, hold hands, and blather on about Spending the Rest of Your Life Together. DO NOT go on Larry King and blather on about Spending the Rest of Your Life Together. And DO NOT let David Crosby get you pregnant. Twice.
And to the people out there who worry about playing into the hands of anti-gay bigots, what's worse: The odd snarky comment from some dumbass sex columnist? Or dumbass lesbian couples going on television and predicting that they're going to be together forever and then breaking up? It's impossible to know how long a relationship will last, and any couple, gay or straight, that makes that kind of a prediction is tempting fate. Which is especially unwise as fate, at least when it comes to lesbians, seems to have a very hard time resisting temptation.