"Jesus H! Do you guys, like, get it on?"
This is an actual question I was asked by an actual guy--a guy who had only just found out I had a girlfriend. I was speechless, not realizing that there are people out there who still say "Jesus H." Then I noticed how wide the guy's eyes had become and how his hand had wandered subconsciously down toward his zipper. It seemed as though the lights in his mind had dimmed, the slow-beat synthesized music had started up, and I had been elevated to porn-star status. He had lots of questions. Not surprisingly, they were unrelated to the ins and outs of being gay, coming out, or experiencing a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex. He wasn't interested in minority-community politics, roles, discrimination, etc. He was interested in lesbian sex--the hot lesbian sex he assumed I was having with my hot lesbian girlfriend.
I almost didn't have the heart to tell him that my then-girlfriend and I hadn't had sex in over a month and, yes, we were still doing great.
The fear (or reality) of a drop-off in sexual activity is the number-one problem for lesbian couples. The term "lesbian bed death" was coined by University of Washington professor Pepper Schwartz, in her 1983 book, American Couples, cowritten with Philip Blumstein. According to the Lesbian Bed Death (LBD) theory, the reality of lesbian sex in lesbian relationships is that there isn't that much of it. In fact, their research found that lesbian couples had less sex than any other kind of couple. In further interviews, Schwartz and Blumstein found that sexual infrequency negatively affected overall satisfaction for all couples except lesbian couples.
LBD is a common topic of conversation among lesbians, and there are many who believe it is a myth. In her article "The Big Lie," published in the gay and lesbian Asian magazine Fridae, Suzanne Iasenza writes, "Lesbian couples are not any different from gay or heterosexual couples when it comes to experiencing the inevitable shifts in sexual passion in long-term relationships." Still, it's only lesbians who are stuck with the sexless stigma. What about gay men? They, in turn, are saddled with the stigma of promiscuity--the other extreme. Perhaps these are just further reflections of male and female stereotypes--ones that sadly reinforce the notion that homosexual relationships lack the balance of their heterosexual counterparts.
Personally, I'm ambivalent on the issue. Emotionally, I think it's crap. I believe that humans are sexual beings to varying degrees, male and female alike. I have met as many "bed death"-prone men as I have amorous women, and vice versa. Logically speaking, research has shown that sex and intimacy between two women involve more than penetration. So the question of how frequently a lesbian couple has sex may have to be discounted altogether--or phrased more inclusively. Sexual relations among lesbian couples can be quite complex--and easily belittled when measured by male definitions of sexuality and sexual health.
Regardless, dykes everywhere feel the threat of lesbian bed death looming large. Whether joked about or discussed seriously, it is feared by dykes as an almost unavoidable fate. Some lesbians become wary of starting new relationships for fear of LBD. Stereotypes usually contain a sliver of truth, and in my experience, LBD is real and fearsome.
To my fellow dykes out there I say, unearth the truth about the diversity of sexual desire among all human beings, regardless of gender or sexuality. Measure yourself solely against yourself, on your own terms, for the sake of your own study. To bring it on back to my curious guy friend, to him and other straight fellows out there I say, yeah, hell yeah, we get it on and it's great and there's usually better music involved. But if you want the fantasy, you've got to appropriate the fear.
Dani Cone is an accomplished dyke and a badass barista who considers learning to play pool an extreme sport. She lives in Seattle.