13 Reasons Women In Lesbian Relationships Aren’t Having (More) Sex


In February 2015, Autostraddle launched The Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey, open to all “lady-types who sleep with lady-types.” We garnered over 8,566 complete responses (89% of which were from people between the ages of 18 and 36) and now we’re sharing the results with you, bit by bit. Today, we’re talking about why you’re not having as much sex as you want to, and why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Lesbian, bisexual and queer women spend a lot of time fretting over disproving certain stereotypes about our depraved lifestyles: that we U-Haul too quickly, that we process our feelings obsessively, that we jam to lesbian folk-rock music, that we still think cargo pants are cool. And, of course, that our relationships are so frumpy and sexless that they deserve their own macabre moniker: Lesbian Bed Death.

Lesbian Bed Death is usually discussed as an oft-ignored sign of a dull or dysfunctional relationship, one that has possibly passed its expiration date yet continues existing due to inertia and co-dependence. Yet all long-term monogamous relationships that involve women, even straight ones, are prone to some kind of so-called “bed death.” As Emily Nagoski explicates in this piece about the difference between responsive and spontaneous desire, “when you use male standards to assess ALL sexuality, shit goes to hell.”

So, “lesbian bed death” does happen. But it doesn’t happen for the reasons you think it does, and it’s not necessarily the problem you think it is. 

88% of our Sex Survey respondents said that in an ideal world, they’d be having sex multiple times a week or more. In reality, only 38.8% of those in relationships are having sex that much. We also found that only 8% of respondents having sex once a month or less were unhappy in their relationships. Yes, 40% of that group were some degree of unsatisfied with their sex life, but obviously that dissatisfaction had less of an impact on their overall relationship happiness than you’d expect. Couples having more sex were more likely to report being “ecstatic” — the highest option offered on the relationship satisfaction matrix — in their relationship, but there wasn’t a huge correlation between couples who were “happy” (the second-highest option) and couples who had more sex.

Undoubtedly, for most people, romantic relationships are enhanced and strengthened by regular sex: you’re more connected to your person (or people) and there’s an intimacy made possible by sex that just doesn’t happen elsewhere. Also, sex is fun, and having fun with your partner is always a good idea! Personally, I’ve also noticed a direct correlation between “how long it’s been since we had sex” and “the likelihood of getting into a fight.”

But damn, ladies, the odds are really stacked against us! Sometimes we should maybe congratulate ourselves on the sex we do manage to have rather than berating ourselves for the sex we don’t have… because there are a lot of reasons you might not be having it, and the death of your relationship isn’t necessarily one of them.

The reasons on this list are pulled mostly from analysis of responses to open-ended questions but

Top 13 Reasons Women In Same-Sex Relationships Are Not Having Sex As Often As They Want To Or Think They Should Be, According to Our Survey

1. Because When You Do Have Sex, You Have It For A Long Time

“Because sex takes like 2hrs out of our day (at least) it means it doesn’t happen quite as often as I’d like.”

Lesbians may have sex less often than heterosexuals, but we also have it for longer periods of time. Real talk: sometimes having sex with a cis dude can take about five minutes and involve no great effort on the woman’s behalf. Lesbian sex can absolutely be brief as well, but it usually tends not to be. Some researchers have theorized that although lesbians have sex less often, we may not be spending less time having sex. 80% of our survey respondents usually have sex for 30 minutes or more. The average man achieves orgasm in 3-5 minutes whereas women can take 15-40 minutes to get there. Not that orgasm is the end-all be-all of sex, but it is a focus for many people, which means sex requires finding and setting aside more time.

2. You’re Depressed

“My depression kills sexual desire. I still do it for my partner, but it would be nice to have my libido back.”

Depression and anxiety can take a major toll on relationships. “Anhedonia,” a lack of interest in things once found pleasurable (like sex), is a symptom of depression. Women have higher rates of depression than men and LGBT folks have higher rates of depression than straight people, thus increasing the odds that this will come into play in your bedroom.

3. You’re Taking Anti-Depressants

“For the past several months I’ve been suffering sexual dysfunction caused by my anti-depressant. It’s horrible, frustrating, demoralising, alienating. My libido’s almost vanished, my cunt almost seems not to exist, and if I do manage to become aroused and have sex, it’s often impossible to come. This is a massive change from what I’m used to, and it’s caused a lot of strain and distance in my relationship, even though we talk about it and she’s very very supportive and accepting.”

It’s a deal with the devil! This came up more often than any other “reason for not having sex” on our lesbian sex survey — the impact of anti-depressants on sexual relationships. Women are way more likely than men to be prescribed anti-depressants (one in four women take mental health meds) and queer women suffer disproportionately from mental health issues. SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors, such as Prozac, Lexapro, Effexor and Zoloft, have sexual side effects for 30-70% of those who take them — causing vaginal dryness, lowered libido, erectile dysfunction and a harder time having orgasms. Some report lowered interest in love and affection in general. Another libido killer? Depression itself. So some relationships might experience a resurgence in desire on SSRIs when the depressive fog has lifted, even if it’s harder to climax or happens less often. For many relationships, the trade-off is well worth it. For others, the depressive might seek out alternate anti-depressants like Wellbutrin that don’t have the same sexual side effects, or try some of the techniques mentioned here, like adding other medications, waiting out the side effects and experimenting with timing.

4. You’re Dealing With Trauma

“As a survivor of sexual abuse, a free-flowing sex life has been difficult for me to achieve. I’ve been working on it.”

According to the CDC, approximately 13% of lesbians, 46% of bisexuals and 17% of heterosexuals have been raped in their lifetime. 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexuals, compared to 35% of heterosexual women, have experienced sexual assault, physical violence and/or stalking from an intimate partner. Transgender people, however, present the most staggering statistic of all: 64% have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This trauma can have a severe impact on how a person feels about sex, and those effects could happen directly after the assault(s) or many years later. The University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center has a really informative document on dealing with this type of PTSD and we’ve also approached it here, here, here and here.

5. You Don’t Want To Have More Sex

“I’d like less focus on mutuality. I don’t want sex that often but I like serving my partner, so I would like her to ask me to give her orgasms when she wants them.”

Although it’s odd to imagine in the era of Crash Pad Series, Babeland, The Real L Word and even Autostraddle, once upon a time, many lesbians subscribed to the idea that for same-sex female relationships, actual sex was not important. For example, lesbian separatist Barbara Lipschutz, in her 1975 essay “Nobody Needs To Get Fucked,” argued that “holding hands” and “touching lips” are “love-making,” and furthermore:

Lesbianism is, among other things, touching other women — through dancing, playing soccer, hugging, holding hands, kissing … [Lesbians need to] free the libido from the tyranny of orgasm-seeking. Sometimes hugging is nice.

Radical lesbian feminist Valerie Solanis, author of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto and attempted-killer of Andy Warhol, argued that “the female can easily — far more easily than she may think — condition away her sex drive, leaving her completely cool and cerebral and free to pursue truly worthwhile relationship and activities.”

That idea, like so many posited during that moment in lesbian culture, has fallen out of favor, especially as women in general have been working in third-wave feminism to prove that many women want sex just as much as men do. Simply feeling confident enough about our sexualities to openly want sex is a fairly new development, so any betrayal of that feels retro and counterproductive. But, although there are so many exceptions to every rule, “Study after study shows that men’s sex drives are not only stronger than women’s, but much more straightforward.” Those “retro” ideas wouldn’t have thrived as much as they did if there wasn’t a solid chunk of queer women to whom sex just isn’t a priority, or something they want to have very often.

Alternately, some women are asexual, and although they still desire romantic relationships, don’t necessarily require or have interest in sexual ones.

6. You’ve Been Together For A Long Time

“Once I had a “real job” and wasn’t in college, I would definitely say I have had less sex with my partner. We’ve been together since undergrad, and there has been a decline with life, work, etc.”

There are so many sexual “bonuses” for long-term relationships, like increased comfort with experimenting and, as one long-termer said on the survey, “Sex with one partner gets better over time — you get to know each other’s bodies and likes… When I was younger I would try new things even if I wasn’t 100% confident/comfortable with doing it. Now I know what I like and what my partner likes and trust, passion and love make sex so much more enjoyable.”

Still, the biggest determinant of how much sex you’re having is the length of the relationship you’re in: 59% of relationships under a year long have sex multiple times a week or more, compared to 15% of relationships lasting over five years.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to maintain a very ambitious sex schedule as our relationships progress, worrying that a decline in sexual frequency means a decline in relationship quality. It often does. But sexual frequency drops for all couples the longer their relationship goes on, and although some of it could be waning passion, it’s also just logistics: when you’ve first fallen for somebody, having sex is a primary thing you’re gonna do together. It’s your #1 couples activity besides eating, and you feel more comfortable prioritizing sex over everything else when you’re in that high-on-life New Relationship Energy period.

The longer you’re with somebody, the more and more other activities get added to the list of Things You Do Together: hanging out with mutual friends, going on trips you’ve planned together, spending time with one another’s families, running errands, doing work or housework in a shared residence — the list goes on and on and on. When you have a home, start a family or combine finances, individual stress becomes shared stress, and partners can feel less like an “escape” and more like “tied up in your mutual problems.” But the conversation about sexual frequency has been so focused on it being a red flag regarding waning interest that many couples don’t realize the conversation about having more sex can be a practical one, not an emotional one. So talk about it: assess your respective needs — if you even want to have more sex or just feel like you should — and talk about where you can fit it in. Couples who talk about sex multiple times a week or more were twice as likely to report having sex multiple times a week or more than those who talk about sex less often than that. (Although that’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation.) Here’s a worksheet for talking to your partner about sex.

So, whereas it’s probably true that most break-ups experience a sex slow-down first, it’s not necessarily true that all sex-slow downs lead to a break-up.

7. You Have Gender Dysphoria

“I take more of a top/giving role because when my partners focus on me, it quickly turns into dysphoria and emotional pain and crying. Which tends to ruin the mood.”

This issue is obviously much more prevalent among queer and transgender folks than straight and cisgender folks. Even cisgender women can have dysphoric feelings about their bodies that impact how comfortable they feel in the bedroom and what roles they’d like to play. For transgender people, it can be even more complicated depending on so many factors including but absolutely not limited to transition status.

8. You Have Kids

“My partner and I had a baby a year ago and it has been difficult to have sex regularly because of exhaustion with being new parents.”

Taking care of children is time-consuming and exhausting. On our grown-ups survey, pretty much every open-ended answer from survey-takers who have children mentioned how tired they were. People who have kids are really busy and really tired, y’all, and it can be hard to fit in sex, especially when you’re waking up every few hours to deal with a crying baby.

9. Money Is Tight / You’re Working Too Much

“I wish I wasn’t as exhausted from working such long hours and actually had the energy to have the sex that I could be having otherwise.”

Women don’t have the same earning power as men, which means most lesbian relationships involve two wage-earners working long hours to stay above water. We’re also more likely to be cut off from family financial support and to be discriminated against in the workplace! It’s very sexy.

10. You’re Long Distance

“I’d like to live in the same place (state/timezone) as my partner! That would make it easier to have daily physical intimacy and more frequent sex.”

There are less queer people in the world than straight people, period, which means distance isn’t always a dealbreaker like it is for straights. This means a lot more long distance relationships and a lot less opportunity for having sex! Long-distance relationshippers masturbate more than anybody else.

11. You’re On Your Period

Although not all women get periods and not all people who get periods are women, the majority of pre-menopausal women do get periods on a regular basis, and not all of them like to have period sex — around 25% would rather not, according to our survey. When you’ve got two period-having people in the same bed, you’re losing twice as many no-sex days as straight cis couples are. Unless you sync up. WHICH IS ITS OWN DELIGHTFUL EXPERIENCE.

12. You’re Monogamous

Gay men are uniquely talented at avoiding bed death in their long-term relationships, and they’re also overwhelmingly more likely to be non-monogamous. Although when the entire group was considered as a whole on our survey, monogamous and non-monogamous women had sex about the same amount, that changes once you hit the 3+ year mark. In relationships over 3+ years, 35% of monogamous couples have sex once a week or more, compared to 59% of those in non-monogamous people who’d been with their primary partner for 3+ years. Again it’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation, as couples with higher sex drives or who place a higher importance on an active sex life might be more likely to consider non-monogamy, or a lack of monogamous sex might inspire them to go non-monogamous.

13. Your Sex Drives / Libidos Are Mismatched

Goddess bless the couple who’s got perfectly-matched sex drives! Here’s a useful article about ten identified “libido types.” Sometimes, you just don’t match up, and sometimes that’s a dealbreaker, sometimes that opens up the relationship to other partners (if it wasn’t already), and usually it means some kind of compromise.

Okay now, discuss! If you’ve gotten into a sexual rut and managed to get out of it, share tips! Tell all your feelings and experiences.

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Riese is the 36-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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