Myths About Lesbian Sex Debunked By Science

January 1, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller


When it comes to lesbian sex, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions. On the one hand, many people think lesbians are constantly “scissoring,” and on the other hand, many people think lesbians hardly ever have sex because “lesbian bed death” is inevitable. In this article, we will separate fact from fiction when it comes to the sex lives of lesbians.

MYTH #1: Lesbian porn is an accurate portrayal of reality. Chances are that if you search online for woman-on-woman porn, what you will find is a poor reflection of reality. Most of the porn that features women having sex is produced by men for men, and this kind of porn is blatantly obvious because it focuses on imagery and activities that appeal primarily to heterosexual men’s fantasies. For example, these videos typically feature highly feminine women who have bodies that conform to men’s ideals (i.e., young, skinny, shaved, and big chested) and they engage in sexual activities that revolve around vaginal and oral penetration with dildos and strap-ons [1]. In reality, lesbians’ bodies come in many shapes and sizes and their bodily ideals are not necessarily the same as men’s (e.g., consider that many lesbians prefer women who are “butch”). Likewise, lesbians’ sexual repertoires involve more than just dildos. In fact, a recent study found that vaginal penetration with sex toys is something that just 16% of lesbian and bisexual women say that they do often [2]! Despite what you might see in porn, lesbians don’t necessarily enjoy performing oral sex on dildos either. Just consider this comment from a qualitative study in which lesbians were exposed to pseudo-lesbian porn:

“The strap-on dildo…bothers me. Because it doesn’t always happen and why would a lesbian…suck a strap-on? How is that visually or even sexually appealing? If you’re a lesbian, you are a lesbian for a reason. Yes, use toys. I’m not saying don’t use toys. But I don’t suck on them after.” [1]

MYTH #2: The only thing lesbians do is “scissor.” “Scissoring” refers to a sex act in which two women interlock their legs like two pairs of scissors and rub their vulvas together (the more technical but somewhat less descriptive term for this is tribadism, a broader term that encompasses a number of behaviors in which a woman rubs her genitals on a consenting partner’s body). The television show Southpark helped to popularize the scissoring stereotype in an infamous episode about lesbian sex, but is there any truth to it? In a recent survey of over 1,200 lesbian and bisexual women who were asked about their sexual practices, genital-genital touching was something that 50% of the sample said that they did often [2]. However, even larger percentages said that they often practiced oral sex (72%), vaginal penetration with fingers (84%), and mutual masturbation (71%) with their female partners. Thus, while “scissoring” is a sexual behavior that many lesbians practice, it is far from the only behavior, and by no means is it the most common.

MYTH #3: “Lesbian bed death” is inevitable. One of the most prevalent stereotypes about lesbians is the oft-cited notion of “lesbian bed death.” The basic idea is that in long-term lesbian relationships, there is thought to be a dramatic decrease in sexual behavior. As support for this notion, many people point to data showing that lesbians have sex less often than any other type of couple [3], and they often attribute this finding to the offensive stereotype that only men initiate sexual activity. In other words, without a man around, lesbians will either forget to have sex or be too afraid to initiate it. The reality is that while many lesbian couples find themselves having sex less frequently over time (just like many heterosexual and gay male couples), this is not a universal phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. It is also worth noting that the data supporting the idea of “lesbian bed death” has been roundly criticized for being unclear [4]. For one thing, that research only focused on number of sex acts, without considering the duration of each act (it may be that lesbians have sex less often, but when they do have sex, they may do it for much longer than average). Moreover, keep in mind that when you ask different types of couples how often they have “sexual relations,” couples may interpret that in very different ways, resulting in comparisons that are not equivalent.

In short, it’s time that we put “lesbian bed death” and these other myths to bed once and for all.

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[1] Morrison, T. G., & Tallack, D. (2005). Lesbian and bisexual women’s interpretations of lesbian and ersatz lesbian pornography. Sexuality and Culture, 9, 3-30

[2] Bailey, J. V., Farquhar, C., Owen, C., & Whittaker, D. (2003). Sexual behaviour of lesbians and bisexual women. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 79, 147-150

[3] Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples: Money, work, sex. New York: Morrow

[4] Jasenza, S. (2000). Lesbian sexuality post-Stonewall to post-modernism: Putting the `lesbian bed death’ concept to bed. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 25, 59-69.

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To read about other gay myths debunked by science, check out these articles:

· 5 Myths About Homosexuality Debunked By Science

· Do Gay Men’s Sex Lives Match Up With The Stereotypes?

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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