Dear Dr Ren,
I’m a woman in my early 40s who has been in several long-term relationships. I’m in the early stages of a new one now and don’t want this to go down the same road as all the others, with us becoming best friends and never having sex anymore.
I hear this pattern referred to as lesbian bed death. What causes it? Does it happen to everyone? Can it be prevented? Can it be cured?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to know how to avoid lesbian bed death. Please advise!
Not Dead Yet
Dear Not Dead Yet,
You are so right that others want to know about lesbian bed death, too. Whenever I am with a group of women-loving women, this is the question I am asked.
Lesbian bed death is that pattern when (usually) both partners mourn the loss of their previously active sex life and don’t know how to recapture it.
Lesbian bed death is common, preventable and reparable.
When we understand the maturation of romantic/erotic relationships, it makes sense how LBD can happen. Bear with me a bit here.
Lesbian women are generally raised in heteronormative homes with heterosexist values. We learn to be asked to dance rather than being taught how to invite someone onto the dancefloor. This is true even in liberal, egalitarian homes — social messages are ubiquitous and we learn such social cues simply growing up.
Now, sexually, we may be eager to respond to our partners’ invitations. Meanwhile, they’re equally eagerly awaiting ours. The result is two people who want to dance, both waiting to be asked. There’s music playing, and they both know the steps, but without somebody making an overture, nobody dances. Lesbian bed death.
“But,” you protest, “nobody had to ask in the early days. Sex was hot and spontaneous then. I want to go back to that.”
Ah, yes, the spontaneous sex myth. Back when you spent three hours getting ready for a date and even shaved above your knees. That kind of spontaneous, right?
In the beginning we are fuelled by limerence, or new relationship energy. It lasts 12 to 18 months and serves as a stimulating information-gathering period. It is driven by sex and sex’s bonding endorphins. We get one such giddy, rapturous period per relationship.
Once a couple becomes established, sexual activity is no longer ignited by this constant stream of brain chemicals. Familiarity supplants mystery. Home Depot errands replace Saturday afternoons in bed. It just happens, if we do not consciously and consistently act to counter the momentum. What to do?
Maintenance sex. That’s right. You don’t wait till everything’s aligned and you’re both swooning with romance. You have sex every Wednesday and Saturday (pick the frequency that works for you) because that’s the rhythm you want to maintain. Talk about it and decide. Then make it happen.
Sex may not be earthmoving in the beginning. You may have to turn off the TV. You will have to decide to enjoy sex this time with your girlfriend because you can, and maybe for no other reason. You’ll get into it. Recent research shows us that women often need to be in it (sexual activity) before they get into it. Go with that.
The Beatles said it well: the love you take is equal to the love you make. Refuse to go two weeks without loving up your honey. Do not wait to be asked. If initiation reciprocity becomes an issue, seek counselling. It’s a separate issue and should be addressed.
Talk about sex. Tell your lover your fantasies. Ask her to tell you hers. Do you want to act them out? What are you waiting for? Encourage her to try new things with you. Buy new toys, new books. Try something new tonight.
Be creative. If you want your sex life to be innovative, exotic and hot, make it so. Don’t wait for anybody else to give you an orgasm, or a fantasy, or a new experience . . . You are fully responsible for your own marvellous sex life. Set an example of openness, willingness and acceptance. What can you discover?
Learn your erotic turn-ons. You have a loving partner, someone with whom you can explore partnered sex. What can you learn about your own sexuality to bring to this powerful table? Challenge yourself to expand the erotic possibilities of the couple you are in. How can you be brave alone and together? Read erotica, watch porn, send your honey a sexy scenario and greet her at the door wrapped in nothing but shrink wrap. Personalize these suggestions.
Have you wondered about BDSM? Ever bite your lover during sex? Too much? Never mind. What are your turn-ons? What are your lover’s?
Lesbian bed death? Don’t let it happen. If you are already in its clutches, extricate yourself. It means accepting, welcoming your full sexual potential; talking about sex; being proactive in planning and making sex happen. Resist merging. Cultivate independence and sexual tension. Respond to every sexual opportunity.
And then? Great sex for the rest of your life!