Intimacy at a price – the dreaded stigma of Lesbian Bed Death

By Matilda Douglas-Henry

While it took me quite a while to officially ‘label’ my sexuality (a pressure that we should not need to feel so compelled to act upon), it didn’t take long to realise I wasn’t straight.

I have always found women totally desirable. I remember watching The L Word when I was fourteen – lots of the innuendos went over my head, but I was there for the inspiring and sex-fueled queer community that the show portrayed. Little did I know that my coming out would not turn me into Bette Porter – a BMW convertible-driving art curator who wears immaculate pantsuits, with a raging sexual ferocity to boot.

A joke is told in the L word’s first season that holds narrative weight – it’s referenced a few times over the course of its six-season run, and I didn’t understand it at all. “What does a lesbian bring to a first date?”, one of the core cast members posits to her fellow gorgeous queers.

“A turkey baster?” Another suggests.

Ultimately, we learn that the answer is not a turkey baster, but a U-Haul (AKA a moving van). While the more literal elements of the joke made sense to me, I struggled to comprehend why wanting to move in with someone quickly was synonymous with lesbianism, not love at first sight.

I learned recently that the joke was first told by Lea DeLaria (Big Boo from Orange is the New Black) at the beginning of her stand-up career. As I’m now very comfortably queer (with nearly an extra decade on my belt) the humour makes much more sense to me. Here is a lesbian satirically reflecting on this idea that we are obsessed with commitment – that two women in a relationship naturally results in more emotion, more feelings, and a desire for immediate security.

I get it. But it still feels complicated.

Lesbians exist in two very different ways in societal thought – we are sexualised, or we are chastised for this ‘need’ to U-Haul. It seems like we are not allowed to feel any in-between, and this is made all the more confusing by the deeply depressing stigma of the worst psychological phenomenon in the world: Lesbian Bed Death.

Lesbian Bed Death (LBD) was a term coined in 1983 by a sociologist called Pepper Schwartz (a name so typically ‘American’ that I’m sure she’s not actually real and a man is hiding behind all of this). She deduced – from plenty of data (AKA none at all) – that lesbians who enter a long-term relationship will ultimately have sex less than any other couple.

I was under the impression that all long-term relationships encountered some form of dry spell. But lesbians have been given their very own epidemic, and while LBD has been denounced in recent years, it’s hard to revoke the stigma.

As an article on The Daily Dot puts it, “the cliché [of LBD] is as deeply entrenched in lesbian culture as potlucks, Subarus, and softball” (I never knew about the first cliché, but I really do love potlucks). It’s a totally ingrained and frustrating concept. It’s something that eats away at you before you go to sleep if you and your partner have been really exhausted for a few nights, and you haven’t had sex as a result.

The perpetuating stigma of LBD only others our community further, and underpins the troubling interpretation of lesbian sexuality: that unless we are sexually engaging with other women for male benefit, our sex lives shouldn’t exist. Committed lesbian relationships threaten heteronormative thought.

They don’t want us to have it all.

It is natural for everyone to go through sexless periods, especially when you are committed to the one person. So let’s strive to remove Lesbian Bed Death from the cultural lexicon, and hope that the fledgling lesbians who are yet to encounter the full force of their sexual prowess will never need to know that it existed.

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