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Debunking the Myth of “Lesbian Bed Death”

Lesbians have less sex than heterosexuals but value quality over frequency.

Key points

  • Compared with heterosexual couples, lesbian couples have significantly less sex. A controversial term to describe this is "lesbian bed death."
  • Yet, many studies show that coupled lesbian and straight women report very similar sexual satisfaction.
  • Research shows lesbians have higher quality, more intimate, and more orgasmic sex.

After the initial hot-and-heavy period of relationships, sexual frequency almost always declines. But research during the 1980s suggested that, compared with gay male or straight couples, lesbian couples experience a much steeper decrease, with partner lovemaking sometimes dropping to zero.

In 1987, a term was coined to describe this–"lesbian bed death." The idea has long been controversial. Many studies showing a precipitous decline in lesbian lovemaking have been castigated as flawed. But the notion of lesbian bed death is so widespread that the phrase has a Wikipedia entry.

Meanwhile, many studies show that coupled lesbian and straight women report very similar sexual satisfaction. How could lesbians have less sex but feel just as satisfied? A recent study shows that what most lesbian couples miss in sexual frequency, they make up for with erotic quality. More than most hetero couples, they embrace a sexual style that includes more discussion of their lovemaking and more kissing, mutual massage, oral sex, and other moves. Instead of dismissing lesbian lovemaking with the pejorative term "bed death," the researchers concluded that lesbian couples’ greater variety of erotic play produces a lovemaking style that should be celebrated as “lesbian bed intimacies.”

The Study

The research team from Chapman University in Southern California and several other U.S. and European universities recruited participants by posting a survey on the website of NBC News, More than 24,000 women completed it, including 340 self-identified lesbians. After matching demographics as closely as possible, the researchers came up with a final sample of 2,510 coupled heterosexual women and 283 coupled lesbians aged 18 to 65 who had been in their relationships for at least five years. Participants comprised a reasonably representative sample of the U.S. population.

Like other studies, this one showed that long-term lesbian couples have less sex than heterosexual couples. Almost half of the lesbian couples (43 percent) reported either no partner lovemaking at all or doing it just once a month. The figure for heterosexual women was less than half that, 16 percent. And like previous research, this study showed very similar levels of sexual satisfaction (lesbians 66 percent, heterosexuals 68 percent) and relationship satisfaction (lesbians 92 percent, straights 89 percent).

However, during their most recent sexual encounter before completing the survey, the lesbian participants were significantly more likely to value mood-setting activities:

  • Putting “sex dates” on their calendars. Lesbian participants 59 percent, heterosexual women 46 percent (p<0.001)
  • Saying, “I love you.” Lesbian participants 80 percent, heterosexual women 67 percent (p<0.001)
  • Background music. Lesbian participants 24 percent, heterosexual women 13 percent (p<0.001)
  • Dimming lights/using candles. Lesbian participants 29 percent, heterosexual women 21 percent (p<0.01)
  • Arranged a romantic getaway. Lesbian participants 53 percent, heterosexual women 43 percent (p<0.01).

During their most recent partner sex, the lesbian participants enjoyed a significantly broader array of activities:

  • Discussed erotic fantasies. Lesbian participants 44 percent, heterosexual women 36 percent (p<0.01)
  • Received a back rub. Lesbian participants 74 percent, heterosexual women 63 percent (p<0.001)
  • Light kissing. Lesbian participants 92 percent, heterosexual women 80 percent (p<0.001)
  • Deep kissing. Lesbian participants 80 percent, heterosexual women 71 percent (p<0.01).
  • Had genitals caressed by hand. Lesbian participants 90 percent, heterosexual women 83 percent (p<0.01)
  • Received cunnilingus. Lesbian participants53 percent, heterosexual women 41 percent (p<0.001)
  • Used a vibrator or other toys in partner play. Lesbian participants 62 percent, heterosexual women 40 percent (p<0.001)
  • Used food in sex play (chocolate, whipped cream). Lesbian participants 28 percent, heterosexual women 20 percent (p<0.01)
  • Sex lasting more than 30 minutes. Lesbian participants 72 percent, heterosexual women 48 percent (p<0.001).

As a result, the lesbian participants were more orgasmic, at 85 percent, versus heterosexual women, at 66 percent.

The only erotic moves enjoyed more frequently by heterosexual women were wearing lingerie and vaginal intercourse (which lesbians may accomplish with sex toys).

The Implications

Lesbian bed death is a myth. While most long-term lesbian couples make love less frequently than their heterosexual counterparts, they more than make up for it with deeper intimacy—planning sex in advance, talking about their lovemaking, sharing erotic fantasies, kissing, massaging, saying “I love you,” and generous enjoyment of hand jobs, sex toys, and cunnilingus.

Our culture is “hetero-normative.” Our touchstone is what heterosexuals do, and many believe that if folks who are not heterosexual do things differently, their way must be deficient. That’s not the case. There are as many fulfilling ways to make love as there are lovers. Lesbian couples do it their way—and enjoy just as much sexual and relationship satisfaction as heterosexuals.


Frederick, DA et al. “Debunking Lesbian Bed Death: Using Coarsened Exact Matching to Compare Sexual Practices and Satisfaction of Lesbian and Heterosexual Women,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2021) 50:3601. Doi: 10.1007/s10508-021-02096-4

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