Debunking Lesbian Bed Death: Using Coarsened Exact Matching to Compare Sexual Practices and Satisfaction of Lesbian and Heterosexual Women

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The current study examined the prevalence and correlates of over 50 sexual practices in a national survey of heterosexual and lesbian women in relationships. Coarsened exact matching was used to create comparable samples of heterosexual (n = 2510) and lesbian (n = 283) women on six demographic factors, including relationship length. Heterosexual and lesbian women were equally likely to be sexually satisfied (66% heterosexual women vs. 68% lesbian women). Compared to heterosexuals, lesbians were more likely to report having sex 0–1 times per month (11% vs. 23%) and were less likely to report having sex greater than once per month (89% vs. 77%). Among women who had been in relationships for longer than 5 years, heterosexual women were less likely than lesbian women to report having sex 0–1 times per month (15%; 42%). This steeper drop in sexual frequency among lesbian women than heterosexual women has pejoratively been labeled lesbian bed death. Rather than accept the label “lesbian bed death” as characterizing these sexual relationships, we turn our attention to what we call lesbian bed intimacies: the myriad ways that lesbian women incorporate behaviors promoting emotional connection, romance, and mood setting, as well as relying on a wide variety of specific sexual acts (e.g., use of sex toys) and sexual communication. Compared to heterosexual women, lesbian women were more likely to usually to always receive oral sex during sex in the past month (28%; 47%) and to use sex toys in the past year (40%; 62%). In their last sexual encounter, lesbian women were more likely to say “I love you” (67%; 80%), have sex longer than 30 min (48%; 72%), and engage in gentle kissing (80%; 92%). These intimacies likely help explain why sexual satisfaction was similar in these groups despite notable differences in sexual frequency.


This article was originally published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, volume 50, in 2021.

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