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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011

Lesbian Bed Death

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Do you have any tips on how I can revive my sexual relationship with my partner?

The title of my column this week is the same as the subject line of the email sent to me with the question above, so I'm going to answer the question under the assumption that the reader is a woman in a relationship with another woman. However, this situation—the gradual waning of sexual activity during a long-term relationship—can happen with couples of any sort.

The fact that the term "lesbian bed death" exists speaks to a cultural perception that long-term relationships with little or no sex are more common among female-female couples. Some people believe that this is the case because women have lower sex drives than men, although this is a generalization that is certainly not true for everyone, and I think its foundation lies in gender stereotypes more than it does in people's actual feelings. Another factor related to gender role socialization is that women are still largely expected to be sexually passive rather than sexually aggressive—the acted-upon, not the actors. Regardless of whether you identify as lesbian, straight, bisexual, queer or anything else, you likely grew up steeped in these gender role stereotypes. Even if you think that they are total bunk, they may still affect your behavior. This might manifest itself in guilt about wanting to have sex or being hesitant to initiate sex. If you have two people in a lesbian relationship who are dealing with these gender stereotypes, it could have an impact on the amount of sex you have.

If you think back to the beginning of your relationship, it's likely that sex was more of a priority than it is now. This is common in many relationships. All that new-relationship energy means that you behave somewhat like a giddy teen crushing out on your new girlfriend—she's all you think about and all you want to do. You probably blew off your friends to stay home and have sex with her and/or came into work having slept dangerously little the night before. While this period in a relationship is a lot of fun, it's impossible to sustain it.

Many relationship experts believe there's a trade-off between intimacy and passion. Sexual excitement may be stoked more by the new and the unknown. As we get to know a person better, we grow to care about them, love them, rely on them and know all their little quirks (good and bad), but this familiarity leads to a decrease in raw sexual passion. Since women are often socialized to develop deep relationships with other women, this intimacy-passion trade-off could be even greater for lesbian couples.

So how can you achieve a balance between intimacy and passion that keeps the best of both worlds? Intimacy is great, but it can lead to the development of stale routines. Take a look at the activities that are now taking precedence over sex in your relationship. Likely culprits include TV, the time-suck known as the Internet, and even sleep. While sleep is a great and necessary thing, other activities can be re-prioritized. If you watch TV, read or browse the web in bed, stop. Save your bed for sexy fun time. Then consciously decide to break out of your rut and make sex important again, something worth missing the latest episode of "Rizzoli & Isles" for. Make a plan to set aside TV, reading, going out with friends, etc., at least once a week and spend time with each other instead.

While you can't entirely duplicate that new-relationship energy, adding something unexpected to your sex life can help bring it back. Remember: Sexual excitement thrives on the new and unknown. Try sex in new places, with new toys, or while role-playing or acting out fantasies. Watch porn together (there's lots of great lesbian-made, authentic porn out there, like queerporn.tv and the Crash Pad series) or read erotica out loud to each other to get some new ideas.

We often expect sex to be spontaneous and unplanned, and think that if we have to talk about it or set aside time for it, there's something wrong. In real life, sex doesn't work that way. Don't be afraid to bring this issue up with your partner. Talking about new things to try together can itself jump-start some action!

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.