Sex and the Older (Bisexual) Lesbian

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

The Journal of Sex Research is one of my favorite professional journals, and a recent issue included a study on sexual identity and sexual behavior in older lesbians, those 51 or older at the time of the survey – Baby Boomer lesbians, born before 1960.

Some of the results are really interesting.  Here’s one to shoot down the “lesbian bed death” theory:  about 11% of the women with partners, average age 63, reported no sex in the past year.  The comparable figure for heterosexual partnered women over the age of 50, according to Kinsey Institute statistics?  Twenty-five to thirty percent, depending on whether they are married or not.    Most older lesbians in relationships had sex a few times a year to weekly – but 3% were still having sex daily!  And most of the women who were having little or no sex with their partners were satisfied with this frequency, noting that their relationships had changed over the years, with emotional intimacy increasingly more important than sexual intimacy.

Lesbian sexuality is underappreciated. Yes, there are women for whom ‘lesbian bed death’ is a reality and they hate it.  Whether lesbians in sexless relationships outnumber heterosexual women in similar circumstances is questionable.  And more to the point- IPG statistics from an Internet study we did a few years ago show that sexless lesbian relationships are still full of affection; that when women do make love they spend more time, incorporate lots of nongenital as well as genital touching, are less likely to report they have sex just because their partner wants it, and more likely to report that both they and their partner orgasm.  In fact, reflecting on lesbian sexuality makes you wonder about our own tendency to focus on frequency as the all-important measure of sexual relationship quality.  Maybe we should be looking at time spent or mutuality of experience.

Other results from the older lesbian study seemed tied to history: Over half of this sample had been married to men before ‘coming out’ as gay, even though the average age when they realized their attractions to women was 18.  Let’s hope this was the last generation to have such a struggle to claim their lesbianism, the last to feel the necessity to ‘try’ heterosexual marriage.

And one other result that I hope, as a self-identified bi woman, is also tied to history.  Although only 4% of these women identified themselves as bisexual, the vast majority not only had sex with men at some point in their past, many had not been sexual with women until their 40’s —and 38% currently reported heterosexual fantasies. Now it may be that the women don’t self-label as bi because their primary attractions are to women, or possibly that they are defining their identity based on the gender of their current partner.  But it’s also true that bisexuality is still vilified within and outside the gay community.  Lesbians have the usual objections – it doesn’t exist, it’s women who can’t face being gay – as well as an uncommon one.  Lesbians blame bisexual women for bringing STI’s – sexually transmitted infections – into their world.

Why am I always surprised at the stigma against bisexuality?  It’s so widespread –it was only this week that Google took ‘bisexual’ off their list of ‘banned’ search terms.  But there’s hope in younger people who more readily identify as bisexual, pansexual, or just plain queer.  Here’s to a day when women who love women – and the entire culture- doesn’t put ‘bisexuality’ in the realm of the invisible,  the feared, and the despised.


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