When I was a teenager a booklet mysteriously appeared on a book shelf in the family room. It was called, curiously enough, What Teenagers Need To Know about Sex. I immediately sneaked it upstairs and read it from cover to cover. Then I sneaked it back onto the shelf. It took me years to realize it had been deliberately placed there for me—and I’m so grateful! A little accurate information goes a long, long way toward sexual health. One word in particular made my day—and changed my life.
The word was “homoerotic.” It was in the middle of a section describing variations in sexual experience, in objective, non- judgmental language. I thought it sounded like a soft word, and easy to think about. I re-read the explanation many times, with a growing sense of recognition and relief.
Recognition, because something about that word resonated, struck a chord very deep inside, brought the words I’ve always known this. And relief—there are others like me! So the truth came from both inside and outside, and it really did set me free. How would life have been different if I hadn’t read that book? Here’s to science and sexuality–it’s done a lot for me!
So when I hear about problems women have sustaining sexuality in long-term relationships, I think some accurate information can help. We seem to have a conflicted reaction to the infamous “lesbian bed death.” Many argue that this isn’t just a lesbian issue—see details below—and others say “So what?” And many others are very upset about this. But I think we might need to face some facts before we can make a serious, informed choice about how to handle sexuality.
Here’s what sociologists Blumstein and Schwartz found in their famous comparison of lesbian, gay male, and heterosexual couples: During the first 2 years of living together, everyone was sexually active! Then the gay men and straight couples declined in frequency—and lesbians plummeted. After 10 years together, 67% of straight couples were still sexually active –but only 15% of the lesbians. We are missing some staying power.
So how does this truth set anyone free? Hopefully, it will motivate you to think about this—do you want to be part of the 15%, or are you okay with drifting into a low- or no- sex relationship? And if you wanted to be real long-term lovers, how would you do it? Let’s ask them.
If you talk with women who have sustained a long-term sexual relationship, they’re very similar. They are incredibly intentional about sex, scheduling time, making it a priority, talking about it with each other. And, they’re incredibly realistic: sometimes you have to work hard to get yourself in the mood to have sex. But it’s worth it.
“Once we get started, I like it!” This is the rallying cry for sustainable intimacy.
It’s also the premise for the Responsive Desire model developed by Rosemary Basson of the University of British Columbia. Basson points out that most women have sex because they seek the emotional connection and/or self-esteem boost involved—not because they’re wildly turned on. They decide to have sex, then seek ways to get themselves turned on. In other words, they operate on intentionality, not spontaneity. “Low desire” is not a problem in this model. It’s a normal state that you can consciously alter.
When you’re not laboring under the false belief that there’s something wrong with you, you can think about what you want and how to go about making it happen. Most importantly, you can talk with your partner about how to have the kind of sex life you both want to have, without falling into shame or blame.
There’s very solid research evidence that marital and sexual satisfaction are intertwined. When one is up, so is the other. And no wonder. A lot of sweet pleasure carries a lot of attachment energy. It makes you turn toward each other and deepens your connection. Not to mention the self-esteem boost for both of you. “We’ve got it!”
And on the negative side, it’s also true that people who aren’t very connected to each other sexually are more likely to grow apart, feel resentful or indifferent, or even be unfaithful. From that perspective, it’s in your best interest to clarify your “sexual mission statement” with a partner so you can be intentional together. If you’re on the same page, wonderful. It’s the discrepancies that cause heartaches.
For me this all started with truth about “homoerotic”…recognizing that’s me while simultaneously learning there are others like me. That was a powerful, liberating truth then—and now.
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice for more than twenty years. She provides gay-affirmative psychotherapy, and consults with professionals and the general public on sexual issues for women in same-sex relationships. Dr. Corwin leads weekend sexual intimacy workshops for women, and in 2007 conducted a research project investigating lesbian sexual patterns. The very positive responses to her workshops and research were the inspiration for the book Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples. She is currently working on a book for single women, focused on dating and sex.
The daughter of missionaries, Dr. Corwin grew up in Colombia, South America. Her background gives her a deep appreciation for diversity of cultures, languages, and human connections. She also appreciates the lovely woman who shares her life in Atlanta.
For more information about Dr. Corwin and her work, visit her website at www.DrGlendaCorwin.com.