March 10, 2013

IconBrenda, bed death, and Boston marriages: why is lesbian sexual desire not permitted?

A couple of years ago, the Guardian columnist, Kate Harrad asked “Why can’t women have Grindr too?” Grindr, for those who do not know, is a geosocial networking app with a reputation for enabling promiscuity, aimed at gay and bisexual men. Cue the emergence of lesbian apps such as Brenda, Lesarion, Qrushr girls, Dattch, and Findhrr. These lesbian equivalents were never going to be “lesbian Grindrs” because lesbians as a section of society are less interested in casual sex than gay men (Grindr has between 1 million and 5 million users whereas Brenda has between 50,000 and 100,000).

Perceptions of lesbian sexual appetite, however, go much further than the idea that we engage in less casual sex than gay men. They relegate us to the bottom of the sexual desire scale with ideas such as lesbian bed death; it is not just that we don’t have casual sex, we don’t have sex at all. According to these perceptions, gay men and lesbians occupy two extremes of the sexual deviance spectrum; gay men are promiscuous and gay women are lacking in sexual desire. Between these two extremes, heteronormative sex can insert itself (as it were) and reaffirm itself as normal and natural, whilst “othering” any sex that does not constitute heteronormative sex.


Botticelli's painting of the birth of Venus, goddess of sexual love

Heterosexism is the new homophobia

This is not just a matter of blaming the straight majority, since the survival of the lesbian bed death idea can be accounted for by the (unconscious or conscious) internalisation of these heteronormative beliefs by lesbians and bisexual women. I know that I have been guilty of this. In my last article, when a doctor asked me if I was sexually active, I replied: “I’m gay, does that count?”

Let us also consider the name The L Word. Already we are labeling ourselves as something that dare not speak its name. It reminds me of characters in Harry Potter calling Voldemort “you know who” because he is too terrible to be named.

I will admit that there is a part of me that considers lesbian sex not “real sex”, but I believe that this internalised feeling of heterosexism was borne out of saturation with hetero-normative sex. If I switch on the TV, I cannot avoid heterosexual sex scenes. If I read the newspapers, I cannot avoid stories of celebrity sex tapes. If I listen to the radio, it is only a matter of time before Flo Rida asks: “Where dem girls at?”

There is a surfeit of heterosexual sex in the modern world and yet gay sex barely gets a look-in. This is why heterosexist beliefs are internalised and survive within the LGBT community: because gay sex is rarely represented, let alone normalised.

Lesbian sex in mainstream culture

When lesbian sex does make its way into the mainstream, it is qualified by what I like to call “The abnormality factor”. Consider the following lesbians in these films:

Black Swan (mentally ill)

Gia (junkie)

Monster (serial killer)

Lesbian Vampire Killers (mythological and homicidal)

The Kids Are Alright (prefers penis when given the choice)

Batwoman ([in DC Comics] domestic abuser)

The message? Lesbian sexual desire can only be expressed when it can be dismissed as deviant, leaving the mainstream community able to preserve their sense of being “normal”.

Now I am not suggesting that we start waving strap-ons in the faces of our straight friends, but it is worth considering to what extent we are complicit in lesbian sex remaining in the closet, even if it is due to cultural heterosexism.


1 Response to Brenda, bed death, and Boston marriages: why is lesbian sexual desire not permitted?

  1. Sazle says:

    Real sex? I had only slept with men until I met my girlfriend at the age of 40. Sex with her is very real, it’s about my needs, her needs and our needs together. Unlike sex with a man which was about my needs until he needs!! We don’t need to discus our sex lives to normalise it we just shouldn’t feel we have to apologise for not wanting sex with men and that its purely our choice to sleep with women and its not because we couldn’t find ‘mr right’ or because we’re damaged. I think we’re quite alone in our sexuality because straight women and gay men fancy men and you’d think that would leave use in the same ‘team’ as straight men but alas no because they can’t come to terms with the fact that there are women out there who simply don’t fancy them so can never truly accept us. To normalise we shouldnt apologise but shouldnt brag either x

Hattie Lucas


Mike Freer HoC speech on gay marriage

Mike Freer, Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, gives a speech in the House of Commons in favour of same sex marriage proposals.

February 5, 2013