Women in same sex relationships face many different challenges than those in heterosexual relationships. Although many of the issues including low libido, menopause, a cancer diagnosis and STIs face women of any sexual orientation, the sexual health issues between two women can be very different.
The terribly-named “Lesbian Bed Death” was coined in a 1983 research paper and thirty years later seems to still haunt us. Call it a “dry spell,” decreased libido, low libido, etc. Whether you are straight or gay, it all spells out the same thing. Instead of looking out for this around the two or three-year mark of a relationship, a recent study on orgasm rates of straight and gay couples may provide some encouragement. A survey by Autostraddle on queer women sexual behavior also debunks the myth of the inevitable loss of libido. But what if decreased libido really is the case? Many factors can contribute, especially considering the fluctuating hormones of not just one but two women. Dr. Glenda Corwin points out in her book Sexual Intimacy for Women that hormones aren’t the whole story, though.
True, there’s a physiological component of desire that seems closely tied to hormone levels…But what do they do with those urges? Fan the flames? Make plans to act on them? Set the stage for a sexual encounter? Physiological urges can generate sexual interest, but consummation requires intention and action, and it’s more complex than hormones.
In short, some times, relationships require the drive and effort to keep sexual health issues in check. But what if there are other factors at work?
Sexual health issues can arise when one or both women in a relationship are experiencing the affects of peri-menopause or menopause. Decreased libido, vaginal or clitoral atrophy, dryness and changes in mood can surely affect a relationship, especially if both women are managing it at the same time. Understanding, respect and love is key here, since everyone experiences menopause differently and could be dealing with entirely different symptoms. One partner’s libido may increase and the other may decrease. Exacerbating the symptoms can be the added stress of homophobia or feeling isolated in your circumstances. Stress can heighten symptoms, as the body reacts to anxiety. Utilize available resources like lubricants and a lube launcher for dryness, trying something new together like a toy or role-playing, or simply taking the time to focus and be physical, if not sexual, together.
Cancer puts a toll on a relationship and the individual and can certainly affect your intimate life. Symptoms like hot flashes, weakened bones, mood changes and sleep issues, to name a few, can reduce desire and energy for sex. Just remember that a cancer diagnosis is not a dead end for intimacy. In fact, having well-lubricated penetrative sex (with a vibrator, dil or strap-on) at least 3-4 times per week can help alleviate adhesions by stretching the walls of the vagina. It is also important to mention your sexual health issues to your doctor so he or she can provide suggestions and options.
Bacterial Vaginosis (a type of Vaginitis) tends to be more common in bisexual and lesbian women (although it’s not clear why). When the pH of the vagina is not in balance, an overgrowth of bacteria can occur and cause BV. With similar symptoms as a yeast infection: itching, discharge and a strong odor, BV can instead be treated with antibiotics. It is important for a woman to see her doctor if she thinks she may have BV to resolve the infection and prevent from passing it on to her partner. Other STIs including Herpes, Chlamydia, HPV and crabs can also be passed between partners. It is always important to be sure to use clean and sanitized sex toys, be aware of your own health and avoid douching or using any products around the vulva that can irritate the skin.
Sexual Intimacy for Women by Dr. Glenda Corwin