Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sexual Health Sundays: So You're a Lesbian...


Although this post is about the myths surrounding lesbianism, I don’t identify as a lesbian. I identify as a queer, cissexual (non-transsexual) woman. I decided to use the term “lesbian” here because that is how I am perceived (as a female-bodied woman in a relationship with another female-bodied woman), and because the word carries a lot of stigma. As always, I can only speak from my own experience, and I most definitely do not presume to think that my opinions reflect those of the “GLBTIQ community” as a whole (if it’s even possible to make such a generalization).

Ever since I “came out” to my friends and family, I’ve encountered some pretty interesting questions/assumptions about lesbianism. I’ve decided to address a few of them here. If you have your own experiences to share, or any questions to add, please leave a comment!

 “How do lesbians have sex?”

This question is a little problematic, because:

A) It isn’t really any of your business, and
B) It’s impossible to answer; the definition of “sex” varies from person to person (and that goes for heterosexuals/bisexuals/whatever-sexuals, too, not just lesbians).  The real question is, why do you care so much about what women do in bed? Are you titillated? Scared? Questioning your own sexual orientation? Turn the tables; a little introspection can go a long way.

But for the sake of this post, here’s my stab at an answer:

A sad truth is that heterosexual sex often gets defined by what my friend Michelle likes to call PIV (“Penis In Vagina”) intercourse. Because most* lesbians don’t have penises (*I make this exception because there are many trans women who identify as lesbians and choose, for various reasons, not to have “bottom surgery”), the general public seems to think lesbians don’t/can’t have sex. This assumption centers sexuality on the penis, completely discounting the reality of female sexual desire (and ignoring the fact that most women can’t achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone). Contrary to popular belief, lesbian sex is varied and incredibly sexually fulfilling. Women have sex with other women in many of the same ways as heterosexuals—through manual sex, oral sex, toys, penetration, etc x 1 000 000—variations are infinite. The main difference I’ve found (from my own experience) is that sex with a woman doesn’t center around one specific act the way PIV sex does; it’s about what each person prefers/wants in that particular moment. Lesbian sex can be slow, raunchy, kinky, passionate and/or tender. Maybe you should try it!

“If you’re a lesbian, does that mean you have a crush on me?”

Probably not, since conceit isn’t a trait I find particularly attractive in a partner.

Just because someone is attracted to others of your sex, doesn’t mean that they will be attracted to you! Just as heterosexuals are not attracted to everyone of the opposite gender they see, and bisexuals are not attracted to every single person they come across, homosexuals won’t want to have sex with you just because you happen to possess the genitalia of their choice.

Lesbians are either “hot” or “manly.”

Ah, the Hot Lesbian. Look, I am guilty of it, too—I’ve seen more than my fair share of L Word episodes (that is not “the way that we live,” Ilene Chaiken), and I have lusted after Bette. But the idea that lesbians can either be “hot” (read: conventionally attractive, according to a certain impossible commercial ideal of beauty) or “manly” (ie. not exhibiting enough “feminine” traits to be socially acceptable) is dumb. Do I really need to say this? That “hot” lesbian probably doesn’t want to sleep with you and/or your bicurious girlfriend. Lesbians who don’t conform to your “feminine ideal” have as much of a right to exist on this planet than you do, and you should take your prejudices and your gender policing elsewhere.

Folks, heterosexual and bisexual and lesbian and asexual and pansexual and queer women come in every size, shape, and colour, just like the rest of the world. Lesbians aren’t here to fulfill your sexual fantasy or be on the receiving end of your gender insecurity.

It’s tempting to create these polarized categories of one thing vs. another, but it’s all a spectrum. Sure, there are some lesbians out there who look like Bette (and if they do, they should send me an email), and some who feel more comfortable with a more “masculine” gender presentation. But there are also a lot of folks in between, who, (like me), might play femme one day, dressing up and wearing makeup, and then go for a more androgynous look the next. Bottom line? Just as there’s no one way for a feminist to look, there’s no one way for a lesbian to look.

“Wow, you’re so lucky to be a lesbian! You already know how to please your girlfriend, because you’ve got the same parts, and you don’t have to worry about safer sex.”

A lot of people assume that, just because I am female-bodied and so is my lover, I will automatically know her body inside out, recognize her arousal response and cues, and know exactly how to respond without having to communicate a single word. (The notable exception to this is my mother, who once asked me, “don’t you find it difficult to locate the clitoris on another woman?”). The common-sense truth is that everyone’s body is different, and everyone enjoys different things. I might like heavy clitoral stimulation, or manual penetration, and my partner might only require light touch or no clitoral stimulation at all. There’s really no “one size fits all” approach to having sex, even when it’s with someone of the same sex.

As for the safer sex issue, lesbians are not immune to sexually transmitted infections! Lady-loving ladies should still be using latex barriers (latex gloves for manual sex and dental dams for oral), and getting regular STI tests. I won’t lie, though; not having to worry about birth control is pretty sweet.

Before you make assumptions about the queers in your life, question your own motives first. Are you speaking out of ignorance and fear, or out of a desire to learn something new? Everyone’s experience is different, so you can talk to a thousand lesbians and get a thousand different answers about what their sexual identity means to them. But not only lesbians have sexual orientations—so do heterosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, etc. Start conversations with your friends, regardless of how they identify. That way, you can start destabilizing some of your assumptions about those groups, too—and about yourself.



  1. Great post, Vanessa. I especially enjoyed your very succinct and generally amazing reply to the second question:

    "Probably not, since conceit isn’t a trait I find particularly attractive in a partner."

    Really enjoyed reading this!


  2. to the point, assertive, and understanding. You are becoming quite the blogereuse extraordinaire my dear.