Sex is another one of those words that no-one ever bothers to stop and define because we’re all supposed to know what it means. This is really bad news for women because it means when we’re being told all the damn time that sex is great/fun/healthy/something we should be having at least 3 times a week each one of us has a completely different definition in our heads of what sex actually is, based on personal experiences, what we’ve been told, what we’ve read or seen in films. It’s also really really bad news for women in abusive relationships because our abusers get to define ‘sex’ for us. If this is you, ignore whatever crap your abuser has told you about what sex is and read this instead:

1) Sex is fun and pleasurable for BOTH women. If you don’t enjoy something, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. You do not have to learn to like it. A respectful partner will not expect you to do anything you don’t want to. Different women enjoy different things and nothing is compulsory.

2) Sex is not the same thing as intercourse. Intercourse means a penis penetrating a vagina. Often when people use the word ‘sex’ this is what they are referring to, but actually intercourse is just one of many types of sex. Your partner may use the idea that penetration is the only ‘real’ type of sex to try to manipulate you into penetrative sex that you don’t want. Sex is actually far more varied than this and you can have an exciting sex life that doesn’t involve any penetration at all, and many lesbian couples do.

3) To give an idea of some of the different ways of having sex that are common in lesbian relationships, JoAnn Loulan surveyed 1566 lesbians in the US and Canada between 1985-87. The study may be 25 years old, but women’s bodies haven’t changed in that time so the practices probably haven’t a great deal either. She found:

80% penetrate the vagina with fingers

67% have oral sex (stimulating the clitoris with the tongue)

11% penetrate the anus with fingers

10% penetrate the vagina with a dildo

5% practice bondage

 Compare what your partner has told you is ‘normal’ with the percentages here. So if for example your partner says that vaginal penetration with fingers is normal and everyone does it, actually 1 in 5 lesbians don’t do this at all. Of the other 4 in 5, some will do it every week, some once every few years. In some couples one partner may enjoy being penetrated while the other doesn’t and that’s OK too.

This survey is also quite limited in that’s it’s still thinking inside the penetration=sex box. Touching each other’s clitorises (clitorii?) or rubbing yourself against your girlfriend is not just foreplay or a run up to proper penetrative sex. It IS sex. It gives us orgasms, it feels good and it is an end in itself. The idea that clitoral stimulation is foreplay/childish/a precursor to the main event is a myth which belittles women’s sexuality and bodies.

4) Sex is not about power. If one partner penetrates the other this isn’t about one partner conquering/dominating/asserting ownership or  control over the other but an act of trust, equality and giving and sharing pleasure. There is no need for a dominant/active and a submissive/passive role. Many couples choose not to have these roles at all. Others will adopt and act out these roles occasionally, often alternating between these two roles in different situations. There is also absolutely no need for sexual behaviour to translate into other areas of the relationship, ie because one partner has a certain role in bed this doesn’t mean she therefore gets to be more in control/dominant in terms of making decisions, controlling finances etc.

5) And finally, on the subject of ‘normal’… why does this even matter? Sex is not about what everyone else is doing, it’s about what YOU BOTH want to do. Heterosexuality is normal (ie common), but that doesn’t mean we all have to do it. If we didn’t live in a culture which holds penetration up as the only real way to have sex, maybe the way we all have sex would be completely different. Or not. Clearly the only way to find out is to have a worldwide lesbian revolution – who’s with me?