Remember The Lesbians: The Sex Edition

A short while ago, there was an APW post about sex in marriage, which produced an outpouring of response. Reading through some of the comments (I admit I didn’t make it through all of them—there were more than four hundred!), I began to think that it might be time for the APW Remember the Lesbians: The Sex Edition. There were just a lot of comments that had recurring themes of sexual difficulties faced by women in straight relationships that I thought lesbian culture might be able to help with. Lesbian sexual culture is, after all, entirely about women’s sexual pleasure. So here are three ideas from the world of the lesbians to women in all kinds of relationships.

1. Hands are your friends.

Hands are a huge part of lesbian sex. In fact, when my wife and I talk about “having sex,” what we usually mean is that we are making love to each other with our hands. Hands have some very useful features as sex toys. They are flexible, sensitive, and strong. I think there is a perception that making love with your hands doesn’t count as “real” sex. But in my book, whatever my partner does that makes me feel as good as that, and reliably produces orgasms definitely counts as real sex!

Many people in the comments talked about needing clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm, but not liking oral sex for various reasons. In what may be lesbian heresy, I gotta say, I’m with you on that one. I’m not a huge fan of oral sex. For me, it’s great at the time, but kind of gross afterwards. But hands! Hands can do all the same things tongues can do but with less mess, and in some cases, with more accuracy.

2. Take turns.

Some folks in the comments talked about this ideal of simultaneous orgasm or the fact that their partners might reliably have orgasms, but they themselves only have orgasms a small percentage of the time. From my perspective in lesbian culture, my wife and I solve this by taking turns. Here’s how this works. First one of us will make love to the other. The point of this is the pleasure of the one receiving. So she’s in charge. She calls the shots, and, ideally, we continue until she is satisfied. (I say ideally because one of us could really just keep going all day long, and the other of us does eventually get tired, but this does 99.9% of the time mean at least one orgasm.) Then, we switch. Now the second person is in charge, calling the shots, and the experience is geared to her pleasure.
Usually, we both enjoy giving as well as receiving, but we each also get to enjoy some time when we can be totally focused on our own pleasure. And like I said, we both have at least one orgasm over 90% of the time.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that this become the dominant way anyone else has sex, but if you’re finding that one of you is routinely more satisfied than the other, it might be something worth trying from time to time to see how it goes.

3. Invest in a good lesbian sex book.

Seriously, even if you’re not a lesbian, as long as your relationship has at least one woman in it, this can be helpful. Again, lesbian sexuality is all about women’s sexual pleasure. Anything a woman can do to another woman can also be done by a man, and there are enough ways for women to penetrate women that a decent book will probably cover that, too. I particularly recommend The Whole Lesbian Sex Book by Felice Newman, which is just about as comprehensive as the title suggests. While written for lesbians, from a lesbian perspective, it covers just about everything you would need to know about female sexual response, and includes a whole chapter on vaginal penetration.

Wishing you all satisfying sex lives!

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    My (hetero) partner and I take turns, too. I totally recommend it! I usually go first so that he doesn’t zonk out prior to me having an orgasm. Sometimes I can’t get there for physical, mental, emotional, or who knows what reasons, and I just let him know it’s not working, we snuggle, and then it’s my turn to please him.

    We do have PIV sex, too, but neither of us really orgasms from it, not sure why. It feels awesome! Just doesn’t get us all the way there.

    The only thing I can’t get on board with is not liking the mess of oral. I love the mess! The mess means we did a good job!!

    • Catherine

      I like the mess too! Feels real and primal where so much of our lives are the total opposite, or at least we have to act that way… :)

      • Leoka

        Thumbs up for the mess! I absolutely love that kind of mess :)

      • Another Annie

        Hell yes!!!!

    • Rachel

      I know that the cultural cliche is that men zonk out after orgasms, but I also want to melt into a puddle of bliss and then sometimes drift off into the best sleep ever after an orgasm. So if we’re taking turns, I know he’s being thoughtful by making sure I have an orgasm first, but that seems to come with the expectation that it’s thoughtful because there’s no other way around him passing out immediately afterward.

      I have to say that turns aren’t my favourite. I think they’re a better alternative to expecting that everyone comes together, or doesn’t get to come at all, but after a few years in my relationship we’ve taken a much more “it all evens out in the end” approach. Endless lazy Sunday afternoon in bed together? Turns. So many turns. Tuesday nights when we’re kind of tired and have to be up early in the morning? Lots of snuggling and intimacy, and no hard feelings when only one of us comes, because we both know that it will even out.

      That said, I only feel confident that things even out because of Tip #1 about hands. If you’re only thinking about sex as penetrative intercourse, that game is rigged in most couples – someone (not always the one doing the penetrating, but always someone) is way more likely to come from intercourse. But we have a way broader definition of sex, and care enough about each other’s pleasure that even if we’re not going dutch every single time we have sex, we are each getting what we need, and asking for it when we’re not.

      • Another Annie

        Oh, absolutely. Good point! Sometimes our “turns” are spread out over a day or even several days. In the mornings for example, I am very very unlikely to want to have an orgasm. Just – not up for it. He, however, is very, very likely to want to have an orgasm. So, we take care of that! Then that night, we both might get an orgasm. Sure, that means he has two that day and I only have one, but to overshare a little more, mine take a lot longer and they render me speechless* whereas his arrive quicker and don’t quite seem to match the intensity of mine. So, you are totally right. “Turns” doesn’t necessarily mean “tit for tat.”

        *Talk about conking out! There have been maybe a dozen or so occasions where my orgasm was so intense that I rolled over and went immediately to sleep (without speaking!). So now he always says that’s his goal, haha. Women definitely have the ability to be the ones who fall asleep first, that’s for sure.

        P.S. – I wanted to say I completely agree about broadening your definition of sex. Again, neither of us orgasms during PIV, so if we even have PIV sex during a session, it’s usually only for a few minutes between other hands- and tongue-based (and toy-based) activities. There are SO many options! Woooooo!!!

      • I’m totally the one in our relationship who falls asleep right after. When I orgasm, I immediately fall into a very deep sleep!

  • Catherine


  • Unrelated-ish, but the image accompanying the article is HILARIOUS. First I read the title, then I was like: “Huh, she’s holding a saw and a vacuum, and she’s holding a feather duster, things are gonna get nuts up in hizzere.”

    (I know this what not what you were intending, but the saw is a really funny accompaniment to an article about lady on lady fun times).

    • Moe

      I was just chiming in to say that those are two mighty fine lesbians in your title graphic. :)

  • ottid

    I want a nice way to show a friend this! I have found out through her husband telling my husband telling me that she does not orgasm very much, but she is quite innocent and prudish, and apparently hasn’t really masturbated. How can I make her see that it could make her sex life more, ummm, explosive (because I’m sure it really is still quite enjoyable!)? And since she is having her first child soon, when is actually a good time to try and bring it up?

    • meg

      Uh, pregnancy is about the best sex life EVAR (heyyy hormones), so unless she’s late in her third trimester, get her while the going is good ;)

      • ottid

        :( Late in the third now! (but yay! ‘cos another baby is going to be here soon!)

      • ShyClare

        oh man I wish this had been true for me. Instead those pregnancy hormones KILLED my sex drive dead. Hormone contraception is also a big negative in my sex life.

        I hope your friend has the good hormone experience and not the bad hormone experience. :)

    • What if you printed out this post, or to go further, bought the recommended book, and anonymously dropped it at her door step? With just a short, unsigned note “This helped me so much- hope you enjoy it, too!” Just don’t mention that anyone- even a “little birdie”- told you she might like it, as that could bring up an argument with her husband.

      Then, even if her first reaction is Ew! after a few days or weeks she might work up the nerve to revisit it and slowly learn more. It really does take time.

      • ottid

        Oooo, I think I like the anonymously gifting the book idea :) Thanks Sarahe!

      • Now I’m just imagining what my reaction would be if I opened my door to find a copy of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book sitting on my porch with an anonymous “I hope you like this! ;-)” note attached. I’d probably start keeping tabs on all of my lady neighbors to make sure I didn’t have a stalker. LOL.

        Just a reminder that anonymously gifting a sex book might… er… totally creep her out. Especially if she’s kind of prudish.

        Maybe have your husband tell her husband that YOU guys used that book and it dramatically changed your sex life, so HE goes out and gets it for her? That way she doesn’t know it was discussed with anyone outside of their relationship, and her husband looks like the gallant knight who wants to pleasure her senseless. Just a thought.

        • Shiri

          Great minds, Cali, great minds :)

        • That’s probably a more reasonable solution. Personally, when I’m exploring personal stuff, I’d rather have anonymous help (google, books, etc) than to know that someone else knows I’m reading it, so that’s why it popped into my head first.

        • Slade

          I second the idea of having it passed on through the husbands! If you’re not sure that your friend’s husband will pick up the hint, have your husband lay it out there for him. You could even go so far as to buy a copy of the book to pass along, so that your friend’s husband can educate himself before bringing it up with your friend.

          Also, just to further plug this lovely textbook of making ladies happy: I once gave a straight female friend of mine the Whole Lesbian Sex Book as a Christmas gift. She’d just gotten divorced and, with her new boyfriend, discovered that sex could actually be fun. She and the boyfriend told me later (with pornographically smug smiles) that it was very helpful. I personally still own my copy and love it. The anatomical diagram has a pierced labia and a tattoo!

      • Shiri

        I don’t know, I’d be horribly creeped out by an anoymously gifted book on sex on my doorstep (or anywhere else) and would worry who was seeing what through the windows!

        Could you maybe mention it to her husband (or have your husband do it) instead?

    • Mary Clare

      Some of us choose not to masturbate. It doesn’t make us prudish. We don’t all think about sex in the same way. It’s possible to enjoy sex very much while simultaneously deciding that masturbation doesn’t fit into your value system, or just doesn’t appeal to you.

      • ottid

        Mary Clare, was there a way that you explored what works for you (or not) that I could perhaps pass throught the grapevine instead? And does the belief of non-masturbation (assuming that it is a belief that you hold) stop you and your partner sharing pleasure with your hands?

        • ShyClare

          I want to chime in even though you didn’t ask me — I really had trouble with orgasm, did not want to masturbate, and was also kind of prudish. I was not interested in reading books and I was not interested in masturbating (still not particularly interested in either, actually). What helped me was having a partner who cared about my pleasure as much (or more) than he cared about his own – and he INSISTED that we spend a lot of time figuring out together what was going to make me feel like I had an amazing sex life. He felt it was a priority in our relationship.

          At first I was like, “oh, don’t bother, I just hardly ever orgasm.” But this assumption that this was just normal for me was totally wrong – basically practice and figuring things out together solved that problem. I would not have thought it was important enough to keep going with the “experiment” of finding out what worked for me if my partner hadn’t felt like it was such a priority. In the end, knowing what would make me consistently orgasm was the thing that makes me feel like I have an amazing sex life, but I can imagine this could be very different for everyone. The point is, it really was a journey I needed to do with my partner.

          Since your friend’s husband has mentioned this to your husband, see if you can’t somehow get the message back to him that maybe he needs to more actively make this a priority for both of them. Your friend might not know what to ask for and she might just not be interested in figuring things out alone. I’m so glad my partner felt this was an important thing in our life together because otherwise I probably would have never prioritized it – but it has been SUCH a good thing for our partnership to have a mutually amazing sex life. :)

          • Katherine

            I completely agree with this. I benefitted greatly from having a partner who cared more about my sex life (in a good way) than I did. Suggesting that your friend’s husband talk to her himself makes sense to me. Having open, healthy discussions about sex seems like an important aspect of a relationship.

      • Ilora

        Exactly! Strange as it sounds I don’t get anything out of masturbating…at all… For me it’s about the same as how people can’t tickle themselves.

        • yes. this. i think i am going to steal that line the next time i try to explain this to my wife.

    • ottid

      Thanks everyone, it’s given me a lot more to think about in how I approach trying to help my friend (who may or may not actually need it).

  • Shiri

    Also, love this post. Just love it. I wish these kinds of normalizing discussions about sex took place more often. It’s so important to know that there is a spectrum of what works for couples (regardless of sexuality). And, also, to find the commonalities between hetero and homosexual sexual life.

  • ShyClare

    My husband and I have always adhered to #1 and #2. It actually wasn’t a thing discussed so much as something he did on his own – and let me tell you I’m so glad he did, because I’m not sure I would have known to ask for it. Not to brag or bring on the bad ju-ju, but we have an amazing sex life, and have had one for all the seven years we’ve been together.

    It’s not that we NEVER shake things up or do things differently. It’s just that points 1 and 2 pretty much guarantee that everyone will be satisfied every time. Which makes us both want sex more, and takes away a lot of “performance pressure,” and in general makes for wonderfulness. Even though I think sex without orgasm is lovely too, knowing I’m going to orgasm every time (which for me would not be possible if there weren’t going to be hands involved, nor would it be possible if there was pressure to always orgasm together) completely changes my outlook on sex. In previous relationships, I was frequently too tired, or too stressed, or too whatever to want sex. Not so since learning the joys of point 1 and point 2.

    Now I guess I will have to check out suggestion #3….

  • OK, going to try to keep this polite as possible, but this is not a topic I’m usually delicate about. If I’m talking about sex in detail, I’m usually talking to people who are fine with dirty words. Mods, let me know, or edit it or something, if I overstep, please?

    My advice to all people, as a bi woman who has regularly had to teach men how lesbians have sex, just so I can have fun.

    1. Everything the post-writer said, of course.

    2. TOYS. Get a vibe. Get several, that are shaped differently and do different things. The Hitachi Magic Wand is a classic, but is too strong for some people. Get a little bitty one that has different pulse patterns that the moment’s pillow queen can hold onto herself while her partner is doing something else. Get some insertables. Sometimes a woman doesn’t come from penetrative sex because whatever is doing the penetrating is the wrong shape, size, or hardness. Maybe she needs something larger, something softer, something smaller, something harder. (Um. As in glass. Or steel. Or stone.) Maybe try some penetrative toys that go other places. (DO NOT put something in a vagina or mouth if it as been in the anus without thoroughly sterilizing it first, and maybe have totally separate toys for that.) I recommend Babeland as a woman-centered toy store. I have one local, and going in is great, but the web site is good, too, and has LOTS of good info. I think you can also email them for advice. Very knowledgeable. They do have toys for men, too. If you have guy parts, or your partner does, try some of those.

    Good toys are often expensive. We usually keep a small fund going that we build up until we can afford the next one we want. We have two drawerfuls already, though, since we both entered the relationship with our own, and have bought more together since.

    If you have kids and/or snoopy housemates, invest in a locking box. Really.

    2. LUBE. Get lube. Try different lubes. Thick ones, thin ones, silicone-based (don’t use this with silicone toys), water-based, flavored ones if you’re into that. Astroglide is a good place to start, and is often stocked in drug stores. A few drops of lube can really get things moving, with toys or without, using hands or anything else. Sometimes, a woman doesn’t even realize she’s not as slippery as she could be. Try it with your normal activities.

    3. The corollary to hands: GLOVES. Gets some. Keep them handy. If you have rough hands or longer nails, gloves will help. (If you have really long nails, pad the fingertips with cotton balls. Old femme trick.) If you’re putting those hands other places, use gloves to maintain sanitation. If you’re inserting more fingers than you usually do, gloves can help smooth the way. And gloves can simply provide a different sensation. I like nitrile, other people like latex. Use lube with gloves.

    • Karyn

      As a quick note – make sure you or your partner don’t have a latex allergy if you’re using latex gloves for any of your play. Contact dermatitis SUCKS.

      • YES! I, in fact, DO have a latex allergy, which is why we use nitrile. Also I like the texture better.

    • Oh, right! Guys may enjoy vibes, too, more than they ever realized. A vibrating ring, or a vibe (including that Hitachi, which, btw, is not an insertable for most people) put behind the junk or trailed along the underside of the shaft, can be really good for some. Play with it! That’s why we call them toys.

  • I know this might not be the right place to put this but I have been hunting ALL OVER the site and I can’t find it…and since this is an LGBTQ topic…

    …there was a post from waaaay back where Meg quoted some language that was used on the back of a straight wedding program, explaining that marriage is a privilege not a right and saying that LGBTQ marriage not being legal all over the USA was not cool, and mentioning a donation spot, etc…

    …if one of the APW team could point me in the direction of that post that would be AWESOME.


  • bexxx

    Okay, I’m embarrassed to admit this…very embarrassed actually, but I’m so grateful for this article because as a straight woman, I always wondered what lesbians did in the bedroom. I always felt horribly misinformed but would NEVER say anything to my friends (lesbian or otherwise) like, “Hey, how do you guys do it?” Even more mortifyingly, I always assumed that it was just straight strap-ons. Clearly, my brain was not ready for “things can get people off besides going in and out.”

    But duh, just like in my relationship, things happen other than PiV (or DiV). So thanks again, and hopefully I haven’t horribly offended anyone with my ignorance.

    • Author

      Hi there. As Autumne quite rightly points out below, I don’t speak for the whole lesbian community, but I am not at all offended by this reaction to this post. I’m glad I can help answer some questions for you!

  • While I totally appreciate this post, and think the advice is stellar, I think it is important to note that there is not one singular Lesbian community. There are many types of lesbian communities, just like there are many types of heterosexual communities and well many types of all kinds of communities. Just to be clear, this post offers great advice, but it is not The Lesbian Point Of View, nor is it even the Women Who Have Sex with Women, point of view because there is not one such singular point of view.
    That being said, as a sex-positive feminist I think the more open discussions we can have about sex from the more view points the better. Also, the Whole Book of Lesbian Sex, does indeed rock and can, at least in part, apply to anyone having sex.

  • I love the Remember the Lesbians articles. Keep them coming. It’s difficult to find smart, savvy, feminist information on the web with a broad enough scope to encompass the needs of Gen Y lesbians, especially as we struggle to find our identities in all that is the wedding/wife world.

    • AK

      Love the topic of sex, love the broad perspectives of hetero-/homo-/bi-/poly- relationships.

      Do not love the title “Remember the Lesbians.” Had someone forgotten the lesbians? Makes the lesbians seem quite “other” rather than “some of us”.

      • ms_nak

        While I can see your point, I don’t think “Remember the Lesbians” is exclusionary, but rather a different perspective shared that can be beneficial to women in straight relationships as well.
        The title goes back to the original reclaiming wife post from 2010 (linked above under the graphic). The gist of the message is that because the “lesbian wife” is a relatively new thing, there aren’t yet any societal rules of how we should act, and therefore the author doesn’t have the same gut adverse reaction to the term “wife” as many straight women might. From the original post:
        “All a wife is is a female marital partner- any definition more complex than that is just somebody’s personal opinion, which you are no more obligated to follow than when they tell you what to weigh, wear, and watch. Being a wife only means that you’ve chosen someone to stand by and to stand by you, whom you love. If anyone tries to tell you differently, you just remember the lesbians. If we can do it, so can you!”

        It’s not about being forgotten, but reminding straight women when they’re down about something (like the role of wife, or in this case, having trouble in the bedroom), to think about how lesbians might handle a certain situation. We’ll show you how to throw those societal roles out the window and get yourself off with your hands!

        At least that’s how I took it :)

  • Hi Remember The Lesbians: The Sex Edition « A Practical Wedding: Blog Ideas for Unique, DIY, and Budget Wedding Planning – like it

  • Fiona

    I know this was written ages ago, but There are some GREAT tips in here. My partner and I have been struggling with balance of pleasure in a het relationship, and only recently have we gotten a lot more “handsy,” and boy, what a difference it has made!