lesbians have better sex than heterosexual women? Yes. Yes. Oh my God, yes! Women who sleep with women repeatedly report higher levels of sexual satisfaction in surveys and studies than women who have sex with men.
A Public Health England survey of more than 7,000 women last month found that half of respondents aged between 25 and 34 did not enjoy their sex life. The percentage dropped to 29% among 55- to 64-year-olds, suggesting that sex for women gets better with age.
Sue Mann, the public health consultant involved in the research, said: “Enjoying a fulfilling sex life is important for women’s mental and emotional wellbeing.” This is true, of course. Bizarrely, though, when asked about the breakdown of women’s sexualities in the study, PHE said it had not collected this information from respondents; instead, results were categorised by location, deprivation, ethnicity, religion, marital status and age.
But previous global research suggests that women who have sex with women are probably more likely to be in the half that did not report sexual dissatisfaction. A 2014 study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that lesbians orgasmed 75% of the time during sex, compared with 61% for heterosexual women. The sexual orientation of men, however, did not appear to have much effect on their rates of orgasm – gay men reported coming 85% of the time, while for heterosexual men it was 86%.
A much larger study in 2017 of 53,000 Americans by the Kinsey Instituterecorded slightly different numbers, but with the same trends. In this instance, lesbians reported coming 86% of the time during sex, as opposed to 65% for straight women. Straight men said they orgasmed 95% of the time.
So, where is lesbian sex going right for women where heterosexual sex is going wrong? “It’s simple,” says Matty Silver, a sexual health therapist based in Australia. “Lesbian women know where their clitoris is and know what to do with it to get an orgasm. They don’t need to show their lesbian partner what to do, which means their sexual satisfaction is higher.
“There are many men who believe they can give their partners an orgasm by just having intercourse,” she adds. “That only happens for 20% of all women. They often need clitoral stimulation, or oral sex, for it to happen. It is one of the reasons that many heterosexual women fake their orgasm.”
Silver says lesbian couples rarely visit her for counselling relating to sexual issues, but rather for general relationship queries, as with any couple.
Of course, anyone approaching sex for the first time will encounter a learning curve, but the anatomical familiarity of a woman sleeping with a woman rings true as integral to high levels of satisfaction.
Jessica Burgess, a 26-year-old playwright based in Brighton who has slept with men and women (and a cis man who then identified as genderqueer), says: “Women are at a huge advantage when it comes to knowing how to make other women feel good. They’ve done it before to themselves, numerous times. They know what a clit is and they have realistic expectations about how quickly women are able to reach orgasm.”
In 2008, 92% of female respondents to a survey said they masturbate – two-thirds of them up to three times a week. This is a leap from 74% in 1993 and 62% in 1953, when women were probably lying, or abiding by sexually repressive codes.
Alongside the sexologist Betty Dodson, Carlin Ross runs a feminist-centred sexual education charity with the tagline: “Better Orgasms. Better World.” Their website features tips, sex-toy reviews, workshops on overcoming negative body image and pleasure anxiety, and Betty’s sketches of the six different “vulva styles” (variations include “baroque”, “gothic”, “Renaissance” and “modern”). The key to sexual satisfaction, whether same-sex or heterosexual, is masturbation, Ross says.
“The absolute best way to improve your sex life is to improve your masturbation practice,” she says. “When we know how to give ourselves an orgasm, we know how to communicate our sexual needs to our partners. It seems counterintuitive, but improving our relationship with ourselves improves our relationships with others – and our sexual gratification.
“What this means is practising consciousness masturbation. Blocking out an hour for ourselves. Getting some good natural oil that will increase sensation. Touching our lubricated genitals and then practising clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration at the same time.”
But it is not just about getting the practice in. Jessica says that women tend to be better at listening and communicating in bed (and perhaps outside of the bedroom, too – it is not clear whether those abundant news stories about women speaking thousands more words a day than men stand up, but understanding and empathy are areas in which women excel). There is a strong emotional connection between women, too.
Alice Martin, a 20-year-old trans lesbian, says the same. “As a woman having sex with another woman, it’s a completely mind-bending experience. The mix of care, love, romance, pleasure, emotion and intensity is something that I never experienced with men.”
One of the biggest culprits for this may be the amount of pornography made for and marketed to straight men. A headline in the Daily Telegraph last year declared that “All men watch porn”, after a university study in the US. “We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography,” said Prof Simon Louis Lajeunesse at the time. “We couldn’t find any.”
According to the study, 90% of pornography consumption was online, with 10% of men going to video stores (who knew they still existed?). In 2015, more than 2bn web searches were pornography-related and pornography sites are often measured as more popular than social networks. It is not only heterosexual men who watch pornography, but the women I speak to who have slept with women and men note pornography’s negative influence in their experience of heterosexual sex. These women do not watch lesbian-categorised pornography because, leaving aside an emerging market for pornography made exclusively by women, lesbian pornography is mostly aimed at men.
Burgess does not watch pornography precisely for this reason. In fact, in real life, there is a psychological advantage that comes with same-sex activity, in that you are making an active choice to own your sexuality. Or, as Jessica puts it: “Women get the real me, and I almost always experience an honest connection that allows me to be fully present and relaxed.”
Then there is simple biology. When men ejaculate, most need to take a breather for their erection to make a comeback (this is known as the “refractory period”). On the other hand, women can orgasm in waves. The clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings – double that of the penis glans – and its sole purpose appears to be providing pleasure. Women’s orgasms last for an average of 20 seconds, while men’s last eight. The most orgasms recorded in an hour for a woman is 134 (16 for a man). This makes it especially sad that so many heterosexual women are reporting understimulating sex lives.
So, for those women who are not coming endlessly – how can they improve their sex lives, whoever they may be with? As well as Ross’s advice to masturbate a lot, the Kinsey Institute recommends more oral sex, better relationships, “sexy talk”, asking for what you want in bed and trying new positions, among other things.
Ross also recommends engaging your mind in sexual fantasies and listening to erotica podcasts. Then there is copious “cliterature” and the boom in sex toys. In 2016, the online sex toy retailer Lovehoney recorded a 68% growth in profits (it is possible there was a Fifty Shades of Grey effect).
But when it comes down to it, women have better sex with women because they understand each others’ physicality, communicate better, focus more on areas such as the clitoris – knocking penetration from its pedestal – and are more likely to focus on their partner’s pleasure. Keep at it to improve, Ross suggests: “Sex begets more sex.” And, hopefully, better sex.