Same-sex relationships between women aren’t new. More than a century ago, before same-sex marriage was ever considered, intense and romantic friendships among women were common. Although little was said of the exact nature of these connections, romantic friendships, sentimental friends, or Boston Marriages, as they came to be called, described the love relationships women shared. Though they couldn’t commit to one another legally, they combined households, lived together, and supported one another in committed bonds.
Society appeared to condone these relationships as long as a woman didn’t dress in masculine attire. If women dressed in womanly clothes, the assumption was that they were not sexually aggressive, and two unaggressive females together would not violate men’s assumed property rights to women’s bodies.
Leading clandestine lives
While there have always been secreted clusters of lesbians, many who were partnered kept their personal lives private. The idea of women with women was not only taboo to men but, as late as the 1990s, to many women as well. When the first edition of my book, Married Women Who Love Women, came out in 1998, women discretely purchased copies and hid them under their jackets or changed the book covers so no one would see what they were reading. One woman told me that she bought several copies because, not wanting anyone to find it after she read it, she threw it away. And then she wanted to read it again, and again.
More open, same-sex relationships
We have come a long way since then. So much has come to light about same-sex relationships among celebrities, and lesbianism in general, that it is no longer a conversation to be avoided. Women, who may have preferred being with women, but who had hidden their desires, began to come out. Those who considered themselves heterosexual for most of their lives are becoming more aware that they have other options besides the traditional male/female relationship. Many women are also coming out later in life. Busy being wives and mothers, they had little time to think about themselves until their children were off to college or out on their own. Others said that once their biological urge to have children had been satisfied, they simply discovered, often to their own surprise, that they preferred being with individuals of their own sex.
Breaking away from accepted stereotypical behavior
For some women, the idea of breaking away from the more accepted male/female relationship was terrifying. I was doing a workshop on writing and referred to the format of my book Married Women Who Love Women. One attendee stood up, said, “I think that the whole thing is disgusting,” and stormed out of the room. Three years later, I was doing the workshop again. A woman came over to me and said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I was the woman who ran out of your class a few years ago. I just wanted to tell you that I’m living with another woman now.”
Don’t take it personally
If you say something, the way a person reacts to it says more about who she is than about you. It wasn’t the idea of my book, or who I was, that frightened this woman; it was her own reaction to it.
Turning to women
Women understand each other and care about the same things. We don’t need our feelings explained for us to know why we feel what we are. We are physically comfortable with one another, touching, hugging, walking with linked arms. In “women-only spaces,” our energies rise. Whether in school, at a gym, or at a conference, there is no feeling of being judged. We feel free to let our hair down, to let our inner child come forth. So it isn’t a huge leap for best friends to move to a sexual relationship.
The sexual part of same sex relationships
Although same-sex relationships are about more than the physical, sex is obviously an important aspect. I attended a panel discussion aimed at helping straight women understand their lesbian sisters. I asked this group how many actually felt skyrockets going off the first time they were with their significant other. Less than a dozen hands went up in a room of about 80. Later, one woman approached me timidly and said, “I think I felt it with my third husband.”
The following week I attended a lesbian discussion group and asked the same question. Almost every hand went up. That was not a surprising find.
Lesbian tend to have better sex
When asked to rate their sexual satisfaction and how often they had an orgasm, in study after study, women who identify as lesbian consistently rate higher than straight women. Women are generally more patient. They don’t see sex as a race to the finish. And they know that the best orgasms come from stimulation and not penetration. Sex is connecting in a physically pleasurable way, and it doesn’t have to end in intercourse. Physical intimacy between women, outside a sexual scenario, is normal. Conversation can be a form of foreplay. Cuddling can be another. But when women come together, open communication, tenderness, and nurturing, become a part of the intimate life that continues into the bedroom. Each knows what makes her feel good, and therefore, what would make her partner feel good.
Although sex is an integral part of most same-sex partnerships, most of the lesbian-identified women I interviewed said they connected with their significant other emotionally first, and then sexually. And why wouldn’t they? Women’s feelings for others of the same gender are natural.