The oversexualization of lesbians

The oversexualization of lesbianism

Let’s dive into the most over-sexualized relationship status on the planet – lesbianism.

When we hear the term sexuality, we are blatantly aware of the key word (poorly) disguised within – “sex”. A small word with a powerful punch, sex incites images of nakedness, promiscuity and passionate embraces.

On the flip side, the suffix "ality" indicates "having the properties of".

Sexuality – having the properties of sex; the capacity for sexual feelings.

There’s something inherently wrong with this definition. As a gay woman, I feel this fault of our language on a regular basis. I feel it when people stare at my fingers entwined with my wife’s. I feel it when we meet people, as a couple, for the first time. I feel it when I see actresses playing the role of “the nondescript quintessential lesbian”. I feel it every time I hear the phrase “girl-on-girl”. I feel it when I’m asked, by complete strangers, how we plan to have children. I feel, on a regular basis, that my sexuality is inciting images of nakedness, promiscuity and passionate embraces in the minds of others.

Maybe this is presumptive of me. In fairness, not everyone is guilty of oversexualizing, and certainly no one in particular is responsible for this phenomenon. But I can’t help but notice that “back when I was straight”, I rarely considered my sexuality – and I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual people never do. Why would they? They’re the majority. They’re the “normal” ones. Meanwhile, lesbians are held on the pedestal of sexual fantasies. They’re glorified in the media and oversexualised to such an extreme that when you search the term “lesbian”, you’re bombarded by images of women with their tongues down each other’s throats — a poor representation of the multifaceted lesbian relationship.

In a brilliant article, writer Marissa Higgins says that “[t]he sexualization of lesbians verges on being a cultural phenomenon. Perhaps it is society’s glorification of the penis and masculinity in sex that causes people, both heterosexual and within the queer community, to marvel over what two women can possibly do in the bedroom.” Marissa – I couldn’t have said it better myself.

While it might not be the ultimate solution, maybe it makes sense to solve this ever-present issue simply by normalizing lesbianism. Maybe the answer to the problem of over-sexualisation of the lesbian sexuality is to make it commonplace – to make it less exciting and more blasé.

That’s where this article comes in. It might not be enough to change the stereotypes, but at least it’ll shed some light on the truth behind lesbianism.

1. It’s not all about pillow fights and scissoring.

Full disclosure: I had to google what “scissoring” was for the purpose of this article. Because, believe it or not – and I can’t stress this enough – knowing how to scissor, or even having the slightest inkling of what it is, is not a prerequisite to becoming a lesbian.

A survey conducted by AutoStraddle in 2015, aptly named “The Ultimate Lesbian Sex Survey”, revealed that only 40.7% of lesbians say that scissoring is a regular part of their sex lives. So it’s not just me. But, just like all straight couples have different preferences – some women do scissor. And it’s just about as glamorous as any other (slightly awkward and uncomfortable) sexual position. In other words, it’s not Hollywood. Noises are not edited out and clumsiness is not cut. It is what it is.

As for pillow fights… does anyone really do that? Maybe. But if they do, it’s a legitimate and very serious battle in which the winner doesn’t have to do the dishes for the rest of the month and the loser winds up with her head between her knees nursing a bloody nose.

Being gay isn’t just about what happens in the bedroom. It isn’t just about sexual positions. It isn’t just about consummating passion or fulfilling a fantasy. It’s about love. It’s about understanding. It’s about emotional connections. It’s about the good and bad parts of a relationship that all couples experience.

2. Lesbians aren’t just best friends who kiss and stuff.

While television has done a wonderful job of making it seem that lesbian “experiences” are the result of two best friends who wind up having feelings for one another, it doesn’t exactly work like that. Maybe sometimes it does, just like sometimes a man and a woman fall in love after being friends first. But for the most part, being in a relationship with a woman is very different than being her best friend who also likes to kiss her.

When I first met my wife, I didn’t want to be her friend. We didn’t hang out, drink one too many shots, and drunkenly decide to “experiment”. Maybe that’s how it happens in fictional towns on Netflix, but in real life, here’s how it worked:

I met my wife and thought she was beautiful. Not “wow that girl is pretty, I wish I could be her”… more like, “wow that girl is pretty, I wish I could date her…” See the difference? It really is as simple as that.

Fast forward three years, and yes, my wife is my best friend in the whole world. But, unlike best friends, we don’t sit around and gossip. Okay… yes we do. But we also talk about whose turn it is to vacuum and whether we have enough money to buy a new cutting board and when we’re going to have children. We argue and accuse each other of checking out other people and squabble about who ate the last piece of bread. We apologize and we forgive and we miss each other the second the other walks out the door. We have a layered, loving relationship that runs so much deeper than friendship with benefits. And, just like all couples, sometimes we’re too tired to kiss and stuff.

3. We don’t think about being lesbians.

When I first realized that I was attracted to women, I thought about it a lot. Much of my mental faculties for three months were dedicated to pondering the fact that I was attracted to women. Now? It doesn’t really cross my mind.

I think people think that because we’re “different”, we must focus on that a lot. But the thing is… we’re not really different. Not at all. That’s the overarching point I’m trying to make here. We eat the same foods and drive on the same roads and shop at the same stores as everyone else. It feels ridiculous even writing that because it’s so obvious, but if it was really that obvious then people wouldn’t stare at us. And that, I think, is why people think we think about it. When people see me holding my wife’s hand, they think about it. They think, “I wonder what it’s like to be a lesbian…” and “that must be weird…” but it’s not! It’s not weird and we don’t think about it. Do you sit around at home thinking, “I’m straight…. Hmmm…”

No. Because that, my friends, would be weird.

4. Hating men isn’t a requirement of being a lesbian.

I was engaged to a man before I met my wife. Sometimes when I walk down the street I pass men and I think they smell good. My wife has admitted to being attracted to strong male legs. When we have children, we know we want their uncles do be a big part of their lives and teach them things that we don’t particularly want to, like how to hang pictures. Call me sexist, but it’s a horrible job that I’d be happy handing off to my brother for the rest of my life.

I’m sure some lesbians hate men. It takes all kinds. But, if she does, it’s not directly related to the fact that she’s a lesbian. There’s this stereotype that lesbians have “Daddy” issues – that they resorted to liking women because they were traumatized by men in the past and no longer want anything to do with them. Well, I’m calling bullshit. Admittedly, I’m not close to my Father. But I still think men are great, as a whole. Is it really that impossible to believe that there’s no reason that I’m a lesbian other than the fact that I love women? Does there need to be a specific motive for my choice? No. Men are great. Women are great. I’m in love with a woman, but I don’t hate anyone.

5. First and foremost, we’re women.

Lesbians aren’t lesbians. We aren’t defined – or shouldn’t be, anyway – by our sexual preferences. Yes, we like women, but we also like getting our hair cut and buying cute new summer outfits and hanging out with the girls. We crave chocolate when we’re on our periods and we get self-conscious and we worry about our weight and we like to dance to our favourite songs. We melt when we see babies and we get patronized by our bosses and one day, on Mother’s Day, we will make our children bring us breakfast in bed. When we sign forms, we don’t check “lesbian”. We check “female”.

Sometimes ignorant people makes jokes that make lesbians out to be somewhere in between male and female. We’re butchy or we’re confused or we’re masculine. But those people couldn’t be more wrong.

We are women. First and foremost, we are women.

I’m lucky enough to live in a city, as part of a generation, that is enlightened and loving and accepting. But, as a said – I’m lucky. Many people can’t say that. Many women are subject to discrimination and mocking and ignorance every single day. Many girls live their whole lives hiding who they truly are because they exist in a society or a family that doesn’t understand lesbianism. They’re taught that it’s wrong. That it’s only meant for pornography, not for real life.

But we need to break down those walls. Those looming obstacles that prevent people, even the progressive ones, from viewing lesbianism as a normalcy. I should never have to correct people when they automatically refer to my husband. Instead, as a society, we should stop assuming, and start referring to people’s “spouses”. I should never have to hear people say, “oh, okay, that’s cool,” when I introduce my wife. Instead, as a society, we should start introducing ourselves as we would if we were meeting anyone, regardless of their sexuality. I should not see images of two half-naked women passionately kissing when I Google “lesbians”. Instead, as a society, we should stop viewing lesbians as two women who have sex, and start viewing lesbians as two women who are in a multifaceted, adult relationship deserving of equal rights and respect.

Last but not least, I should not have to write an article to help people understand what it’s like to be in a lesbian relationship. Because it’s the same as every other relationship. It’s not all about sex. It’s not like it is on TV. It’s real. It’s hard, at times. And it’s fantastic, because it’s love.

And love is love.

Emily WatsonComment