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English 212
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

How a Lesbian Compensates and Why

Sarah Mendell

At the start of every academic year, the Rainbow Alliance of Bryn Mawr College orchestrates an orientation for the freshman class to introduce them to the diverse sexual nature of the community. This September, I volunteered to help run one of the meetings that take place in each of the college's dormitories which is to say that I essentially facilitated a conversation to do with sexual orientations and their existence on campus. Toward the end of the evening, I passed out pieces of paper and asked that everyone write down any questions they might still have. Four identical questions were returned to me and all were phrased identically as follows:
"How do lesbians have sex?"
This question did not surprise me to say the least. I was told that it comes up every year and that it is up to the individual leader to decide whether she feels comfortable enough answering it. What I was not prepared for, however, was the language used to ask the question for to me it seemed as if what they were really asking was, "How is it possible for homosexuals to have sexual intercourse?" to which I would have to reply that, indeed, it is it not possible. Assumed in the question and thus in the answer is the heterosexual connotation of the phrase "to have sex," or slang for "to have sexual intercourse," defined as the insertion of the penis into the vagina. Since there is no penis involved in a lesbian sexual circumstance, it seems that "sex", strictly defined, cannot apply to them.
It is not that a sexual act does not exist but that the appropriate language to describe that act does not exist. Because a universally accepted non-heterosexual definition of sex does not exist, labeling of an act that most closely resembles what we currently define as sex is up for individual interpretation. My interpretation that I shared with the group labels lesbian sex as something that may be pinpointed in time as a result of a certain feeling rather than a specific physical act. For instance, giving a woman oral sex during a one night stand I would not define as "sex" though I would describe the seemingly less intimate act of manual sex as "sex" if it were done with a more long-term partner I cared about. Though this definition may certainly be disagreed with, I find that the language used by the lesbian community (or any woman describing a homosexual experience she has had) to describe homosexual sex, supports its truth; it incorporates the emotional to compensate for what an unconsciously homophobic heterosexually dominated population considers a deficiency in the physical.
My rather insecure ex-girlfriend who thought for the majority of our relationship that I would leave her for a man once asked me while we were together whether I considered myself a virgin after having been with her (I was a heterosexual virgin before I met her). I told her that no matter what I labeled our sexual acts, or myself as a product of those acts, the nights spent with her were more sexual than any I had ever experienced, imagined or could imagine in the future. I fumbled for words to describe what I was feeling, namely that there was some feeling that existed between us that was more than physical but that served to heighten the physicality. I used the word "intensity" a lot and discussed our "connection" as being beyond one I could imagine with a man.
My words were honest but I have heard them repeated to me by many lesbians referring to their own sexual experiences. One of them described her night with a woman as "Beautiful...We were friends before who had reached a sort of pinnacle in our relationship so that when we slept together it was as if the emotion burst and spilled over into a whole new dimension of feeling." Another cited her experiences as ones that could never be reenacted with a man because of "A lack of emotional intimacy that cannot be described in a word but that every woman knows exists between her and another woman." The point to be taken from these pieces of conversation is not the superiority of one sexual orientation over another but the way emotion is or at least attempted to be incorporated while describing a physical act. The fact that often no words exist to appropriately describe a homosexual or heterosexual act is remedied for a lesbian by describing how it is not heterosexual but by using heterosexual language. For example, lesbians may speak of a man's tendency to want to "fuck and run" in order to describe as exactly opposite a woman's tendency to take sex seriously. (I know these are generalizations but I am using what I have heard in conversation as an example of honest lesbian dialogue.) That one must be used in order to describe the other, further proves that a heterosexual language exists while a homosexual one does not.
The fact that we are forced to use heterosexual language to talk about homosexual sex which inevitably results in an admittance that "sex" is not possible is demeaning and does not take into account how fulfilling a lesbian sexual experience can be therefore proving the underlying homophobia of a society that does not allow for an accurate description of a way of life for a growing population. The fact is lesbians will never be able "to have sex" as it is defined heterosexually and they should not want to label a certain act they can perform as an equivalent. If being able to say that we, as lesbians, are able to "have sex" just like our heterosexual counterparts is so important a liberty, then the definition must be expanded to include all sexual orientations. More significant though, I remember saying to the group, would be a lesbian's rejection of needing to define her actions in heterosexual terms. The time has come to develop an entirely new vocabulary.

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