Most of us learn about sex through a heterosexual lens, one that revolves around a penis entering a vagina. If you’ve ever wondered how lesbians have sex, the first thing you need to do is throw any preconceived notions out the window.
“What society makes up about lesbian sex is rarely how it’s actualized,” Shelby Sells, certified sex and life coach and resident sex expert at WOO More Play, tells Health. Basically, lesbian sex doesn’t really differ all that much from sex between two heterosexual people—at least not in the ways that matter.
It’s important to understand that lesbian sex doesn’t necessarily happen between two cisgender women who identify as lesbians. In fact, “lesbian sex” is considered by some to be an outdated term for sex between two female-identified people, which could be two cis-women, one cis-woman and one trans woman, or two trans women.
“All of this (and more) is ‘lesbian’ sex,” certified sex coach, sexologist, and SKYN sex and intimacy expert Gigi Engle tells Health. “There is gray area here and a lot of debate is still in flux around these issues.” Still, she acknowledges that there’s an argument to be made that lesbian sex is only lesbian sex if it’s between two people who consider themselves lesbians.
Sells adds that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, and what is most important is the intention behind the sexual connection, not the gender or sex you were assigned at birth. “It is possible to identify as a woman and not have a vagina,” she says. “Our genitalia does not define or confine us to our identities. Sex between two women, womxn, or femmes can look a variety of different ways.”
Many people view lesbian sex the way it’s been manufactured by the mainstream porn industry. “I feel that most lesbian sex has been marketed and consumed through the lens of the male gaze, which ends up looking like two women scissoring [when a woman rubs her vulva against another woman’s body for sexual stimulation],” Sells says. Yes, some people enjoy this, but others don’t get any pleasure from it.
“Another myth is that there are always ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ gender roles in a lesbian relationship (i.e. a butch and a femme),” Sells says. Some people believe that one person has to take the role of “the man” in sexual activity, doing all the penetration while the other person receives. Again, this is the preference for some couples, but definitely not all of them.
Some people also dismiss lesbian sex as not “real” sex because they don’t think penetration is possible. First of all, penetration is not required for sex to be “real,” whatever that means. Second, sex between two women can certainly involve vaginal and/or anal penetration: with fingers, tongues, vibrators, and other types of sex toys, like a strap-on.
Of course, everyone prefers a different type of touch and stimulation, and lesbian sex encompasses an enormous range of possibilities. Some partners enjoy deep kissing and cuddling, others pleasure each other via oral sex using tongues, mouths, and lips. Again, lesbian sex can be about penetration.
Other things that may be part of lesbian sex include fingering, clitoral play, anal play, fisting, breast and nipple play, using sex toys, and genital rubbing.
Some people experiment with bondage and domination as well as positions that require a lot of flexibility, such as scissoring or 69. Lesbian sex can be rough and fast-paced or slow and soft. There’s a huge variety of styles and moves, and every couple can do it and define it in any way they want.
The best tip is to ask your partner what feels good for them. “If they aren’t sure, ask if they’re open to exploring pleasure mapping with you,” Sells suggests. (This is when you spend time exploring the “pleasure spots” of both your bodies to find out where—and how—you like to be touched.) “It’s better to communicate than to assume,” she says. “One technique does not fit all!”
But when in doubt, the clitoris is the center of everything. “The clitoris is the center of the female orgasm,” Engle explains. “The vast majority of female orgasms are clitoris-based in some fashion. The external clitoral glans—that little nubbin you see at the top of the labia—has more than 8,000 nerve endings.”
Remember that people find pleasure in different ways (and places!), so try to keep an open mind. “Creating an environment that is safe and comfortable allows so much space for sexual exploration and possibility,” Sells says.
This goes for any first sexual experience, whatever body parts are—or aren’t—involved. “Be sure to ask for consent before you touch, lick, stick, spit, bite, or suck on anything,” Sells says.
This ticks another important box. “Communication is key and it’s also very sexy,” she adds. So take the time to ask your sexual partner what feels good for them, and show them what feels good for you.
The one risk to know about is the same risk that affects sex between heterosexual partners as well: STIs. Lesbian sex can transmit STIs either though skin-on-skin contact (HPV, herpes) or by sharing body fluids (chlamydia and gonorrhea, among others), even if there’s no penis in the picture.
Because HPV is possible, it’s important to get regular Pap tests and/or the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV.
You’ve probably heard about a sex position called “scissoring” that is pretty much what it sounds like: two people arrange their bodies like a pair of scissors so their genitals are touching in a sexually pleasurable way.
Scissoring is typically associated with lesbian couples, though any two people can scissor and customize the position in any way they want. To find out more about scissoring, we spoke to experts who explained why scissoring feels good, who can scissor, how to get into the position, and more.
One reason scissoring feels so good for many people has to do with the closeness of their bodies and genitals. The feel of your thighs moving against your partner’s body is warm and exciting. Even though it doesn’t usually involve penetration, scissoring offers an intimacy that more traditional sex positions don’t always have.
Rubbing genitals is also pleasurable in itself. When two women do it, this genital-to-genital rubbing falls under the definition of tribbing. “Tribbing occurs when a woman engages in genital stimulation with her partner by rubbing or humping their vulva against some part of a partner’s body,”
Michele O’Mara, LCSW, PhD, a lesbian couples coach and relationship and sex psychotherapist in Indiana, tells Health. Tribbing can be vulva to thigh, elbow, kneecap, or elsewhere. Scissoring is a form of tribbing because it’s “vulva-to-vulva or clitoris-to-clitoris stimulation,” says O’Mara.
“The act of rubbing one’s vulva on an object, body part, or another vulva is often pleasurable, as it generally includes the clitoris receiving stimulation,” sex therapist and psychologist Christina Nelsen, co-owner at California Relationship Centers, LLC in the San Francisco Bay area, tells Health. Many people also reach orgasm this way, says Nelson
Though scissoring is associated with lesbian sex and is also seen in pornography geared toward men, anyone of any sexual identity or pairing can scissor. Whether it’s vulva-to-vulva, vulva-to-penis, or penis-to-penis, it’s still scissoring. You actually don’t need to have a partner to scissor; simply use a pillow or other object and make the same rubbing or humping movements. If it looks like something that will feel good, or you try it and realize you like it, it’s up for grabs for everyone.
Start by reclining on the bed or floor and inching your bodies closer together, so you literally come together like a pair of scissors. It might help to do some stretches first, since scissoring can often require a little flexibility. Once you’re in a scissor formation, adjust yourselves so you feel comfortable.
One way to try it is to sit up partially with your palms flat and supporting your body weight. You could also get into more of a sitting position, with one partner on top of the other; this is especially intimate because you can look at each other and connect at the eyes.
You could even scissor with your faces in opposite directions and your legs wide open, which would allow for more vigorous rubbing or humping. Whatever feels good is the right way.
If full-on scissoring is too vigorous or tires you out, try tribbing—rubbing your genitals against another body part of your partner (or vice versa). It’s less physically demanding, and you’ll have your hands free to stimulate other body parts, and in some instances it can feel more personal.
“Depending on your tribbing position, you can also maintain close contact with one another’s face and body, which allows for kissing and can otherwise enhance intimacy,” says O’Mara.
Whether you’re engaging in scissoring or tribbing, feel free to bring in sex toys (like a thigh harness), says Nelsen. If you want to use a vibrator, you can place it between your bodies for more clitoral stimulation, suggests O’Mara.