These days, conversations about our bodies aren’t as taboo as they used to be. Even in conservative Asian cultures such as ours, we’ve shifted towards franker discussions of our relationship with sexuality and self. In our ‘Intimates’ series, we’d like to kickstart open conversations about the wellness of our private parts—in both the physical and psychological sense. Today, we talk about the sex lives of queer women in Singapore.
All images by Chris Sim for RICE Media
“Personally, I don’t feel shame about lesbian sex. If people are gonna talk, then there’s one answer: You’re missing out,” Rachael Se, founder and CEO of Lesbeheard, raves.
I’m sure this statement doesn’t need any fact-checking for anyone to know she’s right. But yes, the science indeed checks out. Subtract a penis, add some sex toys to the equation and the possibilities for women to attain longer, more fulfilling sex with multiple orgasms absolutely skyrockets. It’s simple math, really.
After all, who better to work their way around the female body than another woman?
“Especially if it’s a man who’s commenting, I would say the same thing, that you’re missing out. You don’t get to experience what we get to experience!”
All the Things She Said
The way we talk about sex between two women is incredibly revealing—images of ladies armed with strap-ons and even the allegedly ubiquitous concept of scissoring are what comes to mind in the mainstream subconsciousness.
But why does sex between women have to mimic heterosexual sex? Why even need a phallic object? Are we forgetting that only 25 percent of women orgasm from vaginal penetration?
While the sex toy industry, femtech in particular, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity and technological advancements, the realm of lesbian sex remains as misunderstood as the elusive female orgasm. What gives?
Rachael laments: “When I was looking at other queer platforms, they were all about having safe sex. Whereas I’m like, how are we going to have enjoyable sex?”
Funny, open, and refreshingly honest, digital platform Lesbeheard carves out an important space to answer these long-overdue questions amid wider conversations around normalising pleasure for communities it has been withheld from.
Among Lesbeheard’s most popular posts: Tips for fingering and a crash course on the differences between gender and sexual identity. While sapphic-centric, these topics extend beyond whatever arbitrary labels and boundaries to normalise the joy and fluidity of sexual pleasure for women who exist outside the margins.
Coming from a very personal place, Rachael stumbled upon the urgent need and growing appetite for representations of desire and love that have traditionally been culturally suppressed. In her public documentation of her wedding journey, she found unexpected support and encouragement in earnestly sharing attainable joy, and decided to build a community for queer women to recognise themselves in.
She emphasises the platform’s priority of learning, sharing, and exploring— like how queer sex is not a monolith. Queer women experience and express pleasure and attraction in incredibly diverse ways. For instance, Rachael herself doesn’t enjoy using dildos and other phallic toys with her partner.
“What I realised is that I do not like wearing them and I do not like them being used on me. I don’t like it at all, simply because it looks like a dick and that turns me off,” she says, preferring suction vibrators and external stimulators instead. In a culture that centres sexual conventions around PIV, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was time for dicks and dildos to be dethroned from being VIP.
The L Word
Popular portrayals of lesbian sex may also have done more damage than good. Much of mainstream media is preoccupied with pretending that women only want to bang each other for the benefit of slavering men, viewing and producing content through the male gaze.
Over the past Christmas, I had bought my friends—a lesbian couple—a beginner’s strap-on as a cheeky little gift. After a couple of late-night hotel rendezvous, they gave me their official review: “Fun, but definitely different!”
“I think in porn, the penis is seen as a symbol of power. The strap-on felt like a foreign object that was not part of my body and I was worried of feeling inadequate by centering sex with this outside object,” says Jamie*.
Although pornography is where most of the women first encounter the use of sex toys, it blurs the line between fetish and reality — and there have been palpable consequences to this.
“A lot of lesbian porn is made by straight men for straight men, and not at all queer! It really just stems from people’s obsession with penises and how sex is only considered valid with male penetration.”
A 2019 campaign led by French activist group SEOlesbienne brought something we all kind of suspected to the surface. While Google searches for “gay” and “trans” brought up educational and informative results like news articles and Wikipedia pages, a similar search for “lesbian” was met with pornographic content.
The message this sends is loud and clear: the mainstream sees queer women as objects of fetishisation, and lesbians are only defined by the pleasure men derive from them.
Jamie’s partner, Dani*, elaborates: “Nowadays, queerness, especially female queerness, is policed, yet fetishised and commodified. Brands use it as a marketing tactic to sell their products while anti-LGBTQ laws still exist.”
She’s quick to double-down on this unwelcomed watering down of queer expression and sexuality, though. As dominant narratives control what and how queer sex is supposed to look like, she speaks enthusiastically of an unabashed community that is always willing to experiment with toys and kinks.
“If my existence is political, then my happy existence would cause quite a stir.”
Toys Beyond Pleasure
While pleasure comes easy with the inclusion of popular go-to toys like vibrators and clit stimulators, the addition of a partner often proves to have a learning curve, even if they share the same parts.
Natalia, who produces and manages content at Lesbeheard, has had her fair share of experimentation. Apart from the usual suspects, she has toyed with the addition of nipple stimulators, butt plugs, handcuffs, and leg and arm restraints.
Sex toys, as varied as they are, may even create a shared experience that transcends beyond mere physical pleasure.
For her, the strapless strap-on—a hands-free dildo with added shaft—stands out in her arsenal of toys. With its capacity for double penetration, she expresses that it plays a big role in validating and affirming her non-binary partner’s gender and sexual identity.
“We like how the strapless strap-on allows both of us to receive pleasure during penetration, rather than just whoever is being penetrated. Along with the fact that it helps a lot with my partner’s gender dysphoria and makes them more comfortable and confident in their own skin, I’d say that it has improved our sex life significantly since we started incorporating it!”
This wealth of experience informs her approach to sex and sexuality. Incorporating sex toys have allowed for effective communication between her and her partner, leading to a better understanding of individual boundaries, security in their bodies, greater trust and intimacy. And, of course, way better sex.
While she is unfazed by harmful perceptions of lesbian sex, choosing to focus on individual intimacy and connection, she recognises how casual misconceptions might affect more vulnerable queer women.
“I think that the lack of a reproductive element does undercut the legitimacy of lesbian sex. It’s not uncommon to hear people expressing that females can only be friends, because there is no reproduction and no ‘penetrator’ in such a union. I have also heard stories where the male partner is okay for his girlfriend to sleep with other girls but not other men.”
She points to a lack of educational outlets specifically for queer women: “Not a lot of queer females use finger condoms or oral dams, mainly because it’s not as well known. This isn’t as much of a problem in heterosexual relationships—condoms are easily available almost anywhere.”
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Woolf?
Overwhelmingly, the women I’ve spoken to all agree that there is an urgent need to shift the way we talk about queer sex and toys, focusing on stories of unapologetic, defiant queer women instead.
As sappy and much-needed stories of the stigmas, shame, and misconceptions of queer sex dominate the popular narrative, each of them has actively worked towards dismantling and orienting conversations towards the celebration of queer sex and sexuality.
“The more we talk about the negatives, the more we are not going to evolve because we are still putting the message out there,” says Rachael.
She points out—and rightfully so—that even our conversation has inadvertently geared towards such shortcomings.
“When we are talking about sex, it shouldn’t be so much about the misconceptions and shame. Because everytime we bring that up, people are going to associate themselves with it even if the answers are positive.”
Citing last year’s viral homophobic incident at local eatery, Smol, Rachael elaborates that she would rather focus on the unprecedented widespread coverage that the LGBTQ+ community received in local media.
“We’re getting featured on the news! This is such a huge thing.”
To her, the negative angle that seemed to have permeated discourse around it was merely secondary.
Natalia agrees: “Being open about sex especially is already difficult for most, what more the usage of sex toys.”
As more inclusive queer-oriented platforms start popping up on social media—Prout, Sex Ed Gay, The Bi+ Collective, just to name a few—gaps in our culture and education are slowly being filled from the people themselves. Celebration and inspiration are on track in inching closer to the norm, a long-overdue goalpost suitably set for and by queer folks.
“Most narratives always talk about the traumatic aspects of being queer, and tend to invite pity. Even the most common themes queer movies are forbidden love and sadness,” Jamie ponders.
“I really think portraying queer joy is a much more radical act.”
Sex toys are just one of many means in the process of queer and lesbian women reclaiming their sexuality with autonomy and pleasure. Existing as queer women who take fierce joy in the pleasure of sex, even if it may make others uncomfortable, is subversive and important.
Revealing and revelling in realms of life supposedly forbidden to them, brazen displays of sexuality on their own terms—and all its (t)horniness—serves as a powerful counteract against unwarranted scrutiny of queer and marginalised women’s bodies. Cue the neverending kink at Pride discourse.
But beyond the politics and scrutiny that has been cast on lesbian sex, they just want to bring back the fun of it all… and let all of you know you’re sorely missing out.
“Sex toys allows me to express my sexuality in the way that I want to at that moment in my life,” says Natalia.
Her advice to queer couples looking to experiment with toys in the bedroom is simple: “Talk, communicate about what excites you and what you feel comfortable with! All your preferences are valid! Oh, and something more practical, don’t buy sex toys of dubious origin just because they’re cheap.”
I end by asking Rachael what her most memorable experience of using a sex toy with her partner is. She replies without hesitation.
“The ability to cum really quickly and many times. Men can’t do that.”