Love & Sex

Busting Sex Myths: Is Scissoring Really a Thing?

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In an episode from season two of Orange is the New Black, a scene opens with two characters performing a stereotypical lesbian sex act – scissoring. Sitting up and facing one another on a bed, legs intertwined, they grind and moan. Every so often, they adjust; “No, wait, like that…” After a few moments, they collapse in laughter.

One says, “I told you scissoring isn’t a thing!”

As a queer woman, I noticed right away that the show’s writers were using an in-joke about lesbian sex to have it both ways. Viewers who love to see two naked actresses grind up on each other get that titillation, while the show’s queer audience gets a winking acknowledgement of the ways television is always getting our sex lives wrong.

I appreciated the joke, but it also filled me with a familiar sadness. I am here to tell you that scissoring is most definitely a thing – an erotic, full-bodied, multi-orgasmic thing, and one of my personal favorite sex acts. Somewhat counter-intuitively, my opinion is extremely unpopular among some sex-positive queer communities. I am in so many social situations where scissoring is being ridiculed that I usually don’t even bother to defend it.

So what is scissoring exactly? Take two pairs of ordinary scissors, open them up, and press them together at the joint as if you’re making two Barbies “have sex.” Now, imagine those shears are legs, and the joints are a couple of vulvas.

Two women – or trans or genderqueer folks with the corresponding equipment – can and do get dirty this way. They can press and rub their genitals together. It’s basically like intercourse without the “inter” part. Some get off from the friction or wetness, and some people just enjoy the intimacy or naughtiness.

I love scissoring because it’s a huge turn-on to be so up close and personal with my partner. When I am topping with a strap on, I really get off on grinding my hips, feeling powerful and in control of my partner’s pleasure. It’s a more tactile and psychological kind of arousal, and less genitally focused. Personally, I am not always in the mood to be penetrated – but I’m always in the mood for naked kissing, groping, dirty talk, and intimacy. Scissoring satisfies all of those needs.

Granted, I do understand the reasons that so many gay women treat the subject of scissoring with disdain. If you don’t understand lesbian sex (which many people do not), and you don’t have a lot of imagination (ditto), you might imagine that two ladies would get it on in a style that mimics heterosexual sex. In reality, not everyone’s body is built to grind in that way, and many women prefer to be penetrated with hands or toys, or more directly clitorally stimulated.

For a voyeur who is attracted to the female form, two women rubbing against one another is a very pleasing thing to watch. Many people see this as the only point of of scissoring – to put on a show for the male gaze. But with scissoring, there is plenty to enjoy about rubbing up against someone besides optimal positioning for getting the penis in the vagina.

“If there wasn’t a camera here and I was making love to you, this is what we would do and this is how we would do it.”

If you want some examples of queer women expressing disgust for scissoring, have a look at the pushback to the French lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color. The cinematic merits of this film are diminished by the tired male gaze pushed upon the sex scenes between its two female protagonists.Shortly after its release in November of 2013, queer poet Eileen Myles unleashed a hilarious series of tweets condemning the film:

“They never fuck. Lots of open mouth heavy breathing, much scissoring.”

“Watching this movie at a gay film festival in Belfast all the lesbians I was with couldn’t watch the sex scenes. One was napping.”

In a Posture Magazine clip entitled “Lesbians React to Sex Scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color,” one leather jacket-clad queer woman goes so far as to quip that scissoring has “never happened once in human history.”

I am also totally sick of heterosexuals producing media about queer lives and queer sex using their own fantasies as reference. What I don’t understand is why we have to hate on one kind of sex because we’re frustrated there is not a broad enough representation? Why do we have to deny one kind of sex to prove the existence of another?

If a sex act has happened in human history, you’ll find it in porn. I discovered that there is an entire pornographic genre called “tribbing,” or “tribadism” (“tribas” being the Ancient Greek word for lesbian).

Porn star Sinn Sage has been referred to as “the adult industry’s resident tribbing aficionado,” and is the star of such films as “Lesbian Adventures: Wet Panties Trip 6: White Cotton Panties” and “Girls Tribbing Girls: Big Round Bottoms.” In her sex scenes, she and the other actress make out and go down on each other as foreplay for long sensual scenes of tribbing in every position imaginable: missionary, reverse cowgirl, piledriver.

I became completely hypnotized by a GIF of Sage gyrating on top of another woman, her back muscles undulating, her ass gleaming with sweat. The purpose of porn, of course, is to entertain and arouse the audience, but it seems clear that Sage revels in her career as a tribber.

“I guess it’s just the style and intensity with which I do it,” she told me, when I asked her how she became so well known for this particular sex act. “ I love to be face to face with my partner, grinding into her, looking at her, kissing her leg, touching her chest.”

Sage is quick to differentiate between scissoring and tribbing. Scissoring, she says, is the position where two women are on their backs facing each other with legs intertwined. The perfect position for the voyeur to see faces, breasts, and vaginas, Sage says, but “very disconnected, uncomfortable, and awkward.”

Tribbing is more about grinding vulvas together. For that she prefers to be on top and in control; “because I know how to make it work right. For me, the position isn’t right unless our pussies are touching. I want to feel it and get off on my partner’s pussy.”

Sage says that most of her fan mail comes from women praising her for depicting sex the way they actually do it, and for giving them examples of different tribbing positions and techniques.

Of tribbing with certain costars like Lily Labeau and Ela Darling, she says, “I can just tell we’re having this genuine moment with each other. ‘I can feel your body, I can see it in your eyes. If there wasn’t a camera here and I was making love to you, this is what we would do and this is how we would do it.’”

She also differentiates between “lesbian porn” and “girl-girl” porn. Girl-Girl porn is more designed for the voyeur. Lesbian porn is about women having sex with each other. By this definition, you’re more likely to see scissoring in girl-girl scenes, and tribbing in lesbian scenes.

So maybe it’s true; maybe scissoring is only really a thing for certain porn directors and certain French filmmakers who like to see two naked women being sexy. I’m not wild about the prospect of sending my date a text that says, “Trib tonight?” However, I am definitely excited that queer people can find ways to differentiate the sex that we do have from the clueless fantasies of mainstream media. Maybe when it comes to women having sex, the passion and intimacy of tribbing is what we’re really after.