HOME l ORGANIZATION l NEWS l INFO l TOPICS l RESOURCES l LINKS l INDEX
Lesbian: A woman who is romantically/sexually attracted to or involved with other women. Some women prefer the term "gay." Clinically speaking, it refers to homosexual women.
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an adjective, to describe characteristics of an object or activity related to female same-sex desire.
Lesbian as a concept, used to differentiate women with a shared sexual orientation, is a 20th-century construct. Throughout history, women have not had the freedom or independence to pursue homosexual relationships as men have, but neither have they met the harsh punishment in some societies as homosexual men. Instead, lesbian relationships have often been regarded as harmless and incomparable to heterosexual ones unless the participants attempted to assert privileges traditionally enjoyed by men. As a result, little in history has been documented to give an accurate description of how female homosexuality has been expressed. When early sexologists in the late 19th century began to categorize and describe homosexual behavior, hampered by a lack of knowledge about lesbianism or women's sexuality, they distinguished lesbians as women who did not adhere to female gender roles and designated them mentally ill.
Women in homosexual relationships responded to this designation either by hiding their personal lives or accepting the label of outcast and creating a subculture and identity that developed in Europe and the United States. Following World War II, during a period of social repression when governments actively persecuted homosexuals, women developed networks to socialize with and educate each other. Greater economic and social freedom allowed women gradually to be able to determine how they could form relationships and families. With second wave feminism and growth of scholarship in women's history and sexuality in the 20th century, the definition of lesbian broadened, sparking a debate about sexual desire as the major component to define what a lesbian is. Women generally exhibit greater sexual fluidity than men and find it easier to become physically and emotionally intimate with the same sex than men do. Some women who engage in homosexual behavior may reject the lesbian identity entirely, refusing to identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual. Other women may adopt a lesbian identity for political reasons. Greater understanding of women's sexuality has led to three components to identifying lesbians: sexual behavior, sexual desire, or sexual identity.
Portrayals of lesbians in the media suggest that Western society at large has been simultaneously intrigued and threatened by women who challenge feminine gender roles, and fascinated and appalled with women who are romantically involved with other women. Women who adopt a lesbian identity share experiences that form an outlook similar to an ethnic identity: as homosexuals, they are unified by the discrimination and potential rejection they face from their families, friends, and others. As women, they face concerns separate from men. Lesbians may encounter distinct physical or mental health concerns. Political conditions and social attitudes also affect the formation of lesbian relationships and families.
Sex & Gender Model
Center for Gender Sanity
Diagram of Sex and Gender
Wikipedia: Gender Identity
Gender Identity Development
Sexuality and Gender Identity
Famous LGBT People are Everywhere
Ten Things Lesbians Hate to Hear
Tribute to Sappho
The word "lesbian" is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos, home to the 6th-century poet Sappho (c612 BCE - c510 BCE). From various ancient writings, historians have gathered that a group of young women were left in Sappho's charge for their instruction or cultural edification. Not much of Sappho's poetry remains, but that which does reflects the topics she wrote about: women's daily lives, their relationships, and rituals. She focused on the beauty of women and proclaimed her love for girls. Before the late 19th century, the word "Lesbian" referred to any derivative or aspect of Lesbos, including a type of wine.
Sappho is the most famous female poet of antiquity, but only incomplete poems and fragments remain of her work. Most of Sappho's lyrical love poems were addressed to women. The Greek philosopher Plato called her the tenth Muse.
Facts about Sappho's life are scant. She was an aristocrat, who wrote poetry for her circle of friends, mostly but not exclusively women. She may have had a daughter. The term lesbian, her presumed sexual orientation, is derived from the name of her island home, Lesbos. The ancients had seven or nine books of her poetry. Only fragments survive; the longest is an invocation to Aphrodite asking her to help the poet in her relation with a beloved woman. Her verse is a classic example of the love lyric, and is characterized by her passionate love of women, a love of nature, a direct simplicity, and perfect control of meter.
In 1890, the term was used in a medical dictionary as an adjective to describe tribadism (as "Lesbian love"): sexual gratification of two women by simulating intercourse. "Lesbianism" to describe erotic relationships between women had been documented in 1870. The terms were interchangeable with "Sapphist" and "Sapphism" around the turn of the 20th century. The use of "Lesbian" in medical literature became prominent; by 1925, the word was recorded as a noun to mean the female equivalent of a sodomite.
Jeanne Courtney, a marriage and family therapist has this to say about lesbian relationships:
"A lot of lesbian women who wish for committed relationships have remarked, only half-joking, on the problem of "serial monogamy" in our community. Some have expressed shock when long-term couples they thought of as role models suddenly decided to call it quits. Others have felt baffled and hurt when their own relationships lost passion or came to impasses over conflicts that seemed trivial.
Living in a homophobic society means that, often, our relationships are not taken seriously. It’s hard to get the support we need to keep them healthy. We’re constantly inundated with the message that our relationships, and for that matter our lives, are doomed to fail. Even the most "out," politically aware women can internalize these messages subconsciously and continue to believe, on some level, that our relationships are neither valuable nor viable. This is why we need to fight, on a political level, to have our relationships recognized as valid -- legally, financially, socially, and spiritually."
Jeanne Courtney: Therapy for Lesbian Relationships
Just for Fun: Lesbian Relationships
First Time Sleeping With Another Woman
Psychotherapist: Lesbian Relationships
12 Totally Candid Answers to Your Questions About Lesbian Sex
Dating Problems Every Lesbian Will Recognize
Ten Tips: Lasting Lesbian Relationship
Institute for Personal Growth: Lesbian Sexuality
11 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Lesbian Sex
Yahoo: Lesbian Relationships
About: Lesbian Life
About: Lesbian Relationship Tips
Live Laugh Love Lesbians
Butch: Not a Dirty Word
Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama