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This article is about homosexual women, not inhabitants of Lesbos

A lesbian (lowercase l) is a homosexual woman. Lesbians prefer romantic and sexual relationships with other women.

Table of contents
1 Etymology
2 Lesbianism and its relationship to feminism
3 Children
4 The law
5 Lesbian sex
6 Media attention
7 Pornography and male preconceptions about lesbians
8 Attitudes of heterosexual women to lesbianism
9 See also
10 External links


The word "lesbian" originally referred to an inhabitant of the island of Lesbos, in ancient Greece. The term has come to have its current meaning due to the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho, who lived on the island; some of her poems concerned love between women. Whether Sappho was herself a lesbian, in the modern meaning of the term, or simply a poet who described lesbians, is open to question; whilst she did indeed write poems about love between women, there is some dispute as to just how far to interpret her writings in this fashion. This association with Sappho led to the term sapphism being used as another term for lesbianism.

Many terms have been used to describe lesbianism over the past 200 years, such as amor lesbicus, urningism, sapphism, tribadism, and others.

Lesbianism and its relationship to feminism

In relation to feminism, and arising in relation to the Radical feminism movement, lesbian separatism became popular: groups of lesbian women coming together and living in communal societies together. Some lesbian women found this sort of society to be liberating; however others, such as Kathy Rudy, in Radical Feminism, Lesbian Separatism and Queer Theory, remark that stereotypes and hierarchies reinforcing those stereotypes developed in her experience of living in a lesbian separatist collective, which ultimately led her to leave the group.


In some countries, the right of lesbian women to have access to assisted birth technologies such as IVF in order to have children, has been the subject of debate: in Australia, the High Court rejected a Roman Catholic Church move to ban access to IVF treatments for lesbian and single women. However, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard had sought to amend legislation to prevent the access of these groups to IVF, raising indignation from the gay and lesbian community.

The law

Explicit prohibitions on women's homosexual behavior are in Western societies sometimes markedly less than on men's. Lesbianism has been legal in the United Kingdom since the Victorian Era, when male homosexuality was not, and at least occasionally produced a prison sentence. Jewish religious teachings condemn male, but not female, homosexuality.

Lesbian sex

Sexual activity between women is as diverse as sex between heterosexuals and gay men. Like all interpersonal activity, sexual expression must be seen within the context of the relationship between the people involved. It is only within the last generation that women (at least in the western world) have found the economic power to take control of their own lives, including their romantic and sexual relationships. As the role of women change, so will how women express themselves emotionally and physically with other women.

There is a growing body of research work and writing on lesbian sex and with it much debate over the control women have over their sexual lives in a society still seen to be patriarchal, the fluidity of female sexuality, the redefinition of female sexual pleasure, and the debunking of old stereotypes (such as "lesbian bed death"). "Lesbian Bed Death" is a phrase that has been in use within the lesbian community for many decades, to describe the lack of sexual passion in a long term relationship between two women. While it is a phrase that is often used in a joking manner between lesbians (and others) there have also been sexologists using the term. Sex researcher Pepper Schwartz published findings indicating that lesbian couples have less sex than couples of any other sexual orientation. However, her findings have been criticised by many; it is argued that this can happen to any long term relationship whether heterosexual or not. Within part of the lesbian community, the phenomenon is usually rejected and is the subject of humour. Some lesbians who do accept diminishing sexual passion consider it to be an inevitable part of any long-term lesbian relationship. Many lesbian couples however, do enjoy a fulfilling sex life.

Media attention

Lesbian couples have been attracting attention by others, in relation to feminism, sexual relationships, marriage and parenting, and other areas.

In television, the number of lesbian couples portrayed is generally less than the number of gay couples - notable lesbian couples in television include Tara Maclay and Willow Rosenberg in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lindsay Peterson and Melanie Marcus in Queer as Folk and Dr. Kerry Weaver and Sandy Lopez in ER. However, the trend may be changing, for example, see The L Word.

Pornography and male preconceptions about lesbians

It has been noted that attitudes by most men to lesbian sex and its depiction in pornography are usually tolerant, or perceived to be desirable, in sharp contrast with widespread aversion to images of male gay sex. One explanation for this could be that some men have the mistaken belief that lesbians are only having sex with one another because of the lack of a suitable man, and would be delighted to engage in group sex were such a man to become available - this is generally not the case.

A more likely explanation for male tolerence can be found in a quote from Paul Reiser on the television show Mad About You, "Because it's naked, it's fun, and I agree with both of them."

Attitudes of heterosexual women to lesbianism

Many heterosexual women also have a more positive attitute to depictions of lesbian sex than most heterosexual men have to depictions of male gay sex. It has been suggested that this is because heterosexual women are "more bisexual" on average than heterosexual men. However, this is a controversial theory: many other heterosexual women have attitudes to lesbianism that range from mildly to extremely negative.

See also

External links