HOMOSEXUALITY (Female)

Homosexuality is considerably less prevalent among women than among men. In the Kinsey studies (1948, 1953), 28 per cent of women, as contrasted with 50 per cent of men, reported that they had had some type of homosexual experience. In a great majority of cases, however, the relationship was experimental, and only one third had reached the point of orgasm. Among single persons between thirty-six and forty years of age, 10 per cent of women, as compared with 40 per cent of men were found to be currently involved in overt homosexual relationships. Various reports also indicate that female homosexuals generally have far fewer sexual partners than male homosexuals, and do not persist in their activities for as long a time.Female homosexuality has as long a history as male homosexuality. The practice was widely accepted in later Greece and Rome, and there were prostitutes for women as well as for men. The term Lesbian, often applied to female homosexuals, derives from the Greek island of Lesbos; the less frequently used term Sapphism refers to the Greek poetess, Sappho, who wrote glowing accounts of this type of relationship. Although female homosexuality is considered objectionable in our society it usually arouses less active revulsion and censure than male homosexuality, and relatively few of these women are arrested and convicted.Female homosexuality is characterized by strong sexual interest between women, but does not always express itself in overt behavior. When it does, sexual activity takes the form either of mutual masturbation or oral-genital contact (cunnilingus). During the latter type of contact, one partner plays the active role, the other the passive role. Sometimes the active member wears an artificial male organ (a “dildo”) for purposes of stimulation or penetration. Contrary to the common impression, the sexual roles are not fixed and are frequently interchanged. Likewise, it is a mistake to think that one female homosexual always has masculine personality characteristics while the other has more feminine traits (the so-called “butch” and “femme” types). This is sometimes the case, but it is by no means the rule. Actually the great majority of female homosexuals of today try to make themselves as attractive and feminine as possible, and are indistinguishable from normal women. Some of them claim to feel more feminine than ever in their homosexual relationships. A few female homosexuals, however, have been found to menstruate later than usual, and some have narrow hips, relatively undeveloped breasts and wideshoulders, Female homosexuals show many disturbances in attitude and emotion. Many of them are actively repelled by menstruation, possibly because it is a reminder of the reproductive function, which demands heterosexual relations. They have an equal revulsion toward the male genital and frequently state that they are disgusted by the thought of intercourse with a male. (Psychoanalysts believe this reaction to the male organ is a defense that disguises a strong unconscious desire for a penis.) But despite their attitude toward heterosexual relations, many of these women would like to have social relationships with men. Here they are caught in a basic dilemma, since many men will not accept a Platonic friendship. If these women are married—and a good many are—their conflicts over sex are likely to be extremely acute.The female homosexual is beset by a variety of other problems. If she is working, she must make special efforts to remain undetected for fear of dismissal. If her family does not know about her tendencies, she must maintain secrecy there as well. But perhaps the most disturbing emotional problem of these women is the feeling that they are isolated and outside the mainstream of society. Many of them are afflicted with an almost constant sense of loneliness and rejection. They resent the implication that they are peculiar, almost inhuman creatures; and they feel that an artificial wall has been erected between them and practically the whole of humanity. They cannot understand why the world will not accept their form of sexuality, which seems completely right to them.Some homosexual women succeed in obtaining a measure of emotional support by joining an informal clique or a more formal organization such as the Daughters of Bilitis. This is a national organization with chapters in many large cities, and is named after a collection of poems by Pierre Louys dealing with the women of Lesbos. In general, however, opportunities for group contact seem to be far fewer for female than for male homosexuals, and they have fewer centers like the “gay” bars of the men. For this reason—and probably because they are less interested in transitory gratification—they become more dependent on individual relationships. These partnerships, or “marriages,” do not often work out well since so many female homosexuals are unhappy, conflicted people who cannot maintain lasting relationships of any kind. Although many of them feel that their problems would come to an end if society would only recognize and accept them, practically all psychiatrists regard them as sick people in urgent need of treatment. Some specialists, however, feel that the treatment process should be directed toward making them more comfortable in their present role rather than toward changing their sexual orientation.

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