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Lesbian


Lesbian refers to a woman whose primary emotional and sexual relationships are with other women.

The term is derived from Lesbos, the Mediterranean island that was the birthplace of Sappho, a 6th century BC female poet and devotee of the goddess Aphrodite.

Landmark research by Kinsey found that approximately six percent of women in the U.S. are lesbians. More recent studies suggest that between four and nine percent of women are lesbians, at least during some part of their lifetimes.

The work of Kinsey and others suggests that, overall,lesbians in the U.S. parallel the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, education level, income, and social class membership.

People have debated what it means to be a lesbian. Some, adopting what has been termed an "essentialist" perspective, argue that sexual orientation and individual sexuality are core features of a person's being, much like height, race, or sex.

Social constructivists counter that sexuality differs from one culture to another and from one age to the next based on social context. Social constructivists maintain that concepts like heterosexuality and homosexuality or lesbian, gay and straight, are of recent vintage.

Meaning of Lesbian: Redefining Itself

Consequently, the meaning of the term lesbian is neither fixed nor permanent but has undergone and will continue to undergo redefinition over time.

Like the term gay, lesbian is often used to refer to self-identified "out of the closet" women, rather than all women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior.

Compared to gay mens' lifestyles and associated patterns of sexuality, much less is known about these matters when it comes to lesbians. Since AIDS has not constituted a major health problem for lesbians, they have not been the focus of scholarly study or media attention in recent years to the same extent as gay men.

Many of the problems involved in studying lesbians stem from issues of defining and locating representative individuals that reflect the entire lesbian population.

Despite the relative paucity of research, evidence indicates that few lesbians can be characterized as assuming only a masculine (or "butch") or only a feminine (or "femme") role in emotional and sexual relationships.

Some women choose to adopt lesbianism in the aftermath of the dissolution of a heterosexual relationship. They may choose to rear their children in the same household with their female partner.

Coming Out as a Lesbian: A Painful Process for Many Women

Conversely, many lesbians discover their sexual orientation during adolescence and some may have never even engaged in heterosexual activity. "Coming out" often constitutes a lengthy and painful process for many women who choose to adopt a lesbian lifestyle. A woman's acceptance of her lesbian identity generally follows involvement in one or more homosexual relationships.

As a result of their financial resources and education, white middle-class lesbians have been able to organize themselves politically to a greater extent than working-class lesbians, particularly those who are women of color. Because of this, far more is known about the lifestyles of the former than the latter.

Indeed, many white middle-class lesbians are strong advocates of a form of feminism referred to as lesbian-feminism. For these women, lesbianism constitutes a political choice, one entailing a conscious rejection of patriarchy and traditional male-dominant gender roles.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, however, the majority of feminists are not lesbians. Also, contrary to such stereotypes, many lesbians have close friendships with both gay and "straight" men.


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