Lesbianism and mental health

Kristian Aleman and Ronald Doctor

in Oxford Textbook of Women and Mental Health

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780199214365
Published online July 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199640454 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbooks

Lesbianism and mental health

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Etymologically the adjective ‘lesbian’ is traced back to 1591 from‘Lesbius’, emanating from the Greek conception ‘lesbios of Lesbos’. Lesbos is an island in the north-eastern Aegean Sea in Greece and was the great lyric poet Sappho's home (born sometime between 630 and 612 BC). Sappho is famous for her erotic and romantic verses and is associated with homosexual relationships between women.

Adrienne Rich (1980), a feminist poet in the late 20th century, outlined a continuum of lesbian intimacy ranging from sexual to platonic relationships. In the broadest definition of lesbianism, Rich proposed that the female who sidestepped traditional married life in order to combat male tyranny might be seen at one end of the continuum, usually connected with feminism. In the 1970s the radical lesbians declared, ‘A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion’ (McCoy and Hicks 1979).

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the prominent 19th century French post-impressionist painter, injured as a young boy, became short, midget-like, and suffered from a sense of being an outsider. He empathized with prostitutes and represented them in his art. He became acquainted with lesbians and noted that these women often protectively turned to each other for love. His artistic inspiration emerged from their intense intimacy. When Toulouse-Lautrec observed two women sleeping entwined on a couch, he pronounced: ‘This is superior to everything. Nothing can compare to something so simple.’

Being a lesbian most often involves both romantic feelings and sexual attraction toward other women. Today the prevalence of female and male homosexuals plus bisexuals is estimated by the Stonewall organization to be between 5–7% among people in the United Kingdom. One crucial research observation of homosexual people relating to mental health seems to be whether they can openly stand for their homosexual identity or not. The identity process of ‘coming out’ is associated with healthier self-acceptance and self-esteem.

Chapter.  4557 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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