Science, too, finds it difficult to behave in a way that may be outside the social norm, but is still completely normal. For a long time, the view of love among women was masculine – and therefore afflicted with prejudices. In public discussions, lesbian sex usually only appeared in one form: as a pornographic model for heterosexual men.
This had nothing to do with the wishes and needs of women. Such a representation caused heterosexual men to believe that lesbians would only have sex with each other because they lacked a man. But it also meant that women with lesbian tendencies hardly found any realistic role models that would have offered them orientation for their lives.
Sexual science shaped by men
The history of sexual science was written mainly by men. These lesbians mentioned rather incidentally – they were mainly interested in male sexuality. Studies on sexuality among women were at best inserted as anecdotes and, by the way, it was thought that what applied to men could simply be adopted for women. It has nothing to do with feminism.
- One of the reasons for the stepmotherly treatment was that, until a few decades ago, women’s participation in scientific and social life was very limited.
- And men could hardly ever imagine that women could find satisfaction with each other and without male participation.
- The concealment of their sexuality has long shaped the lives of lesbians.
- And the question of why lesbians are the way they are arises again and again.
For many women, the question of the biological causes of homosexuality plays a less important role. Feminists encourage their sisters to determine their own lives – and consequently their own sexuality. They can only do this if they assume that they are not helplessly at the mercy of their natural urges.
Even the sexual researchers from the Kinsey Institute were not very helpful in giving the lesbians a positive image of orientation when they said that they had less sexual activity than homosexual and heterosexual men. After all, they had only counted the number of orgasms. Lesbian desire that extends to the whole body and knows more than just a genital climax did not occur in such studies.
Less interest in ephemeral sexual contacts
No wonder that in the course of an emerging lesbian movement a whole series of questions had to be discussed: Are lesbians allowed to use dildos, or is penetration just an imitation of heterosexuality? Are vibrators and other sex toys allowed, and what about S&M games and pornography? As was customary in the post-war years, are couples still allowed to play a male-female role?
Such topics were fiercely debated until the lesbian movement became more serene with increasing self-confidence. Today, lesbians judge their sex less by its political significance than by how relieving, liberating and satisfying they experience it. In a survey, 82 percent said that sexuality is important to them. They often find it more tender, emotional, empathetic and satisfying than with a man.
Lesbians have less interest in impersonal, ephemeral sexual contact than gays, and they tend more to move in monogamous relationships. Overall, they have fewer sexual contacts. Or, as the American cultural historian Camille Paglia puts it: “Gays may seek sex without feelings, but lesbians often find themselves with feelings without sex”.
Psychology and psychoanalysis
The first scientific reports about women who fell in love with women only reflected the prejudices of sexual researchers: Actually the ‘contrary feeling’ woman was imitating a man. Somehow she had remained a little behind. There were no other physical abnormalities to be found, and so one came to the conclusion that lesbian behaviour was an expression of a mental disorder – such as neurosis. Perhaps acquired through too much contact between women in dormitories, monasteries or prisons or through relationships with the wrong men.
It was Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who first looked at female homosexuality more objectively: for him, it was one of several equal possibilities. Freud assumed that man is open to any sexual choice of partner from the ground up: homosexuality does not arise solely from life-history influences, but is already there together with the possibility of heterosexuality. Only when people turn to one side or the other does one have to ask why they are doing this. But above all, homosexuality was not a disease for him.
At last it was clear: homosexuality is not a disease.
This did not prevent other psychotherapists, however, from doing doctor’s work on lesbians and gays and trying to exorcise their preference. For example, they had ideas that the woman was disgusted by the man because she had met an impotent husband or perverted freelancer. The idea that one could be ‘seduced’ to homosexuality was also widespread: If the student had only played erotic games with her teacher once or if the prisoner had had sex with a fellow prisoner once, then there would be no way back – that was the prejudice.
A few decades later, the Kinsey Institute interviewed tens of thousands of American women about their sexual behavior. When the Kinsey staff examined these data to find out what they had to say about the influence of the parents’ house on the development of lesbian daughters and gay sons, it became clear that the role of parents was not as big as psychotherapists thought. Whether they encouraged or punished homosexual games, whether they argued or how they shaped their position of power in the family – all this was independent of the orientation of the offspring. Their families were not broken or healed than the families of the heteros. Even seduction through rape or other sexual encounters could not be statistically proven.
- Many other tests came to similar results: All psychological problems with which lesbians or gays came to the psychiatrist could be explained with the same reasons as the problems of their heterosexual fellow citizens. Homosexuality itself was not the disease.
- In 1974, American psychiatrists deleted the clinical picture of “homosexuality” from their diagnostic catalogue.
- In 1992 it finally disappeared from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization. For the Professional Association of German Specialists in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, homosexuality today is not a disease but a common form of human coexistence and does not require therapy.
When, in the early 1990s, the eyes turned to research into the human genome, the “gay gene” also appeared. Scientists believed they had found it by comparing families with gay sons. There was no mention of a “lesbian gene” – after all, only men were examined. But what applies to gays will probably also apply to lesbians, thought sexual science and had once again ‘meant’ women.
Studies on pairs of twins proved to be just as untenable. Researchers had already reported in the 1960s that identical twins always have the same orientation. They did not find this phenomenon in two egg twins. This would be a clear indication that education has nothing to do with sexual orientation, which is exclusively determined by genes.
But the world is never as clear as it sometimes seems. After a series of family and twin studies, one can now make a note: In the case of identical twins, the probability that both are homosexual is significantly higher than in the case of two identical twins. This is also true for lesbians, but the difference is not as clear for them as it is for gays. Conclusion: Maybe there isn’t ‘that’ a homo gene, but somehow the genes will contribute to how sexual preference develops.
Genetic research does not provide clear answers
The idea that genes make people lesbian or gay means that scientists do not even know how they are supposed to do this. However, these can only be indirect effects in which a number of chemical processes take place in the body that shape the way we feel and think. A whole series of genes are probably responsible for these complicated processes.
The American geneticist Dean Hamer, together with his colleague Brian Mustanski, claims to have identified three of these genes, namely on chromosomes 7, 8 and 10. But even they do not believe that these gene segments are the only ones responsible for homosexuality, and they are probably not exclusively responsible for homosexuality either.