Lesbianism in erotica

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Le Sommeil (Sleep) by Gustave Courbet (1866).

Lesbianism in erotica deals with depictions in the visual arts of lesbianism, which is the expression of female-to-female sexuality. Lesbianism has been a theme in erotic art since at least the time of ancient Rome, and many regard depictions of lesbianism (as for sexuality in general) to be erotic. For much of the history of cinema and television, lesbianism was considered taboo, though since the 1960s it has increasingly become a genre in its own right. First found in softcore movies and erotic thrillers, depictions of lesbianism entered mainstream cinema in the 1980s. In pornography, depictions of lesbian sex form a popular subgenre, directed toward a male heterosexual and female homosexual audience.

Cultural background[edit]

Sexual relations between women have been illustrated as well as narrated, but much of the written material from the early modern period has been destroyed.[1] What seems clear from the historical record is that much of the lesbian material in pornographic texts was intended for a male readership.[2]

Lesbianism in visual arts[edit]

Classic and classical depictions[edit]

Boucher, The nymph Callisto, seduced by Jupiter in the shape of Diana (1759).

Depictions of lesbianism are found among the erotic frescoes of Pompeii. All but disappeared during the Middle Ages, they made a comeback after the Renaissance. François Boucher and J. M. W. Turner were among the forerunners of 19th century artists who featured eroticism between women among their work. Like other painters (such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard), Boucher found inspiration in classical mythology; and he was one of many artists to use various myths surrounding the goddess Diana, including the often-depicted story of Callisto, Diana's nymph who was seduced by Jupiter, with the god taking Diana's form since Callisto had vowed chastity.[3]

19th century developments[edit]

In the 19th century, lesbianism became more openly discussed and found its way into many fields of art. In France the influence of Charles Baudelaire is considered crucial, on literature as well as on the visual arts,[4] though according to Dorothy Kosinski it was a matter not for the high arts but mostly for popular erotica.[3] Auguste Rodin's illustrations for Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal included lesbian scenes.[4] Gustave Courbet's Le Sommeil (1866) illustrates a scene from the 1835 story "Mademoiselle de Maupin" by Théophile Gautier (though Baudelaire's "Delphine et Hippolyte" from Les fleurs is also cited as an inspiration[4]), depicting two women asleep after love-making.[5][6] Its lesbian subject matter was controversial enough to be the subject of a police report in 1872,[7] but Courbet's painting is credited with inspiring others to depict "sapphic couple[s]", which in turn led to "soften[ing] taboos by revealing love between women and forcing society to see those whom it regarded as deviants and sinners."[8] Nonetheless, the audience for such artwork was predominantly male (Courbet's painting was commissioned by a profligate Turkish diplomat), therefore "the term lesbian should perhaps be provided with quotation marks, insofar as we are dealing with images made by men, for men, and in which the very disposition of the women's bodies declares that they are arranged more for the eyes of the viewer than for those of one another."[9] In the twentieth century the image's sensuality would appeal to lesbian viewers as well.[10]

An Orientalist depiction (cunnilingus as exotica)

In 19th century French painting, lesbianism was often depicted within the context of Orientalism, and was thus apt to be affected by the era's colonialism and imperialism; as a result, assumptions regarding race and class informed the images, especially when lesbianism was linked to harem and brothel scenes. Later depictions of lesbians in British and American art may reflect like cultural mores, or merely borrow from formal pictorial conventions.[11]

In the second half of the 19th century, the lesbian theme was well-established, and its artists include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,[3] Constantin Guys,[3] Edgar Degas,[3] and Jean-Louis Forain.[3] Later artists include Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Christian Schad,[12] Albert Marquet, Balthus, and Leonor Fini. More explicit depictions were an important part of the work of erotic illustrators such as Édouard-Henri Avril, Franz von Bayros, Martin van Maële, Rojan, Gerda Wegener, and Tom Poulton. Explicit depictions of lovemaking between women were also an important theme in Japanese erotic shunga, including the work of such masters as Utamaro, Hokusai, Katsukawa Shunchō, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Yanagawa Shigenobu, Keisai Eisen, and Kawanabe Kyōsai.

In art and fetish photography, notable artists to work with lesbian themes include David Hamilton, Steve Diet Goedde and Bob Carlos Clarke. More recently, lesbian and bisexual photographers such as Nan Goldin, Tee Corinne, and Judy Francesconi have focused on erotic themes, reclaiming a subject that has traditionally been mainly treated through the eye of male artists.

Visual arts gallery[edit]

Lesbianism in cinema and television[edit]

Lesbian and erotic themes were restrained in early cinema. Even scenes suggestive of lesbianism were controversial, such as the presentation of women dancing together in Pandora's Box (1929) and The Sign of the Cross (1932). Pandora's Box is notable for its lesbian subplot with the Countess (Alice Roberts) being defined by her masculine look and because she wears a tuxedo. Lesbian themes were found in European films such as Mädchen in Uniform (1931). By the mid-1930s, the Hays Code banned any homosexual themes in Hollywood-made films and several pre-Code films had to be cut to be re-released. For example, The Sign of the Cross originally included the erotic "Dance of the Naked Moon",[13] but the dance was considered a "lesbian dance" and was cut for a 1938 reissue. Even suggestions of a romantic attraction between women were rare, and the "L-word" was taboo. Lesbianism was not treated in American cinema until the 1962 release of Walk on the Wild Side in which there is a subtly implied lesbian relationship between Jo and Hallie. Depictions of lovemaking between women first appeared in several films of the late 1960s – The Fox (1967), The Killing of Sister George (1968), and Therese and Isabelle (1968).

During the 1970s, depictions of sex between women were largely restricted to semi-pornographic softcore and sexploitation films, such as Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970), Score (1973), Emmanuelle (1974), and Bilitis (1977). Although semi-explicit heterosexual sex scenes had been part of mainstream cinema since the late 1960s, equivalent depictions of women having sex only began making their appearance in mainstream film during the 1980s. These were typically in the context of a film that was specifically lesbian-themed, such as Personal Best (1982), Lianna (1983), and Desert Hearts (1985). The vampire film The Hunger (1983) also contained a seduction and sex scene between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon.

Henry and June (1990) had several lesbian scenes, including one that was considered explicit enough to give the film an NC-17 rating. (There was some controversy as to whether the MPAA had given the film a more restrictive rating than it normally would have because of the lesbian nature of the scene in question.) Basic Instinct (1992) contained mild lesbian content, but established lesbianism as a theme in the erotic thriller genre. Later, in the 1990s, erotic thrillers such as Wild Side (1995) and Bound (1996) explored a lesbian relationships and contained explicit lesbian sex scenes.[14]

From the 1990s, depictions of sex between women became fairly common in mainstream cinema. Females kissing has increasingly been shown in films and on television, often as a way to include a sexually arousing element in a film without actually having the film gain a more restrictive rating by depicting sex or nudity.[citation needed]

The L Word was an American television drama series originally shown on Showtime from 2004 to 2009 and explored lesbian, bisexual and transgender relationships, and contained numerous explicit lesbian sex scenes.

Lesbian pornography[edit]

Lesbianism is an important theme in hardcore and softcore pornography, with many adult video titles, websites, and entire studios (such as Girlfriends Films and Sweetheart Video) devoted entirely to depictions of lesbian sexual activity.[15] Lesbian pornography typically is aimed predominantly at a male audience, with a smaller female audience, and many heterosexual adult videos include a lesbian sex scene. In Japanese adult video, however, lesbianism is considered a fetish and is only occasionally included in heterosexual videos. Rezu (レズ—lesbian) video is a specialized genre, though a large number of such videos are produced.[16]

Audience[edit]

Erotica and pornography involving sex between women have been predominantly produced by men for a male and female audience. One study, by Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr (1996), published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found heterosexual men have the highest genital and subjective arousal to pornography depicting heterosexual activity, rather than lesbian activity.[17] Another study indicated that heterosexual men are more aroused by depictions involving lesbian sex than they are by depictions of heterosexual activity, while heterosexual and lesbian women were aroused by a wide range of sexual stimuli.[18] On-screen lesbian sex (in both Western and Japanese pornography), while typically aimed at a male audience, has developed a small lesbian audience as well, but still contrasts with gay male pornography, which is considered a genre of its own.

Deborah Swedberg, in an analysis published in the NWSA Journal in 1989, argues that it is possible for lesbian viewers to reappropriate lesbian porn and notes that typically all-women films differ from mixed porn (with men and women) in for instance the settings (less anonymous and more intimate) and the very acts performed (more realistic and emotionally involved, and with a focus on the whole body rather than just the genitals): "the subject of the heterosexually produced all-women videos is female pleasure". Such movies, she argues (against Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cineman" and Susanne Kappeler's Pornography and Representation, for example), allowing for female subjectivity since the women are more than just objects of exchange.[19] Appropriation by women of male-made lesbian erotica (such as by David Hamilton) was signaled also by Tee Corinne.[20]

Some pornography is made by lesbians, such as the defunct lesbian erotic magazine On Our Backs, videos by Fatale Media, SIR Video, Pink and White Productions, and BLEU Productions, and web sites such as the CyberDyke Network.

Authenticity in mainstream lesbian porn[edit]

Mainstream lesbian pornography is heavily criticized by members of the LGBT/Queer community for its basic and often inherent (due to the sexuality of most actors) inauthenticity.[21] According to author Elizabeth Whitney, “lesbianism is not acknowledged as legitimate” in lesbian porn due to the prevalence of “heteronormatively feminine women, the experimental nature, and the constant catering to the male gaze, all of which counter real life lesbianism.[21]

A study conducted by Valerie Webber found that most actors in lesbian porn consider their own porn sex somewhere on a spectrum between real and fake sex, depending on several factors.[21] They were more likely to consider it authentic if there was a real attraction between themselves and the other actor(s) in the scene.[21] They also were more likely to consider it authentic if they felt mutual respect between themselves and the producers.[21]

Authenticity in porn is disputed because some assert that the only authentic sex has no motive other than sex itself.[21] Porn sex, being shot for a camera, automatically has other motives than sex itself.[21] On the other side, some assert that all porn sex is authentic since the sex is an occurrence that took place, and that is all that is needed to classify it as authentic.[21]

With regard to the authenticity of their performance, some lesbian porn actors describe their performance as an exaggerated, altered version of their real personality, providing some authenticity to the performance.[21] Authenticity depends on real life experiences, so some lesbian porn actors feel the need to create an entirely different persona in order to feel safe.[21] Author Valerie Webber writes of Agatha, a queer actor in lesbian porn who “prefers that the activity and ambiance of her performances be very inauthentic, because otherwise it feels ‘too close to home,’” referring to the oppression and verbal abuse she is subject to by homophobic men in her daily life.[21]

Penetration in lesbian porn[edit]

Like in straight and gay male porn, there is an emphasis on penetration in lesbian porn.[21] Even though studies found that dildos have minimal use in real life lesbian sex,[21][22][23] lesbian porn still features dildos.[21] To achieve orgasm clitorally as opposed to penetratively eliminates the need for the phallus and, by extension, for the man, according to Lydon.[21] For this reason, male producers continue to include, and male viewers continue to demand, the phallus as a central feature in lesbian porn.[21]

Views on lesbianism in erotica[edit]

Live "girl-on-girl" sex show

Effects on heterosexual men[edit]

Several penile plethysmography studies have shown high levels of arousal in heterosexual men to pornography showing sexual activity between women.[17][18] One study, by Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr (1996), published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found heterosexual men to have the highest genital and subjective arousals to pornography depicting heterosexual activity, rather than lesbian activity.[17] Another study reported that on average heterosexual men are more aroused by pornography showing sexual activity between women than they are by depictions of heterosexual activity.[18] These findings correspond with reports in several earlier studies (summarized in Whitley et al. (1999);[24] see also anecdotal reports in Loftus (2002).[25] Male perception of lesbianism as erotic has been shown[24] to correspond with recent exposure to lesbian pornography; however, men who have recently viewed lesbian pornography are no more likely than others to perceive lesbians as hypersexual and/or bisexual. Bernard E. Whitley, Jr., et al. hypothesized, upon reaching this conclusion, that "pornography may [...] lead heterosexual men to view lesbianism as erotic by means of a generalized association of female-female sexual activity with sexual arousal," but noted that "more research is needed to clarify the relationship between exposure to pornography and the perceived erotic value of lesbianism."

Enjoyment of lesbian pornography can have little connection to feelings towards homosexuals in real life. A heterosexual man may be aroused by pornographic depictions of lesbianism yet hold homophobic views. However, several studies suggest that men who perceive lesbianism as erotic may have less negative attitudes toward lesbians than they do toward gay men.[24][26] Studies have further shown that while men tend to correlate lesbianism with eroticism more often than women do, women perceive male homosexuality as erotic no more often than men do.[24]

Feminist views[edit]

Lesbian views on sex between women in erotica are complex. Historically, women have been less involved in the production and consumption of erotica in general and visual pornography in particular than have men. Since the late 1960s, radical feminist objections to pornography and the sexual objectification of women have influenced the lesbian community, with some feminists objecting to all pornography. Since the end of the 1980s "Feminist Sex Wars" and the beginning of the "women's erotica movement, however, feminist views on pornography, both lesbian and heterosexual, have shifted.[27] Some lesbians are even consumers of mainstream pornography, but many dislike what they perceive as inaccurate and stereotypical depictions of women and lesbianism in mainstream pornography. Some are also uncomfortable with male interest in lesbians.[28] As of the early 2000s, there is a very strong lesbian erotic literature movement, as well as a small genre of pornography made by lesbians for a lesbian audience.

A lot of queer erotic literature has been showing up over the past few decades, written by women and usually for women. [29] There is a large sub-category of this erotica that involves various queer relationships while also including bisexuality and transgender characters into the writing. [29] By introducing various other identities and sexualities, it opens up the erotica world to more gender-fluidity and acceptance of other queer or non-heteronormative sexualities. [29]


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mourão, Manuela (1999). "The Representation of Female Desire in Early Modern Pornographic Texts, 1660-1745". Signs 24 (3): 573–602. doi:10.1086/495366. 
  2. ^ Faderman, Lillian (1981). Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. N ew York: William Morrow. pp. 38–46. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Kosinski, Dorothy M. (1988). "Gustave Courbet's "The Sleepers": The Lesbian Image in Nineteenth-Century French Art and Literature". Artibus et Historiae 9 (18): 187–99. doi:10.2307/1483342. 
  4. ^ a b c Ladenson, Elisabeth (2007). Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from Madame Bovary to Lolita. Cornell UP. pp. 75–. ISBN 9780801441684. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  5. ^ Reed, Christopher (2011). Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas. Oxford UP. p. 77. ISBN 9780195399073. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  6. ^ MacK, Gerstle (1951). Gustave Courbet: A Biography. Da Capo Press. p. 214. ISBN 9780306803758. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Solomon-Godeau, Abigail, et al (1988). Courbet Reconsidered. The Brooklyn Museum, Yale University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0-300-04298-1. Retrieved 12 December 2012
  8. ^ Zimmerman, Bonnie (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 311. ISBN 9780815333548. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Solomon-Godeau, Abigail, et al (1988). Courbet Reconsidered. The Brooklyn Museum, Yale University Press. p. 175. ISBN 0-300-04298-1. Retrieved 12 December 2012
  10. ^ Zimmerman, Bonnie (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 69. ISBN 9780815333548. Retrieved 12 December 2012
  11. ^ Zimmerman, Bonnie (2000). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 68. ISBN 9780815333548. Retrieved 12 December 2012
  12. ^ "Lewd Awakening: Rediscovering a German Connoisseur of Sex" by Jerry Saltz, Village Voice, May 23, 2003.
  13. ^ Vieira 1999, pp. 106–109.
  14. ^ "Sex in Cinema: The Greatest and Most Influential Erotic/Sexual Films and Scenes" by Tim Dirks, The Best Films of All Time: A Primer of Cinematic History (website), 1996–2007. Retrieved October 19, 2006.
  15. ^ Rutter, Jared (July 2008). "The New Wave of Lesbian Erotica". AVN. pp. 80–88. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  16. ^ "Japanese AV FAQ" by Tetsuwan Atom, Lezlovevideo.com, 2001. Retrieved June 14, 2006.
  17. ^ a b c Adams HE, Wright LW Jr, Lohr BA. (1996). Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of Abnormal Psychology 105(3):440–445. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.105.3.440.
  18. ^ a b c Chivers ML, Rieger G, Latty E, Bailey JM. (2004). "A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal". Psychological Science 15: 736–744. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00750.x.
  19. ^ Swedberg, Deborah (1989). "What Do We See When We See Woman/Woman Sex in Pornographic Movies". NWSA Journal 1 (4): 602–16. 
  20. ^ Henry, Alice (1983). "Interview [with Tee Corinne]: Images of Lesbian Sexuality". Off Our Backs 13 (4): 10–12. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Webber, Valerie (2012). "Shades of gay: Performance of girl-on-girl pornography and mobile authenticities". Sexualities. 
  22. ^ Jerrold S. Greenberg, Clint E. Bruess, Sarah C. Conklin (2010). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. Jones & Bartlett Learning. pp. 489–490. ISBN 9780763797409. 9780763741488. Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  23. ^ Jonathan Zenilman, Mohsen Shahmanesh (2011). Sexually Transmitted Infections: Diagnosis, Management, and Treatment. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 329–330. ISBN 0495812943. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  24. ^ a b c d Whitley BE Jr, Wiederman MW, Wryobeck JM. (1999). "Correlates of heterosexual men's eroticization of lesbianism". Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 11: 25–41. doi:10.1300/J056v11n01_02.
  25. ^ Loftus, David. 2002. Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography. ISBN 1-56025-360-6Kustritz, Anne (September 2003). "Slashing the Romance Narrative". The Journal of American Culture 26 (3): 371–384. doi:10.1111/1542-734X.00098. 
  26. ^ Louderback LA, Whitley BE Jr. (1997). "Perceived erotic value of homosexuality and sex-role attitudes as mediators of sex differences in heterosexual college students' attitudes toward lesbians and gay men". Journal of Sex Research 34: 175–182. (JSTOR link).
  27. ^ Eisenberg, Daniel. "Pornography". In Dynes, Wayne R. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. A development of the 1980s is the birth of a true women's pornographic movement, in which women create and market erotic materials for female consumption, both homosexual and heterosexual 
  28. ^ Bright, Susie. 1992. "Men who love lesbians (who don't care for them too much)". In: Susie Bright's Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader. pp 93–98. ISBN 0-939416-58-1.
  29. ^ a b c Ziv, Amalia (2014). "Girl meets boy: Cross-gender queer and the promise of pornography". Sexualities 17: 885–905. 

Further reading[edit]

Lesbianism in visual arts[edit]

  • Bonnet, Marie-Jo. (2000). Les Deux Amies: Essai sur le couple de femmes dans l'art. Paris: Editions Blanche. ISBN 2-911621-94-8

Views about lesbianism in erotica[edit]

  • Bunch, Charlotte. (1982) Lesbianism and erotica in pornographic America. In: L Lederer (ed). Take back the night. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-14907-5.
  • Conway, Mary T. (1997). Spectatorship in lesbian porn: The woman's woman's film. Wide Angle 19(3):91–113. (abstract)
  • Duncker, Patricia. (1995). "Bonne excitation, orgasme assuré": The representation of lesbianism in contemporary French pornography. Journal Of Gender Studies 4(1):5–15.
  • Dunn, Sara. (1990). Voyages of the Valkyries: Recent lesbian pornographic writing. Feminist Review 34:161–170. doi:10.2307/1395316.
  • Henderson, Lisa. (1991). Lesbian pornography: Cultural transgression and sexual demystification. Women and Language 14(1): 3–12. (Reprinted: S. Munt (ed). (1992). New lesbian criticism: Literary and cultural perspectives. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. p 173–191. ISBN 0-231-08019-0; and L. Gross and J. Woods (eds). (2000). Columbia Reader in Lesbian and Gay Studies. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10447-2.)
  • Jenefsky, Cindy and Diane Helene Miller.(1998). Phallic intrusion: Girl–girl sex in Penthouse. Women’s Studies International Forum 21(4):375–385. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(98)00042-9.
  • Kitzinger, Jenny and Celia Kitzinger. (1993). "Doing it": Representations of lesbian sex. In: Griffin G (ed). Outwrite: Lesbianism and popular culture. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 0-7453-0688-8.
  • McDowell, Kelly. (2001). The politics of lesbian pornography: Towards a chaotic proliferation of female sexual imagery. Xchanges 1.1 (online journal).
  • Morrison, Todd G and Dani Tallack. (2005). Lesbian and bisexual women’s interpretations of lesbian and ersatz lesbian pornography. Sexuality & Culture 9(2):3–30. doi:10.1007/s12119-005-1005-x.
  • Packard, Tamara and Melissa Schraibman. (1993). Lesbian pornography: Escaping the bonds of sexual stereotypes and strengthening our ties to one another. UCLA Women's Law Journal 4:299–328.
  • Penelope, Julia. (1980). The lesbian in heterosexual fantasies. Sinister Wisdom 15:76–91.
  • Rodgerson, Gillian. (1993). Lesbian erotic explorations. In: L Segal and M McIntosh (eds). Sex exposed: Sexuality and the pornography debate. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. p 275–279. ISBN 0-8135-1938-1.
  • Russo, Anne and Lourdes Torres. (2001). Lesbian porn stories: Rebellion and/or resistance? In: A Russo (ed). Taking back our lives: A call to action for the feminist movement. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-90330-7.
  • Sheldon, Caroline. (1984). Lesbians and film: Some thoughts. In: R Dyer (ed). Gays and film. New York: Zoetrope. p 5–26. ISBN 0-918432-58-8.
  • Smyth, Cherry. (1990). The pleasure threshold: Looking at lesbian pornography on film. Feminist Review 34:152–159. doi:10.2307/1395314.
  • Swedberg, Deborah. (1989). What do we see when we see woman/woman sex in pornographic movies? NWSA Journal 1(4):602–616.

External links[edit]