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sahq

(Arabic) From a root meaning “to grind”, there are a number of vocabulary items in this group referring variously to persons or activities. The Arabic root may also have been borrowed into other vernacular languages with similar meaning and use. A variety of words meaning “to rub” are found to label lesbian activity, testifying to the general knowledge of one common sexual technique.

LHMP entry

This chapter looks at evidence regarding lesbian activity that can be found in specific court cases, as well as perceptions of the role of lesbian relations in criminal activities and contexts. The point here is not that lesbians were inherently criminal in early modern Spain (though some official opinions were that one type of deviant behavior was expected to lead to other types), but that the nature of legal records can provide a wealth of detail that is not available for other contexts.

The identification of forbidden female homoerotic activity in early modern Spain is hampered by the deliberately vague language with which it is identified. When a “miraculous” crucifix supposedly tattled on two trysting nuns in the early 17th century, the phrase put into its voice was simply that the two were “offending me.” Similarly, in 1603 when Inés de Santa Cruz and Catalina Ledesma were arrested for female sodomy in Salamanca, the accusations came in descriptions of the sounds of passion heard through a wall and not a declaration of specific acts.

An “origin story” whereby men turned away from God and began treating women badly, at which a devil came to the women disguised as a woman and taught them grinding. (With the implication that they wouldn’t have been tempted if the men had treated them better.)

A list of religious quotations prohibiting grinding as fornication.

Prohibitions on effeminate men and masculine women.

This article provides a brief historic survey of evidence regarding love between women in Islamic societies. Classical treatises on sexual transgression discuss tribadism (sahq) from a male perspective. There are occasional comparisons to male homosexuality, but in general the two are considered distinct, except generally as vices. Popular imagination, (especially in western accounts) considered lesbianism common in harems.

Several of the articles in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages look outside the European sphere that the phrase “Middle Ages” normally implies. Malti-Douglas looks at the language and discorse around lesbianism in medieval Arabic texts, particularly as contrasted with the treatment of male homosexuality which is mentioned extensively in medieval Arabic/Islamic texts.

Criticism of a particular tribe as promiscuous, where the women are preoccupied with grinding.

A catalog of reasons why women might take up grinding, essentially identical to the one given in al-Yemeni: due to physiological or esthetic issues, because she is slow to climax with a man, because of pain on intercourse, because she prefers smooth-cheeked kisses, because she has a dominant “masculine” personality.

He calls grinding an “illness” and offers various possible causes, including having an “inverted womb” (a variant on the clitoral hypertrophy motif), or a mis-match between the shape of a woman’s vagina and the shape of the penis. Another possible cause he lists is the mother’s diet during breast-feeding. Some women pick up the habit from having sex with concubines. Another explanation is that grinding is a natural appetite, derived from a variant of humoral theory.

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