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Turkish harems

European contact with the gender-segregated institution of the harem in Ottoman Turkey, beginning around the 16th century, led to a fascination with the potential for female same-sex eroticism. This combined with a preference for “othering” lesbian activity both in time and space.

LHMP entry

In this chapter, Faderman explores the types of sexual activity between women that were portrayed in literature written by men. Authors such as Brantôme describe tribadism, with one woman atop another rubbing the genitals together, or the use of a dildo to perform penetrative stimulation.

Images of women-loving-women were established enough in 16th century England to appear as a character type that was not so much defined as simply assumed, and therefore was available for reference both explicitly and obliquely. Within this general type, there were clear distinctions made between the motifs of desire between women and sexual acts between women. This chapter explores evidence for this character type in non-dramatic sources that were available to early modern English playwrights and their audiences.

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.

Renaissance philosophy tackled the question of friendship: who is an appropriate friend, what behavior should a friend exhibit, what is the relationship between the love of friends and sexual desire? Given the times, the majority of texts addressing this topic were concerned with friendships between men, though a nod was often given to Sappho as a proponent of female friendships, or to the possibility of “Platonic love” between women, which is given explicit license in the Symposium as well as by Renaissance writers commenting on it, as Agnolo Firenzuola did.

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