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dildo

References to the use of an artificial penis for sexual pleasure, either as a solo activity (when mentioned in the general context of lesbianism) or used by two women, including as part of gender disguise. The use of dildos, especially by one woman on another, was a major focus of sexual anxiety in Western history. There were two general motivations for this anxiety. In some views, only penetration was “real sex” and therefore the use of a dildo was the dividing line between “harmless” activity and transgressive activity. And the use of a dildo between two women was considered the violation of gender boundaries, not simply sexual ones.

LHMP entry

Haley looks at Lucian's Dialogues of the Courtesans, including his portrayal of women who sexually desired other women, from the context of queer theory and a consideration of male gaze versus representation. Given the more classically-oriented audience for this collection, she helpfully starts with an explanation of queer theory and the examination of sexual identity as a social and political construct. [I think this may be the first time I've encountered the use of "Pomosexual" in a non-ironic way.]

Here Donoghue considers the literature that addresses sexual activity between women. In contrast to some claims, there are a number of home-grown English texts in this period that address non-penetrative sexual activities between women, and during the 18th century there seems to have been a regular dialog between French and English writing in this vein, with works in one language rapidly appearing in translation in the other.

Donoghue’s second conceptual cluster in this analysis is the “female husband” motif. That is, not simply women passing as men, but doing so in a context where they courted and/or married other women. The chapter begins with a general note on the prevalence of this type of event and the wide variety of superficial motivations for passing.

As a a methodology article, Murray begins with the usual discussion of the problems of data on this topic, in particular the double-whammy by which women's history sidelines homosexuality, and the history of homosexuality sidelines women. Having gotten past the problems of definitions and theory, the article presents a survey of types of historic data on women's affectional, erotic, and sexual relations with each other. The material contrasts with Bennett's survey article (Bennett 2000) in that it focuses more broadly on literature and legal theory rather than specific individuals.

I’ve been hoping to track down this article since it first came to my attention, and the historic individual documented here is even more intersectionally mind-blowing than I knew. If I had to sum up the story in click-bait style, it would be: “Sixteenth-century Spanish bi-racial ex-slave transman becomes classically trained surgeon and marries happily.” Alas, the ending isn’t quite as happy, though far from tragic.

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items.

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.

O' Driscoll looks at changes in attitudes toward female sexuality and same-sex desire through the lens of the dildo in popular culture.

Benkov reviews how the squeamishness of medieval legal texts in indicating how the word "sodomy" is applied to women's acts effectively erases the lesbian nature of their activity: “women with each other by detestable and horrible means which should not be named or written about.” Which text is placed beside for more simple and clear descriptions of men participating in anal intercourse. Crompton (1980) addressed the question of prosecutions of women for sodomy up to the French revolution, but little additional material has been added since.

Homoeroticism cannot be identified in historic contexts without letting go of modern notions of what it would look like or what other relationships it would be compatible or incompatible with. There are few explicit images of sexual activity between women in Roman art. Brooten (1996) gives two examples of female homoeroticism, only one of which is sexual: a grave relief of two freedwomen clasping hands (dextrarum iunctio) in a manner normally used to symbolize marriage, and a wall painting from Pompeii that appears to show two women engaging in oral sex.

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