This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.


Male and female homosexuals show distinctly different patterns of behavior when considered as groups. Yet certain features of their childhood histories are similar. Two-thirds of lesbians, like two-thirds of gay men, recall being "different" since childhood. Just as 67% of male homosexuals remembered being called sissies in childhood, 70% of lesbians remembered being called tomboys.

What are common features in the childhoods of lesbians and gay males?

Why is tomboyism not strongly diagnostic of adult lesbianism?

Tomboyism is not strongly diagnostic or predictive of adult lesbianism. Over 16% of heterosexual women also report being tomboys as girls. Only 3-4% of heterosexual men report being teased as sissies when young. So being called a sissy if you are a boy (and remembering it and being willing to admit it) is a more powerful predictor of homosexuality than being called a tomboy as a girl.

A more powerful childhood predictor of adulthood lesbianism, in the group of subjects interviewed by Saghir and Robins, was a repetitive childhood wish to be a boy or man. Two-thirds of adult lesbians recalled childhood wishes to be a boy or a man, whereas only 7% in a heterosexual control group reported similar childhood wishes. Keep in mind, however, that while two-thirds sounds like a high figure, this also means that a third of lesbians did not have childhood wishes to be a male.

When are the first same-sex attractions noticed, for most homosexuals?

Like male homosexuals, 80% of lesbians remember same-sex attraction before adolescence. Only 9% of a heterosexual control group remembered similar attractions, and those were usually fleeting. Saghir and Robins write that "emotional attachments were universal among homosexual women." This was true even in childhood.

They report a childhood memory of one lesbian:

I was 8 when I developed a strong attraction to a 7-year-old girl. I wanted to be with her and to protect her. It was my secret and felt natural to me at that time. It was more than a friendship and lasted for 4 years. When I was 10, I saw in a newspaper the word homosexual. I [looked it up] in a dictionary and thought that it applied to me since I felt similar love for my friend. (Saghir & Robins, 1973, p.206)

What is the defining characteristic of lesbianism, according to the woman interviewed by Tennov?

Intensity and quality of emotional feeling attained with other women, not sexual behavior, is the defining characteristic of lesbianism. One woman interviewed by Tennov reported:

Sex with a man is tolerable. Sometimes it is more than tolerable. Sometimes I'm even in the mood for it. If I'm repelled, it's more by their attitudes toward women than by their physical maleness. But no relationship with a man could begin to hold the positive value in my life that is possible with a woman. As far as I can see, that's what it means to be a lesbian. (Tennov, 1979, p.225)

How do male and female homosexuals differ in their first encounters? How were adolescent dreams revealing?

Only a quarter of homosexual women report genital contact as a part of their first experience of homosexual arousal. (By contrast, 81% of males report direct genital contact as part of their first homosexual arousal.) Childhood same-sex attractions in females are likely to be platonic, with no sexual activity. During pre-adolescent years about half of homosexual women report attachments with sexual undertones such as a desire for kissing or contact, and two-thirds began to have predominantly homosexual fantasies. During adolescence, 98% of lesbians had homosexual fantasies, dreams, and daydreams. In a control sample of heterosexual women 7% reported similar fantasies.

What are differences in lifestyle, comparing adult lesbians and gay males?

Female homosexuals are far more likely than males to form a lasting relationship. Before the age of 20, 88% of female homosexuals had partially sexual relationships characterized by faithfulness. Between ages 20 and 29, 89% lived with a partner for over a year, and 84% remained faithful for the duration of their relationship. Infidelity was taken seriously in this sample. It was the most common reason for a breakup. By contrast, infidelity was tolerated among homosexual males living together, in the years before AIDS. The most common cause of a break-up among male homosexuals was loss of interest in each other or development of attachments to people outside the relationship (Saghir & Robins, 1973, p.227).

Do lesbians "cruise"? What did over half of lesbians say, about recognizing other lesbians?

Sexuality is not necessarily a focus or reason for sustaining a lesbian relationship. Support, sensitivity, and comraderie of a friend are more likely to be cited as reasons for keeping a relationship together. Cruising for partners in public places is almost nonexistent among lesbians. Only 20% reported using gaze as a clue to another woman's homosexuality. Over half (56%) said they could not recognize another lesbian by appearance. The other 44% said they could recognize another lesbian using a combination of eyes, gesture, voice, clothes, and physical appearance. This is similar to the 48% figure reported by gay males answering a similar question. Some students conclude from this that homosexual people can recognize each other. But these statistics show that less than half claim this ability.

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