Feature image via dodsonandross.com
A favorite historical genre is “faux sociological studies of human sexuality that say crazy-ass shit about lesbians,” and though they were a huge trend in the 1950s and 60s there is a deep and rich history of mostly straight men speculating on or reporting about what women do in bed together in the name of research and information and anthropology and definitely not because it’s sexy to read about.
Most of these excerpts come from or were found because of Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women by Leila Rupp and Surpassing the Love of Men by Lillian Faderman.
How Lesbians Have Sex, According to People From History
1. Probably the devil is involved
“They do not put flesh to flesh in the sense of the genital organ of one within the body of the other, since nature precludes this, but they do transform the use of the member in question into an unnatural one, in that they are reported to use certain instruments of diabolical operation to excite desire.”
—Hincmar of Reims, 9th century
2. Or fencing. Definitely fencing.
“They bang coffin against coffin” and “they don’t bother with a pestle in their mortar” and “they play the game of thigh-fencing.”
—Etienne de Fougères in Livres des manières, 12th century
3. Maybe it’s just like heterosex?
“Kissing and hugging […] exactly like a man with women.”
—A witness at the trial of Katherina Hetzeldorfer, 1477
4. Yeah I think it’s like heterosex.
“If a woman gets upon a woman, and both fall to thrusting at each other mutually, it may happen that the seed of her on top may be injected into the natural vase of her laying under.”
—Ludovico Maria Sinistrari, in Peccatum Mutum: The Secret Sin, 1893
5. Everyone’s a switch.
“Sometimes the lover is the mistress / Sometimes the mistress is the lover.”
—Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin (1595–1650), Sonnet XXXIII
6. Root vegetables
“They dress up a foster-sister or girlfriend or servant girl like a man and relieve their desire with dildos or with bulbs, roots, or fruits that have that form.”
—Kama Sutra, 2nd century
7. Yep. Definitely root vegetables.
“Wives would cut a sweet potato or manioc root in the shape of the male organ, or use a banana for the purpose. Two of them would shut themselves in a hut and one would lie on the bed and play the female role while the other, with the artificial organ tied around her stomach, played the male role. They then reversed roles.”
—E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1930s
8. Also scissoring.
“The one that must stay underneath lies on her back, stretches out one leg and bends the other while leaning slightly to the side, therefore offering her opening [vagina] wide open: meanwhile, the other lodges her bent leg in her groin, puts the lips of her vagina between the lips that are offered for her, and begins to rub the vagina of her companion in an up-and-down and down-and-up movement that jerks the whole body.”
—Shihâb al-Dîn Ahmad al-Tîfâshî, author of The Delight of Hearts, 13th century
9. Maybe in the bath???
“A number of fair ladies naked and at the bath, which did touch, and feel, and handle, and stroke, one the other, and intertwine and fondle with each other, and so enticingly and prettily and featly did show all their hidden beauties.”
—Signeur de Brantôme, in Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies, 1665
10. …This one is kind of accurate actually.
“[Sappho’s image] adorned the alter in the hall where everything was calculated to make sense and fantasy reel. The orgies opened with flagellation and ended in the most shameful of sexual perversions. Deep hatred against men was the first principle.”
—Frusta, in Flagellation and the Jesuit Confessional, 1834
Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you’re able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?