1948, Magnus Hirschfeld – Feminine Homosexuality

Magnus Hirschfeld, 1948. “Feminine Homosexuality”, in Sexual Anomalies and Perversions: The Origins, Nature, and Treatment of Sexual Disorders. A Summary of the Work of Magnus Hirschfeld. Revised Edition. New York: Emerson Books, 1948, pp. 238-252.

Il volume – reperibile allo https://archive.org/details/B20442233 – fu pubblicato postumo,  compilato a cura dei suoi allievi. Da segnalare, anche l’uso della parola: “lesbian”.

Oltre al capitolo qui sotto riportato, vedi anche le pp. 216, 279, 280, 341  a proposito di prostituzione, sadismo e dipendenza psicologica

[p. 238]

Book III. Deflections of the Sexual Impulse. XV. Feminine Homosexuality.



We devote a separate chapter to feminine homosexuality for the reason that it operates differently from masculine homosexuality. This is due partly to the greater frequency of pseudohomosexuality among women than among men, and partly to the fact that physiological bisexuality is more pronounced in women than in men.

This involves a considerable addition to the number of women who engage in homosexual practices, and the question suggests itself why, for instance, feminine homosexuality was mentioned in ancient literature far less frequently than masculine homosexuality. The answer is that women in antiquity played a secondary role in public life and their activities were therefore not recorded by male authors with the same zeal as those of men, but there is [p.239] no doubt whatever that Lesbianism was just as widespread in classic antiquity as masculine homosexuality.

As regards genuine homosexuality, the causes are the same in women as in men. But these factors only apply with qualifications to the majority of so-called homosexual women, who are in reality only pseudohomosexual.

For instance, the inclination of prostitutes to homosexual practices, which is particularly prevalent at present, is acquired through satiety with normal intercourse. This is confirmed by the fact that the percentage of homosexual prostitutes under 25 to 30 is smaller than at later ages. The total percentage is estimated by some authorities at 25 per cent, by others at 50 per cent. According to Parent-du-Chatelet, there are few old prostitutes in Paris who are not homosexual; they generally start within eight or ten years of the beginning of their careers. Young prostitutes are only brought to these practices by seduction.

In addition to “satiety,” prostitutes are induced to turn to their own sex by the general contempt of men and our “masculine’ civilization for prostitutes, who can only meet with esteem and affection among their sisters in the profession.

A further reason for the widespread pseudohomosexuality in women is their more pronounced physiological bisexuality. As Forel writes, “kisses, embraces, and caresses in bed seem far less peculiar among girls than among boys, and the normal woman submits to such tenderness with far less nausea. Among men intellectual or spiritual friendship is completely divorced from physical intimacy of any kind, but in women it often arouses a desire for kissing, embracing, and caresses, and produces a sensation of sensual pleasure, though this may not be localized. “

This makes it understandable why a normal woman is more easily aroused to sexual intercourse with another woman than a normal man with his male friend, and explains the predisposition of women for pseudohomosexuality. This predisposition is favored by external circumstances. For instance, single women may avoid normal sexual intercourse for fear of moral persecution, of pregnancy, or of depreciation in [p.240] the marriage market. Now, this abstinence from intercourse with men is not combined with total sexual abstinence, as apart from the widespread practice of masturbation, such women also seek sexual satisfaction in Lesbian love, as a substitute for normal intercourse.

This applies with even greater force where intercourse with men is in itself difficult or impossible, while intercourse with women is particularly easy. In harems this substitute appears to have been common from earliest times, and even in the ancient East Indian Kamasutra, Vatsyayana said: “As the harems are guarded, no man can enter, and as there is only one husband to many women, the latter obtain no satisfaction, and seek it among themselves.” Brantome records a similar state of affairs in Turkish harems. In addition, he states that tribady was also used by the women of Italy, Spain, and Greece as a substitute for normal intercourse. In his own country, France, he found that Lesbianism was very widespread, but he emphasizes that it was indulged in only as a substitute for normal intercourse.

In women’s prisons the position is similar to that prevailing in harems. According to Parent-du-Chatelet, Lesbian love in women’s prisons is so prevalent “that hardly any woman prisoner can escape it.” Sequestration from men ensures the success of seduction. According to Lombroso, women prisoners seduce not only their colleagues, but also the wardresses; where women are confined together shamelessness increases to such an extent that the resultant practices defy description.

Lesbian relations between female nurses of hospitals have also been frequently reported, and according to Martineau they often occur also among patients in women’s wards.

In earlier years homosexual practices are indulged in at girls’ schools, boarding-schools, etc. The inadequate fixation of the sexual impulse favors mutual satisfaction among girls, as it does among boys. According to Moraglia, Lesbianism in girls’ boarding [p.241] schools is a widespread evil. A single girl may seduce the whole school to this practice. Moll records the case of an American girls’ boarding-school where there was a veritable epidemic of Lesbianism, the girls seeking mutual satisfaction by means of cunnilinctus. Homosexual acts among school girls often occur not through
seduction, but by reason of the feminine nature alone, with its ever present desire for stimulation.

Lesbian habits are most easily acquired by girls where they live or work together and association with men is for some reason rendered difficult. This view is confirmed by Ellis, who says that the development of this inversion is promoted particularly by professions in which a number of women are constantly together, even at night, without male companionship. The maids of big hotels are sometimes in this position, and Lesbianism is also frequent in establishments where girl workers live in, and sleep two in a room or two in the same bed.

According to Lombroso, one of the essential causes of tribady is the seeking after new sensations, even unnatural ones.

Eulenburg attributes the development of Lesbian habits mainly to the surfeit from which society women suffer, which is an incorrect view in so far as it ignores the factors of sexual need and seduction, but entirely correct in so far as it confirms that Lesbianism has invaded even the “best” circles.

According to Martineau, tribady is becoming increasingly prevalent among married women and single girls. Bloch says that the clientele of masseuses in the large cities is not composed solely of men, but also comprises wqmen, mainly of the “upper classes,” who frequent their establishment for the purpose of indulging in active or passive tribady. Surfeit with men is held by this author to be an etiological factor in tribady.

Ellis mentions the frequency of tribadic acts by white women with Negresses, which is not infrequent in anti-Negro America. This confirms the view that we are here faced with the perverted
practices of surfeited women.

According to Taxil, the number of tribadic women who visit [p.242] brothels and Lesbian establishments in Paris is “beyond computation.”

The foregoing shows that in the case of women homosexuality is mostly pseudohomosexuality, the causes of which we have already explained. Naturally, the causes do not apply in the case of genuinely homosexual women, whose inversion is governed entirely by the factors explained in the previous chapter.

Here are a few cases which have come before the courts:

In 1909 the lady chairman of a homosexual women’s club sued an editor for libel for describing her activities. The editor’s statements proved to be true and he was acquitted. The following is part of the report of the proceedings: “A women’s club advertised for new members. In this way not only homosexual women, who understood the purport of the advertisements, but also other women were attracted, who thought that the object of the club was cultural and at the same time amusing. Such women were soon expected to participate in indecent practices, the nature of which some of them did not even understand. In addition, young girls were also lured to the club for such purposes. Miss L., the chairman, denied the allegations, but finally admitted that a large number of the members had been expelled for indecent solicitation. However, the witnesses heard in this matter stated that Miss L. herself had behaved in that way and that she had had an affair of that kind for a long time; the expulsions were only a matter of personal jealousy. Some of the details of the trial could not even be reported. The intimacies between the women had led to several divorces”.

    In the year 1912 a pianist named Anna P. was denounced for singing obscene songs in a basement locale to an audience composed of drunken women. During the trial it was revealed that the place was often visited by heavily veiled society women, who usually left their cars at the corner of the next street, and slipped quickly into the basement. The basement was the rendezvous of homosexual women, where such women of all classes met. The [p.243] proprietress, as well as the pianist, wore men’s clothes when she was arrested, while the other women sat at the tables smoking cigars. Anna P. was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, which was reduced to one month on appeal. After the latter sentence Anna P. was congratulated by the “ladies” present, and drove off in a car.

     In one case tried at Potsdam in 1914 one of two girls charged, pleaded that she had acted entirely under the influence of the other, who pursued her with her attentions, promising to find a husband for her.

Although such cases are now and then made public, the press is usually silent about practices of this kind. A few years ago a Berlin periodical received a letter concerning the activities of a feminine bowling club. Hirschfeld described such clubs, whose members are all women of the lower classes, as a Berlin specialty.

Even acts of violence by homosexual women have been reported. According to Ellis, an older workingwoman in Wolverhampton raped a young girl, who was held down by two other women. A friend of Ellis’s reported to him from Guadelupe that sexual assaults by women on colored girls between the ages of 1 2 and 14 occurred very frequently there, whereas similar attacks by men on boys were rare. A masseuse in Berlin tried to rape a woman client during massage. A certain Katherine Veress, according to recent newspaper reports, was in the habit of luring young girls to herself by promising them employment, took them to her hotel and raped them there.

Of twenty-five women sentenced at Turin for immoral acts, nine had attempted sexual intercourse with immature girls.

That there is tribadic prostitution, and that society women make use of it, we have already mentioned. In this connection Eulenburg writes [p.244]: “The homosexual women who constitute this prostitution are mostly young women of between 25 and 30. They dress smartly but inconspicuously, wearing mannish clothes and short hair and affecting masculine manners. In intercourse they take the active or passive role, as required, and also enter into permanent “affairs,” in which they keep a jealous eye on fidelity. Sometimes the partner is a companion, a chambermaid, or a small-part actress, but sometimes she is a good class, respectable girl, whom the tribadic prostitute has seduced, and broken engagements have been known to result from such causes”.

Tribadic “marriages” are frequent. The active partner usually plays the role of the husband and reserves full freedom for herself in sexual matters, while the passive partner plays the role of the wife and must not be unfaithful. Sometimes she is in a state of sexual servitude. Hirschfeld holds that the worst cases of sexual bondage occur in such “marriages.” Such cases sometimes come before the courts.

Countess L., who afterwards escaped abroad, dominated her wealthy tribadic partner to such an extent that she was able to rob her of her whole fortune. During the murder trial of Frau Stabernack in 1924, the accused stated that she had had homosexual relations with the victim, who then blackmailed her. In the Nebbe case (1923) a homosexual woman had her husband murdered by her partner. Six hundred love letters exchanged by the homosexual couple were found.

In many such relationships both partners are congenital homosexuals, but in still more only one partner, usually the active one, is homosexual, while the other submits to the unnatural intercourse for some other reason. This brings us to another important source of pseudohomosexuality among women, i.e. seduction.

It has been found, and confirmed by many genuine tribades, that their urge is directed not toward women with a similar disposition, but rather toward normal women. Some Lesbians even say that they abhor other Lesbians. This inclination on the part of homosexual women presents a grave danger to normal girls, as the tribade must first convert [p.245] the normal girl to her unnatural practices before she can attain her object with her. Forel writes: “When a homosexual woman wishes to seduce a normal girl, she usually succeeds in doing so by first awakening a spiritual love for herself, which is not inconsistent with feminine nature. Then, by gradual steps, the homosexual woman arouses erotic pleasure in her victim by kissing her breast nipples or rubbing her clitoris. The remarkable feature of such relationships is that the victim is sometimes not quite conscious of the abnormality of the procedure and retains her love for the homosexual partner”.

In a case recorded by Forel the tribade approached the girl dressed as a man, but the girl remained in love with her even when her true sex was revealed. According to Forel, it is not surprising that certain affections between women should gradually degenerate into homosexual affairs, in view of feminine nature. “At first,” he writes, “the two women understand each other so well, then they give each other pet names, kiss and embrace and indulge in all sorts of tender acts, so that very gradually the whole gamut of amorous actions is gone through, until finally a stage of excitement involving erotic pleasure is reached. In this way a normal woman may be seduced by a homosexual woman, and be in love with her and indulge in the worst sexual excesses, without herself becoming pathological.”

According to Forel, the impulse of these tribades is frequently so strong that they become feminine Don Juans. He records cases in which homosexual women have seduced a large number of girls, all of whom were infatuated with the seductress. A Miss Sodowska, a Polish woman doctor, bragged that, in association with a woman artist, she had “seduced more girls and women than anyone else in Poland.” At the trial of these two women it was elicited that they even used drugs and interfered in the most cynical manner in a number of marriages. A young woman who was a member of a hiking association for girls reported that a large number of the girls went in pairs, slept together, and carried on affairs. She herself had been frequently [p.246] importuned and on one occasion another girl attempted to rape her. In spite of her violent struggles the other girl covered her with kisses and in her frenzy bit her on the arms and the breast, so that the wounds were visible for a long time. When her parents noticed them they forbade her to associate with the girl in question and complained to the latter’s parents, who said they knew about their daughter’s unnatural bent, but were helpless. The first girl also said that she had been frequently importuned by her woman hairdresser as well.

Sometimes homosexuality in women is combined with other abnormalities. Here are a few cases in point; the first one, recorded by Moll, relates to a genuinely homosexual woman:

“Miss X. is 26 years of age. At the age of 5 she performed sexual acts with a little boy of 4, with whom she alleges she had “an affair.” They engaged in fellatio and cunnilinctus. At the age of 6 X. was sent to school and soon established intimate relations with other little girls, and with several of them she practiced mutual cunnilinctus. From the moment when she came into contact with the girls all her heterosexual inclinations vanished and she never had any intercourse with a boy after that. Later she gave herself to men, but those were heterosexual acts without any inclination on her part. At the age of 12 menstruation began. At that time she associated a great deal with the children of a family who kept a governess. X. soon established intimate relations with her and they engaged in mutual cunnilinctus. As far as X. can remember, this was the first time she was sexually satisfied. The affair lasted some time. X. differs from other tribades by the fact that she likes other methods of intercourse as well. She soon went from cunnilinctus to anilinctus, and also liked to have other girls water into her mouth. She began to indulge in coprophagia years ago, and this satisfies her sexually to the point of orgasm. She started these acts during the long period of her affair with the governess. She also derived great pleasure from licking the menstrual discharge of other girls, but she says that she only performed these nauseous acts when complete understanding between her and the other girl had been established and the affair had lasted some time. The patient also states that she becomes sexually excited when she is beaten with a rod. [p.247] She first heard about this practice from a man who had himself beaten by his former mistress; but such beatings must be administered to her by a woman if they are to induce sexual excitement in her. She had herself flagellated frequently by the governess. X. liked, when kissing the other girl, to have the lobe of her ear bitten, and sometimes this is done to such an extent that she feels pain and her ear swells. Miss
X. does not remember ever having had a real inclination for a man. However, after a drinking party a man persuaded her to accompany him to his home, and, partly under the influence of drink, but partly also because she wanted to get to the bottom of her indifference to men, which had made her wonder, Miss X. agreed. But coitus gave her no pleasure at all. Later another man fell in love with her, without any response on her part, but she wished to make another attempt to acquire an affection for a man, and so she had sexual intercourse with him several times, but experienced not the slightest sexual excitement during the acts. Miss X. then asked the man to perform cunnilinctus on her, and this excited and satisfied her, though she had to imagine that the person carrying out the cunnilinctus was a woman, otherwise it would have given her no pleasure. Miss X. would find it most repellent to carry out the above-mentioned nauseating acts with a man”.

In this case homosexuality is combined with masochism, and one is inclined to think that this is a consequence of affect-hunger, which in turn suggests hypererotism.

The following case, recorded by Fere, relates to a genuinely homosexual woman who was a breast fetishist. The cause of this fetishism appears to have been connected with “a first sexual impression,” to which many authors attach considerable importance.  “Frau C. was born normally, had a good constitution and developed normally in the first months. When at the age of fourteen months she was weaned, it proved difficult to tear her away from the breast, although she was already used to other foods. She only calmed down when in contact with her mother’s breast, and at such times she had a strange expression. Her mother had to indulge her in this way several times a day, otherwise she flew into a violent temper. She had to bare both breasts, which the child pressed and kissed. Eight months later the mother, who had become pregnant, realized that this anomaly [p.248]must be ended. She succeeded only with great difficulty and determination and her efforts are said to have led to an abortion. Nevertheless, the child continued to be kept away from the breast. Once, when she was three, she happened to enter a room just as her father was helping her mother to undress, and when she saw her mother’s breasts she flew into a rage and cried: “That’s mine!” It was only with great difficulty that she could be calmed. For months after this she refused to be kissed or even touched by her father. The mother then became pregnant again, and as this kept her constantly at home she succeeded in mollifying the child toward her father. When the time of her confinement was near the mother told the child that she was going to have a little brother, whereupon the child said: “If he has a nurse I’ll love him, but if he touches my teaties I’ll kill him.” When the child was born the mother suckled it herself, but did so in secret and made the girl believe that one of the chambermaids was the nurse or sent her away for many hours at a time. Nevertheless, the girl was suspicious and the mother had to tolerate her caresses repeatedly. The last time the girl made such demands was when she was eight years old. Shortly before, a servant had revealed to her that the younger child had also been suckled by the mother and the girl flew into a terrible temper and tried to fling herself on the baby; but as the servant had only been in the house a short time it was easy to deny her statement, though the girl saw the surest proof of its falsity in the fact that the baby never caressed her mother’s breasts. The patient admits that her passion for her mother’s breasts lasted well into puberty, but that she concealed it after the age of eight because her mother’s refusals made her suffer. Up to that age, she could not repress her aversion for her father, but then she tried to receive his caresses with less aversion. This dislike was not confined to her father, but extended to all men of whatever age, with the sole exception of very young men, preferably with a feminine appearance. One of her cousins, who belonged to the exceptions, noticed that, when she began to show visible signs of puberty, her love of him suddenly turned to hatred. Intimate talks with her school comrades made her realize that she was different from other girls and the ideas they expressed made her wonder. At the age of 13 1/2 she began to menstruate without her health being affected or her character changed, then menstruation continued regularly. Puberty did not change her hatred of men, but the [p.249] more she learned about sex the more she realized her anomaly and the more she wondered about it. Now she felt a stronger inclination for young girls and longed for contact with them. When she began to dance with her best friends, she noticed that contact of her breasts with theirs caused a most pleasant excitement, accompanied by erection of the nipples. At the age of 16, in similar circumstances, she first noticed that her genitals participated in this excitement and became wet. Thereafter she began to have erotic dreams, always connected with girls. The patient thinks that the school, which she left at the age of 17, contained no other girl with similar inclinations to her own, to whom she could have confided her own feelings. After leaving the school she met a girl of her own age at the house
of some friends, and this girl instantly understood her. She took her to another room and initiated her into methods of stimulating the vulva. The patient had an aversion of these practices and she avoided them, yet this girl always appeared in her erotic dreams. This, according to the patient, was the only occasion when she touched her genitals, but afterwards she frequently experienced erotic pleasure through contact with young girls, and particularly with young married women. She was not at all attracted to young men, but she was actually repelled only by men with pronounced sexual characteristics. At the age of 19 she received a proposal, followed by others, all of which she refused solely on account of this anomalous aversion, which she had not noticed in any of her friends, and of which she was fully conscious. She could imagine herself into the role of a wife and mother and would have liked to marry. Whenever a girl friend younger than herself married, she had a feeling of regret, yet she could not accept any proposal, however advantageous it was. When she was 22 years old a young man of 28 was introduced to her. He held a good situation but was weakly, with hardly any hair growth on his face, and it was said of him that he had been brought up as a girl and was still not free from his mother’s apron strings. It seemed to her that she would never have another opportunity for such a match, which answered the requirements of her family and also the demands of what she called good sense. She immediately accepted the young man and was in such a hurry to carry the matter to its conclusion that everyone was amazed. She felt no sexual attraction, but she thought this young man would help her to fulfill her duty, and she had nothing but respect for her husband.


The sexual act repelled her, and never evoked the excitement which so easily arose when she was in contact with young women. She has become used to coitus, to which she agrees from a sense of duty, and also from devotion to her husband, whom she loves as a brother, and whose collaborator and adviser she is. She has never felt anything during his embraces, unless she thought of a woman.

Di Magnus Hirschfeld vedi anche l’interessante:

Magnus Hirschfeld, 1935. Women East and West. Impressions of a Sex Expert. English version by O.P. Green. London: Heinemann, 1935, pp. 321. [NB: Questa l’edizione inglese, in quella USA il titolo era Men and Women: The World Journey of a Sexologist, pubblicato in tedesco nel 1933] Si trova allo: https://archive.org/details/b20442257/

Magnus Hirschfeld, 1935. Sex in Human Relationships, London, John Lane The Bodley Head, 1935; translated from the French L’Ame et l’amour, psychologie sexologique (Paris: Gallimard, 1935) by John Rodker., pp. 218.
Si trova allo https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.200412