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a term created by 19th cent. theorists to describe a sexual and emotional interest in members of one's own sex. Today a person is often said to have a homosexual or a heterosexual orientation, a description intended to defuse some of the long-standing sentiment
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- a sexual categorization referring to female HOMOSEXUALITY. In this usage, sexual behaviour and sexual identification are taken as the primary factors denoted by the term.
- (feminist usage) homoerotic desire between women, or, more widely, a specifically female experience involving the social, emotional and erotic bonding of women. In this usage lesbianism is seen as primarily a political category, placing less importance on the issue of genital sexuality and more on woman-identified experience.
Lesbianism is subjected to both social and legal control in many contemporary societies. In the UK, lesbianism is not subject to criminalization except in the armed forces. Lesbians, however, tend to be subject to control via the civil courts, particularly in custody cases involving the children of lesbian mothers. The history of lesbianism and its regulation via law and custom is different from that pertaining to male homosexuality, and has been the subject of both misrepresentation and invisibility.