Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Various Close Relationships for Lesbian Women in 1986 and 2005

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Various Close Relationships for Lesbian Women in 1986 and 2005

Article excerpt


Several researchers studying close relationships point to the need to explore the contribution of structural and historical factors, and the need to examine relationships outside of the cultural mainstream (e.g., Felmlee & Sprecher, 2000; Wood, 1995). In this article, we seek to explore various close relationships in the lives of self-identified lesbians within two historical contexts.

Important works within sociology and social psychology during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have exposed social structures that regulated the lives of lesbian and gay men, such as homophobia (Weinberg, 1972), sexual stigma (Plummer, 1975), essentialist notions of sexual orientation (Richardson, 1984) and stereotyping and negative attitudes towards lesbian women and gay men (Herek, 1988). Although several of these social structures may still be strong, structural changes relevant to lesbian women and gay men seem to have taken place in Norway and other Westernized societies since the 1980s. In Norway, marriage-like same-sex partner registration was implemented in 1993, and Internet technology has provided much easier access to information about non-heterosexual sex and ways of living one's life, as well as offering new forms of exploring identities and connecting to other people. An increasing number of Norwegians report favorable attitudes towards lesbians and gays (Anderssen, 2002). In addition, the very distinctions between homosexuality and heterosexuality have been challenged (e.g., Seidman, 1996). It is believed that such recent historical changes have transformed the lives of lesbians (Patterson, 2000). However, very little empirical evidence exists from studies investigating this view. It is necessary to assess whether these structural, attitudinal, and conceptual changes have actually altered the living conditions for lesbian women and gay men so that important aspects in their lives are different today compared with only two decades ago.

Based on data collected in 1986 and 2005, we analyzed various close relationships in the life course of self-identified lesbian women, in the context of historical period. Specifically, we studied romantic relationships with women, romantic relationships with men, and giving birth.

Previous research

Regarding romantic relationships with other women, the very concept of identification as heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian is based on some sort of romantic relation or erotic attraction (e.g., De Cecco's definition of sexual orientation, 1981). Therefore, romantic relationships with other people probably constitute a significant aspect in the life experience of most self-identified lesbian women. In general, whether one is in a steady relationship or not constitutes an important feature of a person's everyday life. In a Norwegian pioneer survey among lesbian women and gay men in 1978 (Bergh, Bjerck, & Lund), 56% of the lesbian women (n=86) in the late 1970s reported being in a romantic relationship with another woman. In the late 1990s, 69% of the lesbian respondents (n=1135) in a national survey among lesbian women and gay men reported having a steady relationship with another woman (Hegna, Kristiansen, & Moseng, 1999). In the US, the figures range from 45% to 80% (Koh et al., 2005; Patterson, 2000). In Norway, among those who reported having romantic relationships with other women, the same proportion reported living with their lovers in the late 1970s (70%, Bergh et al., 1978) and late 1990s (73%, Hegna et al., 1999).

Regarding romantic relationships with men, many women who identify themselves as lesbians have complied with cultural expectations and explored heterosexual relationships on their way towards a lesbian way of life. Several studies indicate that a substantial proportion of lesbian women reported having had romantic relationships with men, both sexual and long-term (Bailey, Farquhar, & Owen, 2003; Brooks, 1981; Koh et al. …

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