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Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian  
page: 1  2  3  

The Power of Lesbian Sexuality

Many argue that lesbian sexuality has been so effectively erased from cultural production that any image of women arousing or pleasuring each other is radical. The appropriation of fetish-chic by the mainstream in the 1990s brought the dildo-wielding, shaved and pierced dyke into the fast lane of popular culture and even onto the catwalk. But such images comprise the minority of lesbian erotica, the bulk of which is far simpler and more straightforward.

Stripped of all pornographic signifiers, "real life" lesbians of all shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, and (dis)abilities enjoy the ordinary pleasures of lesbian sex. The power of such images is deceptive. To show a woman clearly getting off on rimming her partner as Jill Posener does in 1988: Untitled (1988) or two young black women kissing with obvious passion as in Katie Niles' 1978: Untitled (1978) is to show what the heterosexual mainstream wishes to keep secret--the simple fact that women, whatever their cultural background, do not need men for sex.

Lesbian Sex Magazines

The growth of a self-confident lesbian identity, partly post-Stonewall and partly as a result of second-wave feminism, gave rise to a small explosion of lesbian sex-magazines. Because very few women have access to capital, and because many feminist bookshops continue to exclude publications they believe to be pornographic, lesbian sex-magazines struggle to survive.

The longest-lived is the United States title, On Our Backs (an outright challenge to the feminist publication, off our backs), while Australia has Wicked Women, and even England managed to support, for a tantalizing five issues, the beautifully-produced Quim.

These pioneering publications offer work to lesbian photographers and illustrators producing explicit erotic imagery, thus providing the essential economic foundation that is so taken for granted by producers and consumers of men's pornography.

Diversity in Lesbian Erotica

Many forms of social exclusion operate within lesbian communities and acknowledging this fact has been influential in lesbian erotica. Sexualized images of individuals who are fat, disabled, or beyond middle age occur far more frequently (and with more positive intent) in lesbian porn than in pornography aimed at any other group.

The challenge of producing arousing images of black and minority ethnic women, without falling into racist stereotypes, has led to some particularly interesting work from photographers such as Jacqui Duckworth, Laurence Jangy-Paget, and Mumtaz Karimjee.

Lesbian erotic art cannot be detached from the social and political context in which it is produced. It is, perhaps, ironic that the legacy of the "sex wars" that divided feminists in the 1970s and 1980s should be a vibrant, rich, and diverse body of lesbian erotic art. It is also worthy of note that no comparable body of work produced by heterosexual women exists.

The appropriation of fetish imagery from dyke porn by the mainstream may be problematic--this debate continues--but the fact that there is a substantial body of work that may be raided in this way is undeniable evidence that lesbian sexuality is visible now to an extent that it has never been before.

Tamsin Wilton

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arts >> Overview:  Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall lesbian photographers have created an enduring archive that documents lesbian lives, searches for a lesbian sensibility, and explores various issues of particular import to the lesbian community.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Lesbian, Pre-Stonewall

The most significant examples of pre-Stonewall lesbian photography convey relationships, reflect lesbian iconography, or show the photographer looking at and recording her beloved.

arts >> Overview:  Pornographic Film and Video: Lesbian

Although pornography is controversial among lesbians, it has nonetheless been openly embraced by a faction of pro-sex lesbians, and there has emerged a small but growing film and video industry committed to authentic lesbian pornography.

literature >> Barnes, Djuna

American novelist Djuna Barnes sought new forms of self-representation of lesbians in the face of society's compulsory heterosexuality.

arts >> Beardsley, Aubrey

English decadent and Symbolist artist Aubrey Beardsley made a lasting contribution to the art of illustration; a satirist with a gift for caricature and grotesquerie, Beardsley attacked Victorian sexual values.

arts >> Boffin, Tessa

British performance artist and photographer Tessa Boffin was the first British lesbian artist to produce work in response to the AIDS epidemic.

arts >> Brooks, Romaine

The female nudes and portraits of cross-dressed women made American artist Romaine Brooks's lesbian identity known to the world.

arts >> Corinne, Tee

The shy superstar of lesbian erotica, American artist Tee Corinne is especially known for her frank and sensuous depictions of lesbian sex.

arts >> Fini, Léonor

The work of bisexual artist Léonor Fini, which emphasizes female power and autonomy, may be seen as a response to the patriarchal assumptions of Surrealism.

arts >> Grace, Della (Del Lagrace Volcano)

The work of photographer Della Grace, also known as Del Lagrace Volcano, confronts questions of the performance of gender, especially the performance of masculinity by lesbians.


Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books/British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972.

Boffin, Tessa, and Jean Fraser, eds. Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. London: Pandora, 1991.

Bright, Susie, and Jill Posener, eds. Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image. New York: Freedom Editions, 1996.

Cooper, Emmanuel. The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West. London: Routledge, 1986.

Corrine, Tee, with Jacqueline Lapidus. Yantras of Womanlove: Diagrams of Energy. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1982.

Kiss & Tell. Drawing the Line: Lesbian Sexual Politics on the Wall. Vancouver, B. C.: Press Gang, 1991.

_____. Her Tongue on My Theory: Images, Essays and Fantasies. Vancouver, B. C.: Press Gang, 1994.

MacAdams, Cynthia. Rising Goddess. New York: Morgan and Morgan, 1983.

Penelope, Julia, and Susan Wolfe, eds. Lesbian Culture: An Anthology. Freedom, Cal.: The Crossing Press, 1993.

Weiss, Andrea. Paris Was a Woman: Portraits from the Left Bank. London: Harper Collins, 1995.

Wilton, Tamsin. Finger-Licking Good: The Ins and Outs of Lesbian Sex. London: Cassell, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Wilton, Tamsin  
    Entry Title: Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated April 8, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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