Although the origin of male homosexuality lies in castration anxiety, the fear of the penis itself is essential to female homosexuality. Often the penis is seen by such women as a punishing, hurting, destructive, tearing, and biting organ. These fears and thoughts and feelings may impede the capacity for sexual enjoyment, to the extent that there is no sexual pleasure possible if it involves a penis.

For homosexual women, one way in which the male genital can be excluded is by regression. It must be remembered that the first love object of every human being is the mother, so that all women, as opposed to men, begin life with a primary homosexual attachment. When in the course of later development the emergence of normal heterosexuality is blocked, the regression to the homosexual attachment can be revived. Whereas the male regresses from a love of the mother as a sexual object to identification with the mother, the woman regresses from the love of the father as a sexual object to a love of the mother as a sexual object. Consequently, female homosexuality tends to have two important factors: the first is the rejection of heterosexuality related to the castration complex and penis fear, and the second is the early pre-oedipal fixation on the attachment to the mother. These factors supplement each other since the attachment to the mother may protect and reassure against the threat of castration.

The normal progression in feminine sexual development is through the little girl’s loving attachment to her father. If that attachment is successful, that is, if it is not excessively seductive and if the father is able to respond in positive ways so as to reinforce the young girl’s sense of growing feminine attractiveness and worth, she emerges with a more adequate sense of herself as feminine and as capable of attracting, loving, and being loved by a man who is in some way like her father. This dynamic is obviously reinforced when the father’s attitude toward the mother is one of loving respect and affection, so that it becomes possible for a little girl to grow up with a positive identification with her mother which then can reinforce her own potentialities for being loved by a man and finding fulfillment and self-esteem by growing into and taking on a feminine position and role in life. The natural outcome of this progression is to lead a young woman to seek fulfillment and life expression through the normal channels of marriage, motherhood, and family life. To the extent that this identification carries with it the positive, constructive, and competent aspects of both parents, the young woman enters life with a sense of her own capacity to strive, compete, accomplish, and produce as an effective and competent human being.

But this process is subject to many vicissitudes. If the father is unable to respond to and positively reinforce the young girl’s sense of growing femininity, this disappointment and disillusionment may draw her away from an increasing identification with the mother and toward an identification with the father. This paternal identification may lead her to seek women as love objects resembling her mother. This resolution not only avoids the oedipal competition with the mother but also has an element of continuing hostility toward the father expressed in hostility towards men in general. This form of feminine homosexuality resembles male homosexuality in which identification with the mother leads to a desire to be loved by the father in the same way that he loved the mother. In the female the identification with the father leads to a desire to love the mother in the same way that the father loved her. This pattern is frequent among homosexual women and leads to adopting an active masculine relation to other women. One hears the reverberations of these dynamics in claims from such women that they do not need any men in their lives, or that they can be as good as any man. Such masculine strivings need not be combined with homosexuality but may be, depending on the intensity of the early fixation to the mother as we have suggested, and on the particular outcome of the castration complex.

Frequently for such homosexual women, the retreat from the father is accompanied by an intense longing for acceptance, closeness, and intimacy with the mother or mother-substitute. Loving the mother figure as the father loved her may also be combined with the wish to be loved by the mother in a more infantile way and in a way which has never been satisfactorily realized in the individual’s life experience. Turning away from heterosexuality revives elements of the early relationship to the mother and may have a more archaic or primitive character than male homosexuality has. It brings back not only the patterns of behavior, wishes, and gratifications of the early relationship with the mother, but also the fears and conflicts related to that early involvement. In such homosexual relationships there may be a good deal of mothering and infantilization between the partners as well as much kissing, sucking, licking, and other oral components of the sexual experience.


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