What makes a woman “lesbian”?

A woman who experiences emotional dependency on another woman may develop same-sex sexual attractions to that other woman. Emotional dependency takes the form of a consuming, unhealthy attachment to another person of the same-sex, from whom a person derives identity, validation and well-being. The relationship, if founded on emotional dependence, may then take on a sexual nature and develop into a lesbian relationship.

Emotional and relational attachment seems to be as important as erotic attraction in lesbian relationships.1 However, a lesbian’s primary yearning to find self-completion or a sense of wholeness can take place within real or imagined relationships with other women.2

Mike Haley explains some contributing factors to lesbianism3:

Childhood trauma. In one study, an astounding 90% of the lesbians surveyed experienced some form of abuse, including witnessing abuse against a family member. The three most common forms of abuse experienced before the age of 18 were emotional (almost 70%), sexual (more than 60%), and verbal (more than 50%).

Damaged mother-daughter relationship. When a girl is neglected by her mother in her earliest phase of life (birth to 2.5 years) and does not receive the maternal affection she needs, she may grow up believing that her mother is unreliable and decide not to identify with or trust her. In the process, she may reject and suppress her own femininity.

Unhealthy father-daughter relationship.If a father is abusive to his wife or daughter, his daughter is less likely to enjoy her femaleness and may even reject her femininity. If the father is hostile or emotionally unavailable to his daughter, he communicates a bad feeling about being a woman to her.

Atypical childhood play patterns. Avoidance or rejection of typical female games and activities, preference of male over female playmates, and unwillingness to participate in typical female interests may reveal how a girl sees and accepts herself as a female in childhood. This gender identity alone does not necessarily predispose a female to same-sex attraction later in life.

Personality or temperament. Little girls are often expected to be soft, sweet and compliant. Some parents don’t hide their disappointment or disapproval when they aren’t and may inadvertently leave their daughters feeling rejected. If her sense of self and female identity is wounded, it makes a girl more vulnerable to lesbianism at a later stage of life.

Media propaganda. Today, the mainstream media has glamourized homosexuality as fashionable and progressive through depictions of attractive persons in same-sex intimate relationships, and through celebrities who have “come out” to declare themselves homosexual. As such, one may today observe more young ladies displaying intimate affection towards each other in public and more readily identifying themselves as lesbian.

1. Janelle Hallman, The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counselling Resource (IVP Books, 2008)
2. Love Won Out series: The Heart of the Matter: The Roots and Causes of Female Homosexuality (Focus on the Family, 2005)
3. Mike Haley, 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality(Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2004)