When early sexologists in the late 19th century began to categorize and describe homosexual behavior, hampered by a lack of knowledge about homosexuality or women's sexuality, they distinguished lesbians as women who did not adhere to female gender roles and incorrectly designated them mentally ill—a designation which has been reversed in the global scientific community.
Women in homosexual relationships responded to this designation either by hiding their personal lives or accepting the label of outcast and creating a subculture and identity that developed in Europe and the United States.
In 1890, the term lesbian was used in a medical dictionary as an adjective to describe tribadism (as "lesbian love").
The terms lesbian, invert and homosexual were interchangeable with sapphist and sapphism around the turn of the 20th century.
Little of Sappho's poetry survives, but her remaining poetry reflects the topics she wrote about: women's daily lives, their relationships, and rituals.
She focused on the beauty of women and proclaimed her love for girls.
With second wave feminism and the growth of scholarship in women's history and sexuality in the 20th century, the definition of lesbian broadened, sparking a debate about sexual desire as the major component to define what a lesbian is.
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