Prior to the c18th, women who desired other women were assumed by the igorant to have excessively large clitorises. These both led them towards women rather than men and gave them a means of penetration.
The word 'lesbian' can trace its roots only to 1870. It became an adjective in 1890 and a noun in 1925. Since the c16th, lesbian activity was described as sapphic or tribadism, and women practising that were tribades. It was all considered quite scandalous and was rarely alluded to in polite society. The church called lesbianism 'the silent sin' but it has never been illegal in Britain.
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