Destructive Myths and Stereotypes

Counselors need to be aware of the numerous myths and stereotypes that our society tolerates and sometimes promotes even though they are inaccurate and can be destructive. Such awareness enables counselors to check out their own belief systems and help work with their lesbian clients on issues specific to their sexual orientation.

One set of myths is that lesbians hate men, that they are afraid of men, or that they want to be men. The truth of the matter is that a small number of lesbians may hate men, but so do some heterosexual women. A small number may be afraid of men (as are some heterosexual women) and often for good reasons (e.g., rape, sexual abuse, physical violence, sexism). It can certainly be said that many lesbians and many heterosexual women want the same power that men have by virtue of having been born male. Most lesbians do not hate men; they are not afraid of men, nor do they want to be men. Likewise, the idea that all lesbians are masculine or “butch” is not true.

Another myth is that lesbians do not have stable relationships and are either particularly loath or anxious to form committed relationships. A number of younger lesbians engage in serial dating and are not monogamous. Like their straight counterparts, some might be judged promiscuous, but it is more accurate to see them as following the mores of their peers and their generation’s culture Conversely, a myth exists that lesbians form committed relationships instantly and stay together as long as they possibly can. Again like heterosexual women, some lesbians may form lasting committed relationships too soon for their own good, whereas others may not.

A pervasive myth to consider is that life as a lesbian is only—or predominantly—about being sexual or that a lesbian identity is purely a sexual identity. Although being lesbian most certainly is about being sexually attracted to other women, many lesbians also talk about the power and importance of their emotional and affectional feelings and attractions for other women.

Common myths also suggest that there is a sexual cause for lesbianism, such as having had bad sexual relationships with men, or having been sexually abused by men, or not being sufficiently sexually attractive to men.

An offshoot myth is that lesbians are sexual predators, that they are always looking to seduce one another and heterosexual women. This myth strains credulity since women are not known to be sexual predators and indeed receive strong messages from our society discouraging sexual aggression.

One other set of myths that needs to be challenged relates to the idea that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. These myths merit some discussion here, although a fuller treatment is provided in chapter 1. It is true that lesbians can change their sexual behavior. Many women who eventually self-identify as lesbians live for years behaving as heterosexuals. They may take husbands and have and raise children. Despite appearances, however, they cannot always be said to have changed their sexual orientation. Two related myths are (1) that lesbians would prefer to be heterosexual and would, in fact, choose to change their sexual orientation if they could, and (2) that sexual orientation is caused by a hormonal imbalance and could be changed by taking the right hormones.

What is important about the myths are the underlying assumptions—that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality: more moral, healthier, and more natural. These beliefs can make life in recovery harder to negotiate.