Adrienne Rich’s essay constitutes a powerful challenge to some of our least examined sexual assumptions. Rich turns all the familiar arguments on their heads: If the first erotic bond is to the mother, she asks, could not the “natural” sexual orientation of both men and women be toward women?
Rich’s radical questioning has been a major intellectual force in the general feminist reorientation to sexual matters in recent years, and her conception of a “lesbian continuum” sparked especially intense debate. Does lesbianism incorporate all support systems and intense interactions among women, or is it a specifically erotic choice? What is gained and what is lost with the second, narrower definition? Rich’s assumptions also usefully raise the more general theoretical question: Is adult sexuality so closely associated with the infant bond that genuinely satisfying sex relations are likely to be structured primarily around nurturance?