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With second wave feminism and 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.
As women have generally been political minorities in Western cultures, the added medical designation of homosexuality has been cause for the development of a subcultural identity.
Instead, lesbian relationships have often been regarded as harmless and incomparable to heterosexual ones unless the participants attempted to assert privileges traditionally enjoyed by men.
As a result, little in history was documented to give an accurate description of how female homosexuality is expressed.
Sexual identity is not necessarily the same as one's sexual orientation or sexual behavior, due to various reasons, such as the fear of identifying their sexual orientation in a homophobic setting.
Portrayals of lesbians in the media suggest that society at large has been simultaneously intrigued and threatened by women who challenge feminine gender roles, and fascinated and appalled with women who are romantically involved with other women.