Sapphic, sometimes known as woman loving woman (WLW), or sapphist, refers to a woman of any sexual orientation who is attracted to other women. Another definition is specifically inclusive of non-binary people. It is an umbrella term for many identities, including those who are lesbian, pansexual, bisexual, or queer. It is used to promote solidarity among women of all identities who are attracted to other women. It may also be used as an identity, and may be found particularly useful for individuals who know they are attracted to women but may be uncertain if they are attracted to other genders. It can also be used to describe a relationship between two women.
Sapphic as an adjective came into use in circa 1500 in reference to Sappho, poetess of the isle of Lesbos c. 600 BCE. The word was used especially in reference to her characteristic meter. It gained its meaning of "pertaining to sexual relations between women" in the 1890s; the noun "sapphism", meaning "homosexual relations between women", also originated in the 1890s. "Lesbian" and its meanings are similarly derived from the isle associated with Sappho.
The term sapphic is derived from the Greek poet Sappho, who lived on the isle of Lesbos. The sexual identity of Sappho has been long debated and continues as such to this day. Some interpret her poems as meaning she had relationship with women. Her new style of poetry was called a "sapphic stanza". Her songs often mentioned various emotions to her susceptibility to women, which later, derived the terms sapphic and lesbian.
Because the term bisexual did not come into popularity until the 1950s, the words "sapphic" and "lesbian" were used to describe a potentially romantic relationship between two women. In the mid-20th century, "lesbian" and "sapphic" were often synonyms. In the 21st century, it has become an umbrella term used to describe any romantic relationship between women or non-binary people. The uptick in searches for the term sapphic have increased since 2014.
Two sapphic flags have two pink stripes on the top and bottom, symbolizing love, with a white center stripe. The center of the white stripe depicts a flower. In one version, a pair of violets in the center symbolizes love between two women.
The word "sapphic" is often confused for "lesbian" or thought to be the same thing. They historically were equivalent, but because they have accumulated multiple definitions, their meanings are ambiguous without specifying which definitions are used.
For instance, when lesbians are defined as women who are exclusively attracted to women only, it would not include those with multisexual orientations or non-binary identities. When using that definition, sapphic could then be distinguished as an umbrella term by including all sexualities in which women are attracted to other women, by explicitly including non-binary identities, or both. Under those specific definitions, pansexual and non-binary would be mutually exclusive with lesbian, but a pansexual non-binary individual could be sapphic. However, although lesbian is often regarded as an exclusive term, it likewise has definitions inclusive of non-binary and/or multisexual lesbians.
- The Ultimate Sapphic Masterlist of 2020 - All these books have moments in the text where it is shown a character is WLW, however, some characters use a specific label (i.e., lesbian, bi, pan) to identify themselves. Other use the term "sapphic" to describe themselves or their relationship(s).
- Sapphic stanza
- Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
- The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall