Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Lesbian Love and Liberation

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Lesbian Love and Liberation


Lesbian Love and Liberation: The Yes Book of Sex.

San Francisco: Multi Media Resource Center, 1973.

[46 pp.] Staplebound pamphlet in pictorial wraps. In very good condition and featuring black and white photography throughout.

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A pamphlet written by two of the most important figures of the lesbian-feminist movement, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. In 1955, Martin and Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco, the first organization of its kind, to create a sense of community among lesbians, and raise awareness surrounding the social, political, and economic struggles they faced. As DOB they published The Ladder, a monthly newsletter and incredible resource for information. In 1972 their writing culminated in the groundbreaking book Lesbian/Woman. By the publication of this pamphlet, Martin had been the first lesbian to have been elected a board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Lyon had become the associate director of the National Sex Forum (which it notes on the copyright page, “approved and edited” this work).

This brief pamphlet draws from each of Martin and Lyon’s experiences as activists, publishers, and lovers, although it seems to sacrifice detail for the sake of accessibility: 

The Yes Book of Sex is a series of booklets designed…to provide realistic and accurate sex information for the general public as well as for professional counselors. The booklets share a view of human sexuality which emphasizes proficiency rather than constraint…They are ‘how to’ books designed to help the average person to understand, accept and value human sexuality.

In real terms this means the booklet is very gentle, and very tame. It’s printed in a very large format for easy reading. Each of its fourteen black and white images show anything but sexual behaviour: lesbians socialising, meeting, laughing, a lesbian couple with their two children smiling into the camera, friends with their arms draped over one another, a child brushing an adult’s hair, a woman fixing a roof, a protestor bearing the sign “Sisterhood Feels Good,” silhouettes of two couples walking on the beach. The majority of the work is about sexuality, defining terms such as “lesbian” and “homophobia,” and seeking to overturn harmful stereotypes about gays and lesbians. There are a few paragraphs about sex, and in an incredibly dated moment of second wave feminist perspective, Del and Martin write that dildos “are rarely used by Lesbians.” At the end of the book, future pamphlets in the series promise to discuss “pleasuring.” 

Nevertheless, the charm of this book is its cheerful opting-in to quiet revolution. Similar to Lyon and Martin’s Lesbian/Women, famous for paving many a woman’s way out of the closet, its tone is one of simplicity yet confidence. Lesbian Love and Liberation takes an even gentler approach presents itself in the form and an authoritative medical pamphlet, a pamphlet that seems to imagine a shy but curious dyke-in-the-making who isn’t out yet, can’t imagine reading a book-length work about it, but needs a helping hand.

And that approach too is consistent with Martin and Lyon’s lifetime of work dedicated to comprehensive consideration of the lives of lesbian women. In 1979 they founded Lyon-Martin Health Services, a clinic for lesbians who otherwise could not access affordable healthcare; that same year they wrote Battered Women, describing domestic violence in its relationship to larger systems of misogynistic oppression and providing resources for the women who experience it. In 1993 their clinic expanded to care for women with HIV, and provide services for transgender people, and still operated today.


“Remembering Del Martin,” Lyon-Martin Health Services, 

Pantsuits worn by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon to their weddings in San Francisco in 2004 and 2008; on display at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., San Francisco. Photo: GLBT Historical Society.