Where does tribbing come from?
Tribbing is shortened from the word tribadism, a term for “lesbianism” emerging in the 1800s, though the term was also used of male sodomy and reciprocal masturbation in the 19th century.
Tribadism, in turn, comes from tribade, a term for a lesbian attested in the early 1600s. Via French and Latin, tribade ultimately comes from the Greek tribas, a derogatory term for a woman who masturbates or engages in intercourse with another woman, especially by means of penetration with an enlarged clitoris or dildo. Tribas is rooted in a Greek verb meaning “to rub.”
And it was though this “rub” sense that tribadism especially came to refer to a specific sexual practice by the 1930s—when one woman pleasures another woman by rubbing her clitoris on her partner’s, as if “humping” or having missionary style intercourse.
The slang shortening tribbing first appears on Twitter in the summer of 2008, and appeared on Urban Dictionary by 2009, though it appeared on early internet message boards before that time, mostly in reference to pornography.
Tribbing, as it is portrayed in the popular media, has been somewhat controversial. For example, when it appeared in the 2013 film Blue Is the Warmest Color, there was debate about 1) whether the film was too pornographic or 2) whether or not the film accurately captured the practice in a realistic way.
Who uses tribbing?
In contrast with tribadism and its more historical, formal, and academic origin, tribbing is more of a slang term used in pornography and erotica (as a fetish or genre) as well as in discussions of safe sex and sexual education. While tribadism has been used of lesbianism more generally, tribbing specifically names the sex act. And unlike tribadism, historically used in a negative manner, tribbing is a more neutral term. Tribbing can also be used as a verb, e.g., “I tribbed with my bestie.” It’s sometimes used just as trib, as in “trib porn.” Tribbing is also referred to as “frottage,” “vagina grinding,” or “scissoring.”
“The theoretical risk of tribbing would involve getting a sufficient quantity of infected vaginal/cervical secretions from the poz partner into the negative partner's Bermuda Triangle of Love.”
Robert J. Frascino Dr. Frascino Thebody (July 15, 2008)
“Let’s be completely honest, if you think about tribbing, how is that not going to get you into trouble? There is no protection for that.”
Tiffany Mugo, “The Woman Trying to Convince Africa’s Lesbians to Practice Safe Sex,” News Deeply (Janary 6, 2017)
“One woman’s refusing to acknowledge scissoring as a viable sex act is another’s tremendous appreciation for tribbing.”
Trish Bendix, “These Women Are Behind Some Of Your Favorite Lesbian Sex Scenes On TV,” Buzzfeed LGBT (December 3, 2016.)