Heterosexuality is attraction to people of the opposite sex. Men who are attracted to women and women who are attracted to men are heterosexual.
What is Heterosexuality?
Although the definition of heterosexuality seems straightforward, there is still significant debate about what exactly constitutes heterosexuality. Sociologists, psychologists, and gender studies experts have debated whether heterosexuality is genetic like eye color or is an early tendency that is the result of both genes and environment. In the latter scheme, heterosexuality would be similar to liking sweets or preferring a certain kind of movie. Some opponents of homosexual rights have argued that sexual orientation is a choice—as implied in the term “sexual preference”—but this view has been largely rejected.
Many people with many different sexual preferences define themselves as heterosexual. People who consider themselves heterosexual might include people who are solely attracted to the opposite sex, people who are attracted to both sexes but who only have sex with the opposite sex, people who have undergone “reparative therapy” in an attempt to eliminate homosexual desires, and many other groups.
Biologist Alfred Kinsey developed the Kinsey Scale after conducting intensive studies of sexual practices. He emphasized that sexuality is a continuum rather than a dichotomy between two preferences. The scale runs from zero to six, with zero being exclusively heterosexual and six being exclusively homosexual.
The History of Heterosexuality
Heterosexuality has not always been construed as an immutable trait or a significant part of identity. Philosopher Michel Foucault has argued that in the recent past, people’s sexual behavior was not considered to be an orientation; while there were heterosexual acts, there were not necessarily heterosexuals. The term heterosexual came into use in the early 20th century.
In recent years, sociologists and gender activists have emphasized the pressure to conform to heterosexual norms and the social presumption that all people are heterosexual. This phenomenon is called heteronormativity.
- Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality. New York, NY: Vintage.
- Katz, J. N. (n.d.). The invention of heterosexuality. PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/context/katzhistory.html
Last Updated: 08-7-2015
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