At first I set out to do this blog about marginalized sexuality, but then I realized, in a sense, that wasn’t being fair. I am interested in sexuality and that includes all sexuality, even the sexuality I do not identify with. This post will about heterosexuality, its invention, the history of it, and a brief definition of it from my favorite site (as you have probably noticed) wikipedia.
“Heterosexuality refers to sexual behavior with or attraction to people of the opposite sex, or to a heterosexual orientation. As a sexual orientation, heterosexuality refers to “an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions primarily to “persons of the opposite sex”; it also refers to “an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them.” The term is usually applied to human beings, but it is also observed in all mammals. The physical action of heterosexual fertilization is the only means of sexual reproductive capability among humans without the use of assisted reproductive technology. The associations with romantic love and identity in addition to its original, exclusively sexual, meaning dates back to early human societies and gender role separation. As such, gender role separation has been the subject of considerable scholarly commentary and study in human societies since the earliest written records. Heterosexuality has been more intensely studied by medicine and later biology disciplines, and more recently that of psychology. Heterosexuality, along with bisexuality and homosexuality together make up the heterosexual-homosexual continuum.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterosexuality)
Academic Study, Religious and Symbolic Representation
Heterosexuality, like any forms of identity is very subjective. In Western society, one is generally thought of as heterosexual if he or she derives his or her erotic and/or sexual stimulation from people of the opposite sex.
In other cultures a heterosexual man may engage in homosexual intercourse provided that he keeps the role traditionally assigned to his sex during intercourse and his gender during the surrounding relationship. Also, in some cultures a heterosexually identifying man may assume any role during homosexual congress as a social action provided he maintain a relationship with a woman in his family life. Cultural allowances such as this have been historically rarer amongst women, but more recently have been tolerated more than the male equivalents largely because of its connection to some schools of feminism.
Prenatal hormonal theory
The neurobiology of the masculinization of the brain is fairly well understood. Estradiol and testosterone, which is catalyzed by the enzyme 5α-reductase into dihydrotestosterone, act upon androgen receptors in the brain to masculinize it. If there are few androgen receptors (people with Androgen insensitivity syndrome) or too much androgen (females with Congenital adrenal hyperplasia), there can be physical and psychological effects. It has been suggested that both male and female heterosexuality are results of variation in this process. In these studies heterosexuality in females is linked to a lower amount of masculinization than is found in lesbian females, though when dealing with male heterosexuality there are results supporting both higher and lower degrees of masculinization than homosexual males. (See the main article for further details.)
Physiological differences in heterosexual persons
An array of opinion holds that much human behavior is ultimately explainable in terms of natural selection. From this point of view, the shifting social balance between heterosexual and homosexual desire has evolved more as a fitter survival strategy for the species than either an exclusively heterosexual or homosexual configuration of desire.
Heterosexual behaviors in animals
At the beginning of the 20th century, early theoretical discussions in the field of psychoanalysis posited original bisexuality in human psychological development. Quantitative studies by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and Dr. Fritz Klein‘s sexual orientation grid in the 1980s find distributions similar to those postulated by their predecessors.
Many modern studies, most notably Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred Kinsey, have found that the majority of humans have had both heterosexual and homosexual experiences or sensations and are bisexual. Contemporary scientific research suggests that the majority of the human population is bisexual, adhering to a fluid sexual scale rather than a category, as Western society typically views sexual nature. However, social pressures influence people to adhere to categories or labels rather than behave in a manner that more closely resembles their nature as suggested by this research.
Kinsey himself, along with current sex therapists, focused on the historicity and fluidity of sexual orientation. Kinsey’s studies consistently found sexual orientation to be something that evolves in many directions over a person’s lifetime; rarely, but not necessarily, including forming attractions to a new sex. Rarely do individuals radically reorient their sexualities rapidly—and still less do they do so volitionally—but often sexualities expand, shift, and absorb new elements over decades. For example, socially normative “age-appropriate” sexuality requires a shifting object of attraction (especially in the passage through adolescence). Contemporary queer theory, incorporating many ideas from social constructionism, tends to look at sexuality as something that has meaning only within a given historical framework. Sexuality, then, is seen as a participation in a larger social discourse and, though in some sense fluid, not as something strictly determinable by the individual.
Most sexual orientation specialists follow the general conclusion of Alfred Kinsey regarding the sexual continuum, according to which a minority of humans are exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, and that the majority are bisexual. The consensus of psychologists is that sexual orientation, in most individuals, is shaped at an early age and is not voluntarily changeable.
Other studies have disputed Kinsey’s methodology. “His figures were undermined when it was revealed that he had disproportionately interviewed homosexuals and prisoners (many sex offenders).” However, Kinsey’s idea of a sexuality continuum still enjoys acceptance today and is supported by findings in the human and animal kingdoms, including biological studies of structural brain differences between those belonging to different sexual orientations.
Sexologists have attributed discrepancies in some findings to negative societal attitudes towards a particular sexual orientation. For example, people may state different sexual orientations depending on whether their immediate social environment is public or private. Reluctance to disclose one’s actual sexual orientation is often referred to as “being in the closet.” Individuals capable of enjoyable sexual relations with both sexes or one sex may feel inclined to restrict themselves to heterosexual or homosexual relations in societies that stigmatize same-sex or opposite-sex relations. In traditional societies, individuals are often under heavy social pressure to marry and have children, irrespective of their desired sexual orientation.
Although the concept of three basic sexual orientations is widely recognized, a small minority maintain that there are other legitimate sexual orientations besides homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. These may include significant or exclusive orientation towards a particular type of transsexual or transgender individual (e.g. female-to-male transsexual men), intersexed individuals, or those who identify as non-gendered or other-gendered.
Nature versus nurture
The considerable “Nature versus nurture“-debate exists over whether predominantly biological or psychological factors produce sexual orientation in humans. Candidate factors include genes, the exposure of fetuses to certain hormones (or lack thereof) and environmental factors. Historically, Freud and many other psychologists, particularly in psychoanalytic or developmental traditions, speculated that formative childhood experiences helped produce sexual orientation; as an example Freud believed that all human teenagers are predominantly bisexual and transition to heterosexuality in adulthood; those who remain homosexual as adults he believed had experienced some traumatic event that arrested their sexual development; however, he did believe all adults, even those who had no traumatic experience, still retained latent homosexuality to varying degrees.
The APA currently officially states that “some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime,” a radical reversal from the recent past, when non-normative sexuality was considered a deviancy or mental ailment treatable through institutionalization or other radical means.
Critique of studies
The studies performed in order to find the origin of sexual orientation have been criticized for being too limited in scope, mostly for focusing only on heterosexuality and homosexuality as two diametrically opposite poles with no orientation in between.
It is also asserted that scientific studies focus too much on the search for a biological explanation for sexual orientation, and not enough on the combined effects of both biology and psychology.
In a brief put forth by the Council for Responsible Genetics, it was stated that sexual orientation is not fixed either way, and on the discourse over sexual orientation: “Noticeably missing from this debate is the notion, championed by Kinsey, that human sexual expression is as variable among people as many other complex traits. Yet just like intelligence, sexuality is a complex human feature that modern science is attempting to explain with genetics… Rather than determining that this results from purely biological processes, a trait evolves from developmental processes that include both biological and social elements. In addition, scientists rarely take into consideration sexual preferences that are not described by the two poles heterosexual and homosexual ‘in hopes of maximizing the chance that they will find something of interest.'” According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are numerous theories about the origins of a person’s sexual orientation, but some believe that “sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors,” and that genetic factors play a “significant role” in determining a person’s sexuality.
Almost all religions believe sex between a man and a women is allowed, but there are a few that believe that it is a sin, such as The Shakers, The Harmony Society, and The Ephrata Cloister. These religions tend to view all sexual relations as sinful, and promote celibacy. Other religions view heterosexuality as being inferior to celibacy, and requires celibacy for certain roles, such as Catholic priests.
Abrahamic religions have several scriptures related to heterosexuality. In Genesis 2:24, which is considered scripture by Abrahamic religions, there is a commandment stating “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”( ) In 1 Corinthians 11:11, which is considered scripture for Christians, it reads “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord”( )
Many people interpret this to mean that the heterosexual family is divinely inspired, and commanded of God. People in the traditional marriage movement, believe that only unions between one man and one woman should be legally defined as marriages.
For the most part, religious traditions in the world reserve marriage to heterosexual unions, but there are exceptions including Unitarian Universalist, Metropolitan Community Church and some Anglican dioceses and Quaker, United Church of Canada and Reform Jewish congregations.
History of heterosexual symbolism dates back to the earliest artefacts of humanity which included ritual fertility carvings and primitive rock art. This was later expressed in the symbolism of fertility rites and polytheistic worship which often included images of human reproductive organs. The modern symbols of heterosexuality in the societies derived from Europe are still referenced to the symbols used in these ancient beliefs, with the image in this section being a combination of the symbol for Mars as the definitive male stereotype of a warrior, and Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
The term “straight” originated as a mid-20th century gay slang term for heterosexuals, ultimately coming from the phrase “to go straight” (as in “straight and narrow”), or stop engaging in homosexual sex. One of the first uses of the word in this way was in 1941 by author G. W. Henry. Henry’s book concerned conversations with homosexual males and used this term in connection with the reference to ex-gays. It currently simply is a colloquial term for “heterosexual” having, like many words, changed in primary meaning over time. The term breeder, a word which is normally applied to animals, is sometimes used by lesbian or gay persons to describe heterosexuals in a negative or humorous way” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterosexuality)
It feels as if heterosexuality has not been as examined as it should be for its conventions because it is assumed to be right in a way because of its normality. All of the absurdities are examined, but not the norm. I find it interesting when people further examine this norm and look forward to seeing the examination of it in the future as possibly not being natural because we were never meant to overpopulate the world in the first place. The question is: what now?
Interesting Further Reading
-An article entitled “Compulsory Heterosexuality” that is obviously written by a queer person, that refers to Adrienne Rich (http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/compulsory_heterosexuality.html)
– A History of Sexuality article written possibly by a professor? check it out, the person who wrote this has further resources (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/pwh/hethist.html)
– A New York Times article about “Turning Heterosexuality On and Off” which tells about a study being done about a pill that changes sexual orientation, so far in mice and flies (http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/12/round-2-turning-heterosexuality-on-and-off/)
- Keel, Robert O., Heterosexual Deviance. (Goode, 1994, chapter 8, and Chapter 9, 6th edition, 2001.) Sociology of Deviant Behavior: FS 2003, University of Missouri – St. Louis.
- “Heterosexual partner rights raise questions”. The News’ View, Yale Daily News Publishing Company. January 27, 2004.
- Coleman, Thomas F., What’s Wrong with Excluding Heterosexual Couples from Domestic Partner Benefits Programs? Unmarried America, American Association for Single People.
- The invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz (http://www.amazon.com/Invention-Heterosexuality-Jonathan-Ned-Katz/dp/0226426017)