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."citation |url=http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=31 |title=Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality |periodical=APAHelpCenter.org |accessdate=2007-09-07] [http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/highprofile/documents/Amer_Psychological_Assn_Amicus_Curiae_Brief.pdf APA California Amicus Brief Please fix this cite and remove this comment when done.] ] 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.


"Hetero-" comes from the Greek word "heteros", meaning "different" or "other", from "one at one, together" [p.345, Klein] and the Latin for sex (that is, characteristic sex or sexual differentiation). The term "heterosexual" was first published in 1892 in C.G. Craddock's translation of Krafft-Ebbing's "Psychopathia Sexualis". The noun came into use from early 1920s, but did not enter common use until 1960s. Colloquial shortening "hetero" is attested from 1933. Heterosexuality is first recorded in 1900. [p.22, Mills] [Heterosexuality#References| [2] ] "Heterosexual" was first listed in Merriam-Webster's "New International Dictionary" as a medical term for "morbid sexual passion for one of the opposite sex", however in 1934 in their "Second Edition Unabridged" it is a "manifestation of sexual passion for one of the opposite sex; normal sexuality". (p.92, Katz)The adjective "heterosexual" is used for intimate relationships and/or sexual relations between male and female individuals.


The current use of the term "heterosexual" has its roots in the broader 19th century tradition of personality taxonomy. It continues to influence the development of the modern concept of sexual orientation, and can be used to describe individuals' sexual orientation, sexual history, or self-identification. Some reject the term "heterosexual" as the word only refers to one's sexual behavior and does not refer to non-sexual romantic feelings. As a result, the terms "straight" is sometimes preferred when discussing a person of this sexual orientation, whose sexual history is predominated by this behavior, or who identifies as such, and to differentiate with other sexual orientations that strangely lack the intuitively suggested term "bent". Some opposite-sex oriented people personally prefer the term "heterosexual" rather than "straight", as they may perceive the former as describing a sexual orientation and the latter as describing a cultural or socio-political group with which they do not identify.Fact|date=January 2008 The term "heterosexual" is suggested to have come into use as a neologism after, and opposite to the word "homosexual" by Karl Maria Kertbeny in 1868.

History and demographics

The prevalence of exclusive heterosexuality has varied over the centuries and also from culture to culture.

The history of heterosexuality is part of the history of sexuality. That history and science derivative of it is far from complete. Owing to complications of human politics and prejudice, coupled with the malleable nature of human behaviour, it will be some time before the history and nature of all forms of human sexual behaviour are truly known.

Academic study

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.Fact|date=July 2008 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.Fact|date=July 2008 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. [Vilain, E. (2000). Genetics of Sexual Development. Annual Review of Sex Research, 11:1-25] It has been suggested that both male and female heterosexuality are results of variation in this process. [Wilson, G. and Rahman, Q., (2005). Born Gay. Chapter 5. London: Peter Owen Publishers] 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

:"See: Physiological differences"

Natural selection

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

In the animal kingdom, sexual reproduction results from heterosexual coitus between sexually mature partners, however exclusive homosexual behaviour that is related with the Western heterosexual identity is rare.


Behavioral studies

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)." [Tom Bethell (April 2005). "Kinsey as Pervert". "American Spectator", 38, 42-44. ISSN 0148-8414.] [Julia A. Ericksen (May 1998). "With enough cases, why do you need statistics? Revisiting Kinsey's methodology". "The Journal of Sex Research" 35 (2): 132-40, ISSN 0022-4499.] 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.Fact|date=June 2008 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 bisexualFact|date=January 2008 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,"cite web
title=Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues
author=American Psychiatric Association
publisher=Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrics
date=May 2000
] 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.'" [cite web|url=http://www.gene-watch.org/programs/determinism/SO.html|title=Brief on Sexual Orientation and Genetic Determinism'] 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. [Heterosexuality#References| [5] ]

Religious aspects

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"(lds|Gen|gen|2|24) In 1 Corinthians, part of the Christian Bible, Christians are advised:

cquote| Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. (NIV) [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%207;&version=31; ]

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. ["World Religions and Same Sex Marriage", Marriage Law Project, Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, July 2002 revision PDFlink| [http://marriagelaw.cua.edu/publications/wrr.pdf] |84.1 KiB ] [http://www.united-church.ca/exploring/marriage/affirmingcongregations Affirming Congregations and Ministries of the United Church of Canada] ]


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. [Heterosexuality#References| [3] ] 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.Fact|date=July 2008

ee also

* Human sexuality



* Wikholm, Andrew, [http://www.gayhistory.com/rev2/words/heterosexual.htm Words: Heterosexual.] Gay History.com. (Cited February 14, 2004)
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A412570 "Straight, Ex-gay".] Descriptors for Sexual Minorities.
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/ "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy",] H2G2. BBC. (Cited February 14, 2004)
* [http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality.] American Psychiatric Association. (Cited February 9, 2004)
* [http://www.worldsexexplorer.com/heterosexual-sex.html Heterosexual Sex.] World Sex Explorer. (Cited February 14, 2004)
* Katz, Jonathan Ned (1995) "The Invention of Heterosexuality". NY, NY: Dutton (Penguin Books). ISBN 0-525-93845-1.
* Johnson, P (2005) "Love, Heterosexuality and Society". Routledge: London.
* Mills, Jonathan, "Love, Covenant & Meaning", Regent College Publishing, 1997
* Klein, Ernest, "A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language: Dealing with the origin of words and their sense development thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture", Elsevier, Oxford, 2000

Further reading

* Kinsey, Alfred C., et al., "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male". Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33412-8
* Kinsey, Alfred C., et al., "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female". Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33411-X
* Bohan, Janis S., "Psychology and Sexual Orientation: Coming to Terms", Routledge, 1996 ISBN 0415915147

External links

* Keel, Robert O., " [http://www.umsl.edu/~rkeel/200/hetsex.html Heterosexual Deviance] ". (Goode, 1994, chapter 8, and Chapter 9, 6th edition, 2001.) Sociology of Deviant Behavior: FS 2003, University of Missouri - St. Louis.
* [http://www.yaledailynews.com/article.asp?AID=24682 "Heterosexual partner rights raise questions".] The News' View, Yale Daily News Publishing Company. January 27, 2004.
* Coleman, Thomas F., [http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/dp-wrong.html What's Wrong with Excluding Heterosexual Couples from Domestic Partner Benefits Programs?] [http://www.unmarriedamerica.org/ Unmarried America] , American Association for Single People.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • heterosexuality — 1900; see HETEROSEXUAL (Cf. heterosexual) + ITY (Cf. ity) …   Etymology dictionary

  • heterosexuality — heterosexual ► ADJECTIVE 1) sexually attracted to the opposite sex. 2) involving or characterized by such sexual attraction. ► NOUN ▪ a heterosexual person. DERIVATIVES heterosexuality noun heterosexually adverb …   English terms dictionary

  • heterosexuality — noun see heterosexual I …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • heterosexuality — /het euhr euh sek shooh al i tee/ or, esp. Brit., / seks yooh /, n. sexual feeling or behavior directed toward a person or persons of the opposite sex. [1895 1900; HETERO + SEXUALITY] * * * …   Universalium

  • heterosexuality — noun The state of being emotionally or sexually attracted to persons of the opposite sex. Ant: homosexuality See Also: heterosexual …   Wiktionary

  • Heterosexuality — Sexuality directed toward someone of the opposite sex. * * * Erotic attraction, predisposition, or activity, including sexual congress between persons of the opposite sex. * * * het·ero·sex·u·al·i·ty sek shə wal ət ē n, pl ties the quality or… …   Medical dictionary

  • heterosexuality — гетеросексуальность …   Термины гендерных исследований

  • heterosexuality — n. condition of being sexually attracted to a member or members of the opposite sex …   English contemporary dictionary

  • heterosexuality — het·ero·sexuality …   English syllables

  • heterosexuality — n. the pattern of sexuality in which sexual behaviour and thinking are directed towards people of the opposite sex. It includes both normal and deviant forms of sexual activity. Derivatives: heterosexual adj., n …   The new mediacal dictionary

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