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Having sexual feeling toward members of the opposite sex.
- (common usage) the desire for sexual relationships with persons of the ‘other’ or ‘opposite’ sex.
- (sociological usage) the privileged and dominant expression of sexuality in most known societies, which is often regarded as the ‘natural’ form of human sexual desire. In Western culture, heterosexuality has been normalized and prioritized over all other forms of human sexuality via institutional practices, including the law and social policy. Traditionally, sociologists have tended to take its ‘normality’ for granted, although, recently, sociologists such as MacIntosh have argued that heterosexuality should be regarded as sociologically problematic. Thus sociological theory should be directed at accounting for both the specific forms heterosexuality assumes in different cultures and its prevalence as the norm.
- (usage in feminist sociology) a primarily political institution which has served to further the subordination of women to men. Rich (1980) has used the term compulsory hetero sexuality to denote the social practices and prescriptions which ensure the continuance of heterosexuality as the privileged form of sexual orientation. Such practices penalize those who fail to conform, whilst ensuring the inferiorization of those women who abide by the norms. Dworkin (1976) has defined heterosexuality as one of the major means whereby the sexual and social dominance of men over women is legitimated and reinforced. This view of heterosexuality has given rise to the growth of separatism within the feminist movement, and is challenged by those feminists who identify themselves as heterosexual. From this latter perspective, heterosexuality is a sexual preference which does not necessarily reinforce the imbalance of power between women and men.