What is the Definition of Heterosexual? Unpacking the Basics.

Heterosexuality is a term that is heard quite often, but the meaning behind the word has evolved over time, along with the recognition of different sexual orientations. Heterosexuality refers to having a sexual preference for a person of the opposite sex, and it is the most commonly accepted and understood sexual orientation worldwide. In this article, we will be breaking down the basics of heterosexuality, exploring its history, related terms and concepts, as well as some of the most commonly asked questions about the topic.

The Evolution of Heterosexuality

Understanding the evolution of the term “heterosexual” is no easy feat as the idea of heterosexuality has been present in different concepts throughout history. For instance, the ancient Greeks had different words to describe love, including eros, agape, philia, and storge. Eros, their term for sexual desire, was not gender-specific, and although a relationship between a man and woman was ideal, relationships amongst same-sex individuals were common.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that sexologists, inspired by Darwinian theory, began to classify human sexuality. This Modernist approach has been credited to German psychiatrist Richard Von Kraft Ebbing, the author of ‘Psychopathia Sexualis’ – an exhaustive catalog of sexual behavior. Ebbing wanted to classify every sexual expression as morally natural or unnatural.

By the 1950s, the term “heterosexual” had become widely used, and it was understood to define a person who had a sexual preference for the opposite sex. This new definition helped establish heterosexuality as the norm, yet it also excluded those who were not heterosexual. Moving forward with the article, we will focus more on the modern definition of heterosexual and its key concepts.

Defining Heterosexuality

The term heterosexual was first used in reference to sexual attractions in 1892, and since its inception has been defined by three core concepts: attraction, behavior, and identity.


Attraction refers to the sexual desire one feels for members of the opposite gender. While heterosexual attraction is usually considered natural and innate, studies show that there are various reasons why people can be attracted to the opposite sex. Whether it’s societal expectations, familial influences, or biological factors, attraction is complicated, and it’s not always easy to identify how or why it arises.


Behavior refers to the intimate activities one engages in with members of the opposite sex. Heterosexual behavior can range from kissing to sexual intercourse, and what is considered normal varies greatly depending on the culture and context.


Identity refers to one’s self-identification as heterosexual. In many societies worldwide, people are expected to conform to either heterosexuality or homosexuality based on the gender of their partners. Within this binary, people may struggle to define or express their identity, particularly if it conflicts with social norms or expectations.


Heteronormativity refers to the set of assumptions and societal expectations that promote heterosexuality as a norm. Under this ideology, society privileges and marginalizes individuals based on their adherence to heterosexuality. Heteronormativity is particularly harmful for those who do not conform to societal standards or may be discriminated against because of their difference.

Heteronormativity also perpetuates the notion that men and women are inherently different or opposites, and that a relationship between a man and woman is the only worthy model for intimacy. This viewpoint can be incredibly limiting for those who do not identify or prefer a different model of relationships, particularly those who have same-gender attractions.

Myths and Misconceptions Around Heterosexuality

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding heterosexuality. Below are some of the most common:

1. All men and women are inherently heterosexual.

This statement is false, and it is a widespread heteronormative myth. Sexual identities are complex, and although societal and biological factors influence them, they are not purely predetermined.

2. Heterosexuality is natural while homosexuality is unnatural.

The notion that homosexuality is unnatural is a fallacy; sexual attraction is a complex and dynamic experience that is not easily understood or categorized. People should be free to love and express themselves without judgment or discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

3. Heterosexual relationships are superior to non-heterosexual relationships.

There is no superiority in the type of relationship one person chooses to have. Everybody has their own preferences and criteria for relationships that are unique and equally valuable.

4. Heterosexuality is associated with traditional gender roles and expectations.

Heterosexuality is not inherently linked to traditional gender roles; people can still identify as heterosexual without conforming to societal standards of masculinity or femininity.

The Future of Heterosexuality

In recent years, society has become more accepting of different types of sexual orientations. However, we still have a long way to go in recognizing that sexuality is a complex and nuanced experience that is different for everyone.

By breaking down the basics of heterosexuality, we can gain a better understanding of the diverse experiences and perspectives of those around us. Heterosexuality is just one of many sexual orientations, and it’s important to value and recognize each one without prejudice and discrimination.

Most Common Questions about Heterosexuality

  • What is the definition of heterosexuality?
  • What is the relationship between heterosexuality and homophobia?
  • Is it possible to change your sexual orientation?
  • What is the difference between sex and gender?
  • Can someone be attracted to both genders and still be hetero?
  • Is heterosexuality a choice or a biological predisposition?

1. What is the definition of heterosexuality?

Heterosexuality refers to a sexual preference for persons of the opposite sex. It is typically seen as the norm in society, and individuals who are heterosexual are considered to be part of the majority. The concepts of attraction, behavior, and identity are the three core components of heterosexuality.

2. What is the relationship between heterosexuality and homophobia?

Heterosexuality can often be a driving force behind homophobia. When individuals or societies elevate heterosexuality to the point of exclusion, it can lead to discrimination against those who don’t identify as heterosexual. This discrimination can cause physical and emotional harm to individuals who may already face additional marginalization.

3. Is it possible to change your sexual orientation?

No, people cannot change their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is an innate trait that cannot be altered through external influence or personal choice. Although there are many different experiences within different sexual orientations, they are all recognized as valid and important.

4. What is the difference between sex and gender?

Sex refers to biological and physiological characteristics that define males and females. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, and expressions tied to femininity and masculinity. A person’s sex is determined at birth, whereas their gender is more fluid and can vary over time.

5. Can someone be attracted to both genders and still be hetero?

No, individuals who are attracted to both genders identify as bisexual or pansexual. Heterosexuality refers to being attracted to persons of the opposite sex.

6. Is heterosexuality a choice or a biological predisposition?

Heterosexuality is not a choice; it is a biological predisposition. People are often born with a certain sexual orientation, and their preference cannot be altered by volition or external factors. The cause of a person’s sexual orientation is multifactorial and can be influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors.


  • Herdt, G. (2018). Heterosexuality. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Online Publication.
  • Gammel, I. (2017). Heterosexuality: A history. Praeger Publishers.
  • Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B. & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.

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