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Heterosexuality in the united states


One hundred years ago, people had a very different idea of what it means to be heterosexual.

Understanding that shift in thinking can tell us a lot about fluid sexual identities today, argues Brandon Ambrosino.

Whenever I tell this to people, they respond with dramatic incredulity. It seems not to have occurred to those who made the video, or the millions who shared it, that we actually need an explanation for both. View image of Credit: There are many reasons for this educational omission, including religious bias and other types of homophobia. The first rebuttal to the claim that heterosexuality was invented usually involves an appeal to reproduction: But Heterosexuality in the united states rebuttal assumes that heterosexuality is the same thing as reproductive intercourse.

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In other words, while sex is something that appears hardwired into most species, the naming and categorising of those acts, and those who practise those acts, is a historical phenomenon, and can and should be studied as such.

Or put another way: But at a specific point in time, humans attached meaning to these instincts sexuality. Hanne Blank offers a helpful way into this discussion in her book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality with an analogy from natural history.

Something remarkably similar happened with heterosexuals, who, at the end of the 19th Century, went from merely being there to being known. Neither were there homosexuals. But the emphasis was always on the act, not the agent.

"Heterosexuality in the united states" the late s, Hungarian journalist Karl Maria Kertbeny coined four terms to describe sexual experiences: The next time the word was published was inwhen Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing included the word in Psychopathia Sexualis, a catalogue of sexual disorders. Hierarchical ordering leading to slavery was at one time accepted as normal, as was a geocentric cosmology. The emphasis on procreation comes not primarily from Jewish or Christian Scriptures, but from Stoicism.

For Krafft-Ebing, normal sexual desire was situated within a larger context of procreative utility, Heterosexuality in the united states idea that was in keeping with the dominant sexual theories of the West.

The Bible, for instance, condemns homosexual intercourse for the same reason it condemns masturbation: Musonius Rufus, for example, argued in On Sexual Indulgence that individuals must protect themselves against self-indulgence, including sexual excess.

Early Christian theologians took up this conjugal-reproductive ethic, and by the time of Augustine, reproductive sex was the only normal sex. While Krafft-Ebing takes this procreative sexual ethic for granted, he does open it up in a major way.

When most people today think of heterosexuality, they might think of something like this: Billy understands from a very young age he is erotically attracted to girls. One day he Heterosexuality in the united states that erotic energy on Suzy, and he woos her. The pair fall in love, and give physical sexual expression to their erotic desire. And they live happily ever after.

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Defining normal sexual instinct according to erotic desire was a fundamental revolution in thinking about sex. Ideas and words are often products of their time.

That is certainly true of heterosexuality, which was borne out of a time when American life was becoming more regularised. As Blank argues, the invention of heterosexuality corresponds with the rise of the middle class.

In the late 19th Century, populations in European and North American cities began to explode. Byfor example, New York City had 3. As people moved to urban centres, they brought their sexual perversions — prostitution, same-sex eroticism — with them. Or so it seemed. Small-town gossip can be a profound motivator. It was important for an emerging middle class to differentiate itself from such excess.

Degeneracy, Heterosexuality in the united states all, was the reverse process of social Darwinism. If procreative sex was critical to the continuous evolution of the species, deviating from that norm was a threat to the entire social fabric. Luckily, such deviation could be reversed, if it was caught early enough, thought the experts.

All civic-minded people must take their turn on the social watch tower. As Katz points out, heterosexuality for Freud was an achievement; those who attained it successfully navigated their childhood development without being thrown off the straight and narrow. And yet, as Katz notes, it takes an enormous imagination to frame this navigation in terms of normality:. Such attitudes found further scientific justification in the work of Alfred Kinsey, whose landmark study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male sought to rate the sexuality of men on a scale of zero exclusively heterosexual to six exclusively homosexual.

And those categories have lingered to this day. I was recently caught off guard by Jane Ward, author of Not Gay, who, during an interview for a piece I wrote on sexual orientation, asked me to think "Heterosexuality in the united states" the future of sexuality.

Similarly, why might we be uncomfortable with challenging the belief that homosexuality, and by extension heterosexuality, are eternal truths of nature? In an interview with the journalist Richard Goldstein, the novelist and playwright James Baldwin admitted to having good and bad fantasies of the future.

The world also belongs to me. Once upon a time, heterosexuality was necessary because modern humans needed to prove who they were and why they were, and they needed Heterosexuality in the united states defend their right to be where they were.

As time wears on, though, that label seems to actually limit the myriad ways we humans understand our desires and loves and fears. To leap from an observation of how nature is to a prescription of nature ought to be is, as philosopher David Hume noted, to commit a logical fallacy.

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Why judge what is natural and ethical to a human being by his or her animal nature? Many of the things human beings value, such as medicine and art, are egregiously unnatural. At the same time, humans detest many things that actually are eminently natural, like disease and death.

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