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Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the only natural expression of sexuality in our society. This belief system can be harmful to sexual minorities because it creates a hierarchy among sexual practices that can reinforce heterosexism and homophobia.

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What Is Heteronormativity?

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality is the default, and therefore the preferred, expression of sexuality. It is also often associated with beliefs in birth-based gender expression (e.g., the genitals you are born with determine your gender identity), a clear gender binary, and traditional gender roles. Heteronormative culture can reinforce homophobia, heterosexism (discrimination in favor of opposite-sex relations), and the belief that same-sex relationships are non-conforming. Social theorist Michael Warner coined the term “heteronormative” in 1991, and further examined the ideology in his book Fear of a Queer Planet (1993), one of the building blocks of queer theory.

6 Examples of Heteronormativity

Heteronormative assumptions and beliefs are prevalent across the world in many different forms—here are some common examples:

  1. Treatment of homosexuality as “a phase.” One of the most common examples of heteronormativity is the belief that any non-conforming sexual orientation or sexual identity (especially homosexuality and bisexuality) is “just a phase” and that the individual will grow out of it and live a heterosexual life.
  2. Media representation of heterosexual couples. There is a prevalence of heterosexual couples in mainstream media—from commercials to romantic comedies. This prevalence reinforces heterosexuality as a social standard for sexual expression.
  3. Preference for biological pronouns. When someone insists on referring to another person according to their biological sex rather than their personal preferences, they are reinforcing heteronormative beliefs.
  4. Health care discrimination. LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, may face struggles when trying to receive proper healthcare due to lower rates of insurance coverage and fewer healthcare providers that understand their needs—a result of heteronormative culture.
  5. Parental disapproval of LGBTQ+ children. Some heteronormative parents subscribe to homophobia or transphobia and disapprove of their children coming out as LGBTQ+ or dating those individuals (instead preferring heterosexual, cisgender individuals).
  6. Assigning gender to intersex people. Some parents of intersex babies elect to perform medically unnecessary surgery on their baby’s genitalia to ensure they are unambiguously male or female.
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