Descriptors for Sexual Minorities
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Heterosexuality is the sexual orientation that describes a person's preference for members of the opposite gender, not members of their own gender, when forming romantic and/or sexual relationships.
In most of today's world cultures, heterosexuality is considered the norm. Children are often raised with the assumption that they will be heterosexual as adults. In many places, acquaintances and even friends are assumed to be heterosexual unless they state otherwise. Therefore, most heterosexual people are not conscious of the moment when they 'discovered' their orientation. Since their preconceptions fit the results quite nicely, the moment in question probably passed without notice or is only recognized in later life as a moment of young romance.
In some cases, social conditioning may cause heterosexuals to be over-optimistic about the long-term chances of their relationships. In reality, about half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce. And on average, studies show that 40% of heterosexual adults in marriages have affairs1. Percentages of these phenomena in unions formed by gay and bisexual people are not known at this time.
Nevertheless, many heterosexuals maintain a blind faith that their current or future marriage will escape these pitfalls without any special action on their part. While this optimism is ultimately justified for many people, it has disastrous consequences for others whose lives become tarnished by nasty divorce and/or child custody disputes, outrageous alimony payments, or debilitating family conditions like domestic violence or incest.
In some cases, heterosexual people harbour deep fears or concerns about rare same-sex attractions, fantasies, or youthful dalliances. They may fear that even the slightest tinge of romantic or sexual feeling for a member of their gender makes them gay or bisexual. Luckily, this is anything but the case. Heterosexuality simply refers to a preference for the opposite gender; it doesn't require absolute adherence. However, many heterosexual people harbour guilty feelings anyway.
There is nothing at all wrong with heterosexuality, nor with the huge majority of heterosexual people. A thoughttful romantic and/or sexual life can lead to great rewards for straight people, just as with everyone else. There is absolutely nothing preventing a straight person from getting along well with people of other sexual orientations.
Mainstream Culture's Take on Heterosexuality
Arguably, heterosexuality receives mostly good press from mass media such as television, radio, movies, books, and magazines. Lifetime heterosexual monogamy, in particular, is romanticized to the point where most people's life experiences do not match the ideal put forth in either substance or kind. This causes great confusion for heterosexual people. Some wonder why they are not able to find the 'one true love' whom they are meant for, while others must wonder why their 'true love' turned out to be just some random person after all.
It's also possible that heterosexual people face cultural challenges that homosexual and bisexual people do not. For instance, heterosexual people are sometimes made to feel inferior if they do not procreate. Also, the pressure on heterosexual people to follow their culture's gender norms is usually greater. They also feel pressured to ensure that their mates and their children follow gender norms as well.
Since traditional gender roles often hold that neither sex can easily accomplish all the tasks needed to run a household, single heterosexual adults may find it difficult to manage their lifestyles. This is especially true when the person's parents were so indoctrinated into gender roles that they failed to give them a rounded education. And since heterosexual people have no obvious cue to question those roles, they may harbour assumptions that they are unable to perform relatively easy tasks.
Of course, there are also plenty of heterosexual people who have overcome these social assumptions and their related problems. In general, younger people and those who have grown up in relatively accepting atmospheres are the most likely to navigate the potential pitfalls of gender roles well.
Heterosexual people do not usually receive either violent or subtle discrimination based on their orientation. If anything, demonstrations of heterosexuality tend to raise one's social status. Such family events as engagements, marriages, anniversaries, pregnancies, and births typically earn positive social attention. And traditionally, men safely ensconced in heterosexual marriages have been promoted to better jobs quicker than their brethren due to the perception that they are more trustworthy.
Potential Social Advantages
Heterosexual people have access to a number of social and legal benefits that may or may not be available to gay and bisexual people, depending on the laws of their local area. These include:
The ability to attend school without receiving physical harassment or grade discrimination based solely on sexual orientation. Ability to attend proms and other social dances with one's partner of choice.
Ability to have sex with a consensual adult in the privacy of one's home within or outside the bounds of marriage without being arrested for it, serving time in jail, paying a fine, being forced to take inappropriate gender-based hormones, or being put to death.
The chance to seek and retain employment and housing, purchase goods and services, and join clubs and social organisations without receiving refusals based solely on sexual orientation. The ability when employed to get joint medical insurance for one's spouse and their children.
The ability to join the military to defend one's country, and to serve without needing to lie about one's personal life. The right during and after service to receive advantages agreed upon during enlistment such as educational benefits, veterans benefits, and so forth.
The legal right to get married. Plus social approval for marrying and staying married.
The ability to attain citizenship in a foreign country upon one's marriage to a loved one from that country.
The assumption that a child born to one married partner belongs to both partners. Also, the ability to adopt a child from the state, or to adopt a child from your partner's previous relationship.
Incontestable rights to property without a will in instances where one marriage partner dies. The ability to file taxes jointly, hold joint bank accounts, get joint credit, and to share a mortgage or sign a joint lease without hassle.
The right to a court hearing during divorce and/or child custody disputes.
The right to hospital visitations in case a partner gets ill, and the right to determine their care in case of incapacitation.
Assumed right to arrange and attend the burial of a loved one when they die. Social condolences over the loss of a loved one.
Ability after a spouse dies to receive their retirement, pension, veteran and other benefits as their widow or widower.
Ideally, these benefits would be equally available to gay and bisexual people. However, in most societies some or all benefits are withheld unless you are heterosexual. In many Westernised countries, this is slowly changing. In most Eastern, Middle Eastern, and African countries, there is no anticipation that the social benefits gap will close anytime soon.
The View of the Gay Community on Heterosexuality
Due to the factors above, gay and bisexual people refer sometimes to a cultural phenomenon known as 'heterosexual privilege'. This is considered by them to be no different from white privilege, male privilege, or any other privilege condoned for the social ruling class and withheld from a minority or underprivileged class. While some heterosexual people are conscious of this perception, others are not.
Stereotypes for heterosexual people vary from culture to culture. Views held within the gay community, for instance, are often widely different from the views held in mainstream society. While some heterosexual people view themselves and their relationships as more stable and romantic, more manly (for men) or feminine (for women), and more mainstream or acceptable, members of the gay community sometimes counter by viewing heterosexual people as selfish, prejudiced, unfeeling, socially ignorant, overly-sexed, and egotistical.
Of course, stereotypes should never be used to classify an entire group of people with similar traits. Stereotypes on straight people often rely on ancient history when gay rights did not exist at all, and are not particularly valid today. While people out there probably exist who exemplify the most insulting and most flattering stereotypes, it is assured you that they are a tiny minority. The reality is that people are inherently individual, and sexual orientation does nothing to void this fact.