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Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  644 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
It's surprising that the term "heterosexuality" is less than 150 years old and that heterosexuality's history has never before been written, given how obsessed we are with it. In Straight, independent scholar Hanne Blank delves deep into the contemporary psyche as well as the historical record to chronicle the realm of heterosexual relations--a subject that is anything but ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Aug 04, 2012 Nataliya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Whaaat? This 228-page book of nonfiction thought-provoking accessibly-written goodness ends on page 166? With the remaining pages all being annotations and bibliography and index?

Ok, that gets the obligatory Darth Vader 'nooooooooo' out of the way, and we can safely continue without the danger of the world imploding.

I loved this book. I've bookmarked roughly a billion of quotes, and I enjoyed the discussions some of them led to in the comments to me posting them.

This book is written in a very
The fact that it took me four fucking months to finish this says a lot. Okay, there were only three days of actual reading, but still - four months. That's unprecedented.

It's not that there are any glaring flaws, or inaccuracies, or an unlikeable writing style. It's more of a pamphlet than a book, at 180 pages of writing plus 60 of bibliography and notes (I know), but it's informative and eye-opening, even though some of the information was incomplete. (Kinsey scale, anyone? Is nobody gonna ment
Ana Rînceanu
This is a goldmine of a book! It's so short and yet it has vital information that helps combat the idea that people's sexuality fit nicely in either box A or B. Biology and psychology have been telling us for years that human sexuality is more of a spectrum, but it's important to know just how and why our ancestors felt the need to start policing it.

I really like Hanne Blank's writing because it is accessible and doesn't talk down to the reader, so there's no need to be shy, just give it a go.
I almost never read non-fiction unless forced and this was not an exception. I wasn't expecting much when I picked up this book to read for a class but I actually enjoyed it. The title was interesting enough and the content serves as a huge eye-opener. There are so many things I learned from this book and it also made me rethink many things I thought I knew. This might be the most interesting book I've ever read for school.

This book puts romance novels in a bad light, basically accuse them of b
Jan 19, 2016 Meep rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
“We don't just want what we want because we want it; we want what we want because that's what we've learned to want.”

The Good

I like books that teach me more about what I think I already know. Take the blunt force “common knowledge” (doxa) and pull it apart until you have a finer, more nuanced understanding of the world. This was one of those kinds of books. It brought together a lot of information (some familiar to me, some new) and traced the history of heterosexuality.

I’m a queer (lesbian asex
Apr 29, 2016 Garrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insanely informative, compellingly written and exhaustively researched, Straight is one of those, "Well, I didn't know that - did YOU know that?" kind of books. Because of that, the tone is sometimes smug and lacking in subtlety, but perhaps that's what's called for here. The thesis of the book is that "heterosexuality" (and as a consequence, its oppositional characterization, homosexuality) has only really been a concept for a short period of time, and that its entire existence is based more on ...more
Wei Ming
Apr 16, 2013 Wei Ming rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The history of sexual orientation has nearly always focussed on LGBT - the 'others', the ones outside of the mainstream and 'normal' - but as this book suggests, to have a fuller understanding of why and/or how attitudes have developed as they have today, the dominant sexuality - what is considered 'normal' - should be investigated too. Hanne Blank does so in a brilliant piece of writing - an anthropological study of heterosexuality that takes in etymology, history, psychology, social studies an ...more
Luke Strzegowski
Jan 22, 2012 Luke Strzegowski rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not what I was hoping for. While I think a discussion of how something as fluid as sexuality became binary, with one of the options being labeled as "abnormal" would be useful, Hanne seems more interested in devoting pages to wondering how penis in vagina sex became the standard. Her flawed arguments and poor technique just got to be too much for me. Sure, maybe she's right that Viagra targets hetero couples because we've all been trained to think of erect cocks and their insertion into vaginas ...more
It's a good, short history of a concept most of us take for granted: Heterosexuality. It is at times oddly paced, giving a lot of attention to some historic phases, and for people who have read, thought (or lived) more on the construction of gender/sexual identity the book might be a bit too 101 introduction-level. Overall I can recommend it.
Mar 31, 2017 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
really 2.5....only white cis western focus. maybe not a terrible first primer but eh.
May 27, 2012 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A light, quick read. Like Blank's previous cultural history, Virgin, this book is full of fascinating anecdotes, some of which you're likely to know about if you've spent much time involved in gender or sexuality studies. The book combines broad strokes of history with these anecdotes and details smoothly and readable, and like Virgin, ought to be accessible to the general reader.

Like Blank, I have been in relationships that might - or might not - be definable as heterosexual, and so I have a p
This isn't a "bad" book per se, but it's curiously pointless. While Blank sets out to limn the history of heterosexuality as a concept, what she really ends up doing at great length and to little new effect, is to write about the legal and social concepts of marriage (companionate and otherwise) and the cultural history of dating. None of this is fresh, none of this has not been done dozens of times before decades before, most more thoroughly and from a more deeply informed historical and/or phi ...more
Lisa Feld
Aug 24, 2015 Lisa Feld rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boston
With all the stunning variety of human brains and bodies, is it really possible to tell a gay one from a straight one? Why do we tell a cancer survivor that her double mastectomy or hysterectomy doesn't make her any less of a woman, but tell a trans man that these surgeries absolutely do change his legal and social status? Why is there no term opposite of "slut" that means a woman with a socially acceptable and praiseworthy level of sexual activity? (Hint: it's not "prude.")

Blank begins with the
Dec 26, 2012 Theresa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Here is what this book was missing for me:
1. Author as an expert I can trust. I love non-fiction because I believe that individuals are the experts in their own experiences. However, this book is more of a historical reference, which is fine! I knew that going in! But why should I consider this author as the expert on the topic, if she does not give me a reason to? I Googled her so that I could get some background on the woman, but I do not think I should have to reference a book to justify read
Aug 05, 2014 Cissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This excellently written book looks into the history of "heterosexuality" as a Thing in and of itself. In so doing, Blank touches on may related issues, such as theories of male and female sexuality, the history of marriage, and many more. While I suppose these could be considered tangential, they also enrich and inform the overall points, and for me have put many things into a context of which I was previously unaware.

It is not exclusively about "straight"; in exploring how this concept came to
Feb 02, 2012 Varina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting, engaging, non-scholarly deconstruction of norms surrounding sexuality/sexual orientation, gender identity, love, marriage, and sex. I think focusing on the history and construction of heterosexuality, most similar histories focus on homosexuality, was an especially effective stance to get the reader to look beyond and underneath our usual cultural assumptions by focusing on the construction of that which we generally normalize. To a certain extent the author exchanged ...more
Sep 10, 2014 Lindz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It was fascinating and very well-researched. She begins by pointing out that terms like "heterosexuality" weren't coined until the late 1800's. Obviously, people were living "straight" lives before that, but they didn't "identify" themselves as heterosexual - it was just "normal" for them. What does the changing term mean in terms of our assumptions and stereotypes? What does it mean for women's rights?

Overall it's a great history of marriage, feminism, and queer activism, but
Christina Mortellaro
It was really interesting to read about the history of the term "heterosexual" and its influence on how we view laws, romance, marriage, sex, etc. Using her own experience with her intersex spouse was a good framing device. However I did find myself skimming during some of the drier bits in the middle. But it was an enjoyable and short read!
Kamau Rashid
Dec 21, 2012 Kamau Rashid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book offers an interesting history of the concept of heterosexuality in the West. Its very instructive of the socially-constructed nature of marriage, love, eroticism, legitimacy, science, religion, and policy.
ok, but could have used much more editing to keep it more on topic. a lot of these topics have been covered better elsewhere (e.g. Stephanie Coontz on marriage) so I felt most of this book was redundant or rambling.
Eleanore M.
A topic near and dear to my heart, as an asexual woman who is nominally without any interest in people but is dating a woman comfortable with my aromantic affection, and thus doubly confused when people attempt to label me 'straight,' as if my lack of attraction is somehow given the rubber stamp of approval by people who identify as heterosexual, and as if the label "straight" is so clear-cut as that.

I really wanted to give this four stars - it's a topic I enjoy, so I want to be kind to it, but
May 11, 2017 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
None of the information was new to me.
m libby
Mar 15, 2017 m libby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First: includes the word acronymphomaniac.

Absolutely wonderful book. Informative. Mind expanding. Even heartwarming. A page turner of brilliant thoughts on sex and gender. Very rich in historical example. Accessible at all times.
Jean Roberta
Feb 11, 2013 Jean Roberta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This new look at sexual orientation by the erudite and versatile Hanne Blank is not the first of its kind. Blank acknowledges her debt to Jonathan Katz’ The Invention of Heterosexuality as a forerunner of this study. However, the evidence that “heterosexuality” was invented, not discovered—and quite recently at that—bears repeating. As Blank points out, if “the attribute we now call ‘heterosexuality’ were a prerequisite for people to engage in sex acts or to procreate, chances are excellent that ...more
Jun 26, 2016 Rae rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book was very informative as a history of marriage, sex and often women's liberation in Western society, I did find that there was something lacking. I enjoyed reading it because of how much I was learning about the history of sex/love/gender in the West - While some parts of the book can feel a little "Feminism 101" to readers who have reading experience on these topics, other bits of history and research Blank wrote on were very new to me, and I found that really valuable. It was an ...more
Mar 01, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Men and women! Boys and girls! Getting it on! What's so hard about that?

As it turns out, kind of a lot.

If you consider yourself unquestionably heterosexual, you would benefit from reading this book simply because if you think about it, you've probably never questioned what the concept of heterosexuality entails.

For example, what is the purpose of marriage? What is its ideal form? How do you find a mate? What is the purpose of sex? How should sex be done? You might have an answer to all these que
Johnnie Gray
Mar 18, 2012 Johnnie Gray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Straight is a scholarly examination of how the term “heterosexuality” came to be, how it is used and how it has come to be the norm. Easily read and engaging, the book takes you along several avenues including dating, the sexual revolution, genetics and of course, love and marriage. Historical beginnings of marriage and of dating, lend themselves to how the book establishes doxa, or a common belief held. This doxa created the idea that a man and woman are acceptable in marriage because their uni ...more
This book is more for someone who hasn't already read tons of nonfiction regarding human sexuality, sexual identity, gender identity, etc. I'm always submerged in this and I know it, believe it, and teach it: It's extremely subjective and nothing "means" anything. The book plays with concepts of sexuality that are entirely forged by social constructs, namely heterosexuality. I think my disappointment with this is that I'm already informed about its thesis and basic supportive arguments but also ...more
Dec 24, 2011 Christie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Trying to do some quick and dirty reviews since I am in the process of moving.

Quick synopsis: How did heterosexuality become the norm by which all other sexualities are measured? How did the heterosexuality that we know and love today develop? How do we define people who don't fall into the heterosexuality or homosexuality boxes? Hanne Blank offers answers to these and other questions in her book.

The good: Lots of interesting questions to ponder, especially from the author's own personal life, h
The title of this book might mislead you into thinking its subject is narrow, nothing further from the truth! Black analyses the history of human perception from the perspective of heterosexual love, both the old fashioned version centered in reproduction and the lattest romantic fashions, passing through the effects of the sexual liberation movement and lifechanging scientific advances like contraception. But in the meantime she analyses the changing perspectives regarding life in general in th ...more
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Hanne Blank is a writer and historian.
Periodicals which have featured her work include Penthouse, In These Times, Southwest Art, Lilith, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, the Baltimore CityPaper, the Boston Phoenix, Santa Fean Magazine, and others. Her short fiction and essays are frequently anthologized.

Ms. Blank's work has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, The W
More about Hanne Blank...

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“We don't just want what we want because we want it; we want what we want because that's what we've learned to want.” 7 likes
“The models we have, and the standards we are expected to maintain, come to us via heterosexuality as a normative state. Heterosexuality--whatever the current version of that concept happens to be--is unremarkable because it is the standard by which everything else is measured. That is heterosexual privilege.” 6 likes
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