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Straight: The Surprisingly Short History Of Heterosexuality

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  927 ratings  ·  155 reviews
Like the typewriter and the light bulb, the heterosexual was invented in the 1860s and swiftly transformed Western culture. The idea of “the heterosexual” was unprecedented. After all, men and women had been having sex, marrying, building families, and sometimes even falling in love for millennia without having any special name for their emotions or acts. Yet, within half ...more
Hardcover, 228 pages
Published January 31st 2012 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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 ·  927 ratings  ·  155 reviews

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Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
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.
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
“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
Irina Elena
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
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: actual-books
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. (Update as of 2019: I'm fairly sure I am just a lesbian with a traumatic past.)

I really wanted
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Lisa Feld
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
really 2.5....only white cis western focus. maybe not a terrible first primer but eh.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written, thoroughly researched history of "heterosexuality." Blank leverages her own (possibly) non-heterosexual long-term partnership with a man who could be, and often is, considered intersex, as a springboard for this historical narrative. Divided into seven chapters, each one is densely filled with detailed information dating back to the Enlightenment; documenting the cultural shifts which took place over hundreds of years thanks largely to industrialization and medical advanc ...more
Jean Roberta
Feb 11, 2013 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 rated it liked it
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
May 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
Dec 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2014
This book covers a very interesting topic in a sometimes interesting way. As is often the case with non-fiction, when the author is telling stories about real human experiences it's very engaging. However, at many points in the book she comes across as a PhD student who is just trying to prove to a particularly picky team of professors how smart she is. She is smart, and she has lots of great references (the notes section is almost longer than the core of the book). However, lots of repeated, we ...more
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book didn't turn out to be quite what I'd hoped it would be - I was hoping Blank would delve into more ancient instances of sexual fluidity, such as the socially-sanctioned premarital male/male relationships of ancient Greece. That example is mentioned, briefly, but Blank barely touches anything earlier than the 1800s with any depth.
This book gets 5 stars anywhere.
It may not be what I thought it was, but it's still a fascinating historical look at the social construction of heterocentric id
Christina Mortellaro
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
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! ...more
Kamau Rashid
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 06, 2015 rated it liked it
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.
Maya White-Lurie
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is well-researched, well-written, empathetic, and witty. I think anyone with an interest in sociology, history, sexuality, or gender should read it.
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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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

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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.” 9 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.” 5 likes
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