Letting go of heteronormative ideas 

and improving your relationships and your sex life

Ah, the magical land of heteronormativity: where straight masculine male men and straight feminine female women have penetrative sex, monogamous relationships and lifelong marriages. It’s a format and/or fairytale that is pervasive in almost every movie, television show and love story.

However this narrow template can actually hurt our relationships and prevent us from discovering and expressing our authentic sexual selves. Here’s what letting go of heternormative ideas will give you:

1. Better sex

Heteronormativity places penetrative or PIV (Penis In Vagina) sex as the ultimate goal and final destination of any sexual encounter, while everything else is labelled as foreplay or simply “not sex.” However, sex therapist Marty Klein writes in sexual intelligence that we need to move away from seeing only intercourse as real sex and remove the existing hierarchy surrounding sexual activities.

There are many reasons for this. First off, most women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, not (just) vaginal penetration. Secondly, with such a large focus on the genitals, there is enormous pressure for sex to turn into a performance that relies heavily on the correct functioning of said genitals. Also, PIV requires STI protection (and associated STI discussion) as well as birth control, unlike for example: making out, nude massaging, cybersex, most kinky stuff, and breathing together while eye-gazing.

Instead, the key to greater sex is seeing the brain as the biggest sex organ and recognizing that every part of the body can be erotically charged in the right situation. But for this to happen, a bit of planning and discussion with your partner(s) is required (ex: how do you feel about getting your toes licked?), which also means letting go of the heteronormative idea that good sex is spontaneous and requires very little communication.

Just think of any sex scene in a movie: how much did people communicate about their desires and wants before hopping into bed to each other? Sex advice extraordinaire Dan Savage cautions against this approach and instead recommends that every straight person memorize the simple four-word question, “what are you into?”

Gay and lesbian couples already ask this question because penetration is rarely the goal or end-all-be-all. As as result, homosexual couples are much more comfortable taking turns pleasuring each other, practicing mutual masturbation, solo masturbation in the presence of a partner, and utilizing sex toys (vibrators, strapons), lubrication (massage oil, astroglide, even corn starch) and other accessories (use your imagination).

Also, while an estimated 30% of heterosexual couples are nonmonogamous, almost 60% of homosexual couples allow for some sort of sexual activity outside the relationship. Many gay men have come to an understanding that sex outside a committed relationship is a normal, natural and mature response that can actually strengthen the current relationship.

2. Better relationships

Speaking of better relationships, dropping our rigid conceptions of gender will also strengthen our understanding of our partners.

The problem with a lot of relationship self-help books and advice is that it attributes problems in relationships to fundamental differences between the sexes. This ubiquitous Mars/Venus dynamic purports men are emotionally withdrawn, stubborn, unable to communicate, perhaps violent and drawn towards promiscuity while women are moody, clingy, and [insert whatever stereotypes you want here].

But if problems in relationships were attributable to gender differences, then wouldn’t all gay couples get along perfectly? Well, they don’t. Any couple’s therapist will tell you that homosexual couples have exactly the same challenges that heterosexual couples do.

In reality men and women are much, much more similar than we are different and we become blinded when we interpret each other’s actions through the pink/blue glasses of gender. We also attribute erroneous qualities to this other person by not realizing how both men and women vary greatly on scales of toughness, emotionality, dominance, nurturing, gentleness, motivation, you name it.

Grouping or assuming a person fits into specific qualities because of their gender blinds us from who the person really is, in turn creating distance, not closeness. Gender even affects the way we treat each other: babies dressed in blue (and thought to be male) are treated with less care than babies dressed in pink (and though to be female).

Rigid conceptions of gender also ignore the fundamental reality that both gender and sexuality are more fluid and diverse than many people realize. Researchers are finding many cases of straight identified males and females that have sex with their respective gender.

Consider the case Anthony Giddens describes in the Transformation of Intimacy of a 65 year old man “whose wife died following a happy marriage lasting for 45 years. Within a year of his wife’s death, he fell in love with a man. According to his own testimony, he had never before been sexually attracted to a man or fantasized about homosexual acts.”


If anything, the problem with heteronormativity is the associated emphasis that there is a right or normal way to relate, have sex, and express one’s gender and sexuality. This restrictive prescription ignores our fundamental needs for diversity, flexibility, change, freedom of expression, even adventure.

Whatever you are, it’s not normal. So perhaps my only real advice is: live a life that reflects your uniqueness.

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