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April 5, 2012

Hanne Blank

Harvard Book Store welcomes writer and historian Hanne Blank for a discussion of her new book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality.


Like the typewriter and the light bulb, the heterosexual was invented in the 1860s and swiftly and permanently 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 a century, “heterosexual” had become a byword for “normal,” enshrined in law, medicine, psychiatry, and the media as a new gold standard for human experience.  

In this surprising chronicle, historian Hanne Blank digs deep into the past of sexual orientation, while simultaneously exploring its contemporary psyche. Illuminating the hidden patterns in centuries of events and trends, Blank shows how culture creates and manipulates the ways we think about and experience desire, love, and relationships between men and women. Ranging from Henry VIII to testicle transplants, from Disneyland to sodomy laws, and from Moby Dick to artificial insemination, the history of heterosexuality turns out to be anything but straight or narrow.  

With an eclectic scope and fascinating detail, Straight tells the eye-opening story of a complex and often contradictory man-made creation that is all too often assumed to be an irreducible fact of biology.

“Hanne Blank has rendered a meticulously researched romp through the history of ‘heterosexuality’—that pesky orthodoxy still looming over Western culture like smog. Her sweeping synthesis takes on everything from Freud to Larry Craig, expertly weaving this untold history with insight and a refreshing dose of irreverence.”—Lisa M. Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire

About Author(s)

Hanne Blank spends her time thinking, learning, writing, and speaking at the crossroads of bodies, self, and culture. Her books include the histories Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality and Virgin: The Untouched History, and the cult classic sex and body-acceptance book Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them). Hanne’s work has been featured in periodicals ranging from Penthouse to Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, and in anthologies ranging from Embodied Resistance: Challenging the Norms, Breaking The Rules to Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. A former Scholar of the Institute for Teaching and Research on Women at Towson University, Hanne has taught in various capacities on campuses including Brandeis and Tufts. She is also a popular speaker and guest lecturer, with appearances ranging from Harvard University to the inaugural Femme Conference and on topics from the history of the hymen to sex tips for people of all sizes.