Feminists conceived the term compulsory heterosexuality to signify the institutional pressures on women to be heterosexual, thereby ensuring men's rights of physical, economic, and emotional access. The term compulsory heterosexuality was first used at the 1976 Brussels International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women to draw attention to the worldwide persecution of lesbians.

Adrienne Rich more fully conceptualized “compulsory heterosexuality” in arguing that, despite qualitative differences in women's experiences across cultures and history, women's heterosexuality is not simply an issue of sexual “preference” or “orientation” but an ideology maintained by force that convinces women of the inevitability of marriage and sexual orientation toward men, even when unsatisfying or oppressive. Rich further argued that a wide range of legal, political, religious, social, economic, and physical barriers prohibit women ...

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