In a heteronormative society, people need to display heterosexual attitudes and behaviour in order to comply with the norm for human sexuality. All people are assumed to have heterosexual preferences by default and all other sexual orientations are considered deviant. The hetero-norm is based on the notion that there are only two genders, woman and man, these two are made each other´s opposites and are expected to desire each other.

A newspaper once said about a well-known male actor: All women want him – and all men want to be him. The sentence contains all elements of a heteronormative structure. It communicates clearly that the world consists of two genders, no more, no less. These two genders are made each other’s opposites and are expected to have a desire for each other. The sentence also has a normative function through the assumptions made (see also norm/normcriticism). Evidently, not all women ‘want him’. Why? Because heterosexual women exhibit a wide range of sexual preferences in relation to men – they are not all going for the same guys – and because women as a group exhibit a wide range of sexual orientations. Similarly, it is not true that all men ‘want to be him’, yet it can be said without a doubt that many men want him. Not to mention all the people who do not identify themselves as woman or man, and who they possibly desire or want to be. All of these aspects simply do not fit into the heteronormative description of reality.