What Is a Comphet and How to Overcome It?

Comphet is short for “compulsory heterosexuality”. This concept claims that heterosexuality can sometimes be assumed because of societal norms. Critics claim that assuming sexuality is an issue because it doesn’t allow space for individuals to explore the possibility of being something other than heterosexual.

When compulsory heterosexuality occurs, it damages someone who might identify as being another sexuality outside of heterosexual because it prevents them from exploring other options due to a fear of being “wrong” or “incorrect.”

What is a comphet?

Comphet is short for “compulsory heterosexuality.” This term stems from the fact that our society often normalizes and emphasizes heterosexual relationships while placing less emphasis on the other types of sexualities. For this reason, sexualities other than those that are heteronormative are not always accepted by most. Some people feel pressured to identify with heterosexuality to be accepted and blend in with everyone else.

Both men and women can experience the pressure of the complete. For example, women sometimes feel pressured to take on a husband and have children because that is what our society expects. At the same time, a relationship with another woman might not be honored in the same way.

Many people who take the time to consider their sexuality from an accepting standpoint might find that they are, in fact, heterosexual. However, it is important to take the time to do some introspection, with an unbiased perspective, to confirm what your sexual preferences are. When sexuality is assumed, it can cause suppression. If a person’s true sexuality is suppressed, it may come out in unhealthy ways (such as an affair or mental health issues).

The concept of comphet

Although the expression “comphet” has been gaining popularity recently, the term is not new. “Compulsory heterosexuality” comes from an essay by Adrienne Rich in 1980. In her essay titled “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Rich explains how women have been conditioned to have a preference for men and that they are socialized to want to be in heterosexual relationships.

The institutions by which women have traditionally been controlled — patriarchal motherhood, economic exploitation, the nuclear family, compulsory heterosexuality — are being strengthened by legislation, religious fiat, media imagery, and efforts at censorship.

Adrienne Rich

Because comphet originates from an essay that is specifically related to lesbians, this term is often used to describe women who have fallen victim to compulsory heterosexuality. However, it could be applied to men and other genders as well.

Signs of compulsory heterosexuality

Some signs of compulsory heterosexuality include:

  1. You’ve never explored the idea of being anything other than heterosexual.
  2. You were pressured to always be with someone of the opposite gender, as if there was no other option.
  3. The idea of a relationship is more for practical reasons than to meet your actual desires (for example, a woman feels the need to be with a man so that she can have children and have financial support rather than being romantically and sexually attracted to him).
  4. When questions about your sexuality have arisen, you’ve suppressed them because of shame or guilt.

It is easy to feel like you have to conform to the pressures placed on you. When a person is raised in an environment where sexualities outside of heterosexuality aren’t discussed or accepted, it might condition a person to think that branching out is wrong or shameful.

Luckily, this isn’t at all the case. However, it is important to take time to do some introspection to determine your preferences and who you are, regardless of where you come from or what external factors are influencing you.

Is the comphet theory biphobic?

Some controversy has surrounded the theory of compulsory heterosexuality because the original essay by Rich failed to include bisexual or transgender women. The reason people see comphet as being biphobic is that it can sometimes imply that bisexual people are actually just gay. However, they’re trying to fit in with societal pressures by still hanging on to some degree of attraction to the other gender.

How to beat the comphet

To counteract the influence of compulsory heterosexuality, engaging in introspective work and self-reflection is critical. Personal exploration is the only way to have a clear understanding of and affirm one's own sexual preferences. It may ask for some amount of effort, especially if socio-cultural norms and social expectations have influenced one’s perception over the years.

Studies have shown that those who find themselves targets of societal stigma because of their sexuality have greater risk of mental health problems. Considering that, the process of both addressing and overcoming compulsory heterosexuality is not only a matter of personal authenticity but also one of mental health.

Really think about where you’ve come from and how your upbringing might have pressured you to be a certain way.

Ask yourself some tough questions:

  • Were you often told that a normal relationship only involved a man and a woman?
  • Were you led to believe that anything outside a heterosexual relationship was “abnormal” or “incorrect”?

If you answered yes, you might have been influenced by compulsory heterosexuality.

Tips for personal growth

Here are some practical things you can do now to support your ongoing personal growth:

  • Journaling or meditation: Devote some time to consider the role of your upbringing and its influence on society. Journaling or meditation will enable you to contemplate your experience and feelings in a safe and introspective manner.
  • Questioning societal norms: Confront the stereotypes and messages you've been told regarding what a typical relationship should look like. Question yourself on sensitive questions about the sexuality and beliefs you have subconsciously accepted.
  • Seeking support: Connect with the LGBTQ+ community or allies who can provide support and comfort in addition to understanding and validation. Connect with family members and friends that can provide you with emotional and perspective support.
  • Professional help: Think about getting therapy from a licensed expert with great experience in the area of LGBTQ+. Research shows that therapy gives you a safe place to deal with your identity, to open up about your problems and to overcome your trauma.

Escaping the confines of compulsory heterosexuality allows people to embrace their authentic selves. Introspection and support will help you to navigate the pressures of society and find your true self. Keep in mind that your journey matters and asking for help is a sign of strength. Embrace who you are with pride and you will find acceptance and love on the other side. You are entitled to the real version of yourself and as such, you should be free to live your life authentically and happily, exempted from the constraints of societal expectations.


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