So you’ve got sexually reproducing beings in your setting. You’ve worked on their psychologies, understanding just how sex, really the most primal communication a being has, affects them.
Of course when you deal with sex and psychology, it’s all because beings have to interact to reproduce. Where you bring together two more more beings with some mutual goals and drives (at least reproduction) then things get complex. These creatures have to interact, get along, and work together to survive – and thus reproduce. Once you have sex you eventually have a crowd and they’re going to need to work together.
In fact, working together benefits everyone. You need some level of cooperation among a species to A) reproduce and B) not kill each other off.
At some point, you start developing a society. Be it a pack level behavior or a human-like capacity to hyperadapt and run culture as if it was a program, sex leads to social behavior.
What can I say? Sex makes things complicated. But you knew that.
A Quick Note
I’m going to be talking social behaviors here, and I’ll be referring to this as society, since it’s likely that you’re focusing on sentients in your settings and because sentience is when things get more complicated and when we write. However a good chunk of this applies to less-sentient, animal-level behavior that has social behavior even if it’s not a society. I’ll refer to this as “society” for the sake of not constantly clearing this up.
In short, i’m using the word society in the broadest sense.
So What Is Society?
So let’s ask just what a society and social behavior does.
Society is how living organisms arrange themselves and communicate among themselves. No man is an island, and a creature living on its own is probably dead in the end. But a society allows for members to interact, share, survive, and prosper – oh and of course have sex.
When it comes to sex, society lets them hook up, reproduce, and carry on the line – and the society. You can’t separate the two if you think about it. Society lets you reproduce easier (and deal with the results of reproduction).
Sexual organisms at the very least need some social elements to let them connect, have sex, reproduce, and raise the young (as much as is needed). When you have sex you have society of some kind. Some creatures just take it farther than others – like humans.
Society is sort of the “next level” of psychology for a species. It’s that principle that lets them get organized, communicate, and pass on information – and genes.
Consider how having these social instincts contributes to survival. The ability to bond and socialize, social behaviors, allows creatures to further grow and survive. Highly social creatures are almost an organism all their own, each being a cell, moving forward, growing, and surviving – even as some cells are born and die.
In fact, society itself really is about the transmission of information. Behaviors, language, rituals, training all allow for survival but are also communicated due to social abilities. An individual, be it a poet or an animal that passes on a clever hunting trick, outlives their time and perhaps even their progeny by passing information along.
In a weird way, society is almost a “second level” of sex. An individual can have vast influence beyond their individual reproduction, and ideas, concepts, or even simple learned behaviors can echo for ages in descendants yet unborn.
As I said, living beings are all about communication. Sex is just the first kind.
But that leads a lot to explore, and when you talk sex and society, there’s a few things you’ll want to explore when you world build a society and the way it affects sex.
The Biological Level
On one level you have to ask how much of the social instincts creatures you design are innate and how they vary.
It’s very likely any reasonably complex sexual species is going to have some hardwired social instincts just so they can survive and reproduce. These may be rather basic, but are likely to extend beyond the individual psychology of raw sex drive and need. After all if they’re not hardwired enough, that drive probably isn’t going to get expressed very well.
This can get rather tricky as now you have to ask where the core biological drive ends and learned and social behaviors begin. Ask yourself, in your experience, what are the basic human social drives and you’ll see how complex it gets.
Note that these social instincts do not always involve sex. Sure sex is a big part of living creature’s behaviors (as we know) but they also have behaviors that help them get along. I suppose you could note once you start reproducing you’ve gotta start getting along.
EXERCISE: Look at the way you spent your day today. How many things did you do that were more learned than instinctive? How many were more instinctive than learned? That point you yelled at someone for cutting you off on the freeway may have been pure territorial rage . . .
The Developmental Level
The next question in designing sexual species’ social elements is asking what traits that have that can be developed that are part of social (and thus to an extent) sexual behavior. What are the creatures wired to do or able to do, but that is highly variable or can be “filled” up?
Human language is a classic example of this. It’s amazing, but we have this ability to create symbol systems and thus pass on information. These words you are reading are in a language that evolved for aeons, allowing us to employ our natural communications abilities.
A similar example in humans is developing social roles. Though we have complex, varied societies, we still seem inclined to form social bonds and roles. It’s as if we slot ourselves into them happily – even if said role is that of an outsider, we almost need others to announce how “outsidery” we are.
This is an extremely challenging area as you have to enter a liminal area between biological traits and the larger society beings form, to ask what they’re INCLINED to do. However I find this area very rewarding to explore as you have to enter this unsure area and really ask how the life forms you designed adapt – and in what parameters.
EXERCISE: Name five human skills/traits/abilities that you think are natural and hardwired, but are also highly developmental. What role do they play?
The Social Level
Ultimately, when you get to sentients or complex social beings, you end up with a society.
A society is a strange thing really. It’s composed of biological creatures with some hardwired traits, who have learned various things because they’re inclined to, and now pass the society they constructed along. Society is both something they give birth to and that is their parent (to keep the whole sex thing in the picture)
At the same time, a society is a powerful thing for a species to develop. It can literally be like a unified yet adaptable organism, it vastly outlasts any of its components, it can change quickly since it’s not as tied to biological components, and it can propagate information effectively. A society is the ultimate reproductive/communicative tool that can send probes to distant worlds, seed TV signals into space, and write words down that survive thousands of years later.
Thus when you design organsims that have sex, they develop individual psychologies, they have social instincts, and ultimately they create a society.
Which if you think about it makes sense. A society is built on communication and propagating information, and because of that it allows for survival, and thus reproduction (even if its not biological). A society is in a way the sophisticated triumph of sex, the primal communication.
Of course that gets complex, but first . . .
EXERCISE: In the next five minutes, list all the ways an identifiable society is like a living organism.
EXERCISE: Now that you listed the similarities between a society and a living organism, list the differences.
The Social-Sexual Level
The thing is that sex is hardwired into beings that reproduce. So ultimately the society that they evolved is going to involve sex because its so primal, so hardwired, so vital to living beings.
Once you toss a bunch of beings together, the hormones (or equivalent) get going and there’s mating behavior, competition, childrearing, and more. So society, that giant organizational tool of living beings is going to have to cope with sex and make sure it’s handled properly (well what people deem properly). Sex got us to society, and society will usually have something to say about it.
This makes perfect sense since sex is such a primal part of living beings. If you’re going to get along, this core urge and process will be regulated, encouraged, discussed, etc. Thats jut part for the course. Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum, unless you’re writing some interesting spaceborn pornography – and even then its not a social vacuum.
So ultimately when you design living creatures and their society, sex is going to come into it all the time. YOu can’t avoid it because sex is how you got here.
EXERCISE: List all the sexual taboos in your culture you can think of. Why do they exist.
EXERCISE: What is the most nonsensical sexual taboo you’ve seen. Why did it exist, and who may think it made sense.
Once you have living creatures that reproduce you eventually get society. It seems that’s kind of inevitable because sex requires socialization, and society just kind of follows.
Ultimately this loops itself and the society has to handle sexual issues as well. It’s sort of a perfect oroborous really.
Of course, when you get to society and sex, there’s plenty of areas society has to handle, so we’ll get to that next . . .
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.