Way With Worlds: Sex and Worldbuilding – All In Your Mind


OK we covered the biology of sex, which if I did my job, proved to be completely unarousing unless you have a major science fetish. If you do, then you’re welcome.

The thing with writing sex in your settings, with creating and understanding the sexuality of the beings and creatures in your setting, is that it goes beyond biology. Think of it as a continuity – the biology is just the start, but it leads to other things.  Biology is the foreplay, if you want to dangerously skirt metaphors I have no intention of expanding on.

Once you have creatures reproducing, be they human or otherwise, once evolution kicks in (or the gods take charge or whatever) then you may have sentient creatures dealing with sex. That’s when things get a lot more complicated and less scientific.

Sex is part of our minds. For some of us, an extremely large part.

Now things get personal. Literally.

Biology Leads To Psychology

The fact sex is part of our psychologies this shouldn’t be a surprise, really. Sentient creatures exist because of their biology (unless you hve some world where minds are “transmitted into bodies” or something). This in turn influences their behavior as sexuality really is part of them – it’s how they reproduce. Biology leads to psychology because a species where reproduction isn’t part of their minds isn’t a species for very long.

This is when you have to ask how the biology of reproduction, be it a “human normal” setting or some completely alien set of lifeforms, affects the minds of the sentient creatures reproducing.

Because we damn well know it affects us and we’re real.

So let’s ask where the biology of sexuality affects the psychology of creatures, human or otherwise.

The Drive

As I noted, sex in a way is a form of communication – transmitting information so a new life form can exist. To get living creatures to have sex and thus propagate there needs to be something pushing them to “communicate.”  The term “sex drive” is really quite appropriate considering how motivated we can get around sex.

Sex drive is a huge part of human psychology as you’ll know by walking through a book store for five minutes in the right sections (less in some), or even logging onto the internet. It’s there, it’s part of us, and we talk about it because it’s so powerful – and we seem to talk about it an awful lot.

So when you’re writing humans or aliens that drive is usually there, even if it declines with age or is altered.  Remember that when deciding on the sexual psychology for the species you’re inventing – there’s some kind of drive, and it’s got to be powerful enough to survive.  In turn, it will be rather noteable.

EXERCISE: Ask yourself when, in the last week, sex and your sex drive influenced your decisions and activities. If you tend towards asexuality, ask about people you knew.


In the case of humans, we kind of need other people to reproduce. To have sexual reproduction of any kind there needs to be a way to have the different organisms get together and get the whole reproduction thing going.  That gets pretty complicated.

Think about how much of reproduction is the giving, receiving, and translation of signals. Sex is a form of communication, and in turn, it requires communication for many complex life forms. That’s going to be strongly biological, and thus strongly psychological because creatures that reproduce sexually need to sync up to actually do the whole “reproducing with thing.”

A simple read up on animal mating habits, displays, etc. will reveal a dizzying array of communicating strategies in different species. Sex affects communication – then again as noted, it is communication, so it’s not surprising.

Now when you are dealing with sex in your world, you have to deal with all the complications of actually communicating so sex can happen.

EXERCISE: Reflect on human communication about sex and sexuality. How much of it is likely ingrained or near hardcoded – expressions, body language, etc.

EXERCISE: If sex is a form of communication, and it requires communication, is there a difference or are they part of one continuity? What do yo think? (Hint: I tend to think they’re not that divided.)


Children don’t spring forth fully formed in humans, and I’d say there’s a good chance they don’t in any species you design (but if so, knock yourself out). Gestation period aren’t instantaneous in our world, and are unlikely to be so in yours (but again, if so, enjoy). The contact of sex, the starting of reproduction, is just the beginning.

Because then new life starts.

Think of the psychological effects of pregnancy, of the parental urges people have (or don’t have in some cases), or the reaction of someone to a cute newborn. Consider the pain of childbirth, the issues of mourning a lost child (the flipside of the parental urge).  All these other urges and instincts and psychological states come from the fact we have sex and need to keep things going as it were.

Sex in the whole involves a whole lot of other behaviors, of childrearing and birthing and age. There’s hormone changes and complicated desires.  There’s territoriality and sharing of duties.  Sex leads to the development of and/or requires (depending on your setting) a whole host of other behaviors in sentient species, because the physical act is just the start.

When worldbuilding about sex you really need to consider all the attendant drives and reactions and psychological/psychobiological elements of all sex entails – from courtship to having children. Just look how complicated we humans are about it.  Now you’ve got to re-invent that.

So sex doesn’t end, you have to consider how your species handle pregnancy if they have it, parental urges, age, and so on. As I noted earlier it can be overwhelming – or so thrilling to explore you get a bit too into it.

EXERCISE: What behaviors do you witness in people regarding sex that don’t involve the act or getting to the act itself? What are the first ones that come to mind and why?

EXERCISE: Where does “sex” end and something else begin for we humans – at least in your mind? Can you separate them?


Finally because sex is a big part of being a living creature, it tends to become part of what we are. We just may not notice it – until you do that walk through the bookstore or enter an innocent search term into a search engine on the internet.

Take a look at our world. From pornography to wedding advisors, from the latest sexy makeup to a cologne, from childrearing advice to contraception. Sex is everywhere, or is at least the inducer of many of our cultures and behaviors.

However you can also note that in times it blends into other things. A sterile couple may turn their parental urges to charity, as may someone whose children have moved out. The reproductive urge blends into our sense of camaraderie and family and culture. How may writers or artist channeled love or desire into something deep? How passionately may someone embrace an idea like a mistress or lover?

Sex, the core reproductive urge, the first communication, really blends into everything about being sentient – and being sentient is all about communication. Being sentient is about information gathering and transmission.  Sex is just the start of it really.

Sex in the case of humans honestly seems to bond with and be repurposed with so many behaviors it gets rather complicated to extract it. If you’ve ever been in love with an idea or a song, you know there’s a point where human love and desire can even be for something abstract.

I think this is to be expected in most sentient creatures as reproduction kind of transcends the physical act.

EXERCISE: Think over how many times we use sexual and reproductive words for non-sexual things. We “love” an idea. A book “is our child.” List as many as you can think of.

EXERCISE: What ideas, concepts, or activities do you feel true passion for? How close is that passion to love/desire/sex?


Really biology leads to psychology when it comes to sex, since in a way sex is what life is about – information moving on. It’s hard to separate the two.

But also in sentient creatures (well humans which we know of) sex tends to connect into so much else. In we humans it infuses even non-reproductive behaviors – plus our ability to come up with imaginative non-reproductive sex is pretty epic. At some point it seems like we treat sex as performance art.

Sexuality will probably infuse the minds of any sentient species you develop to a greater or lesser extent – just as any biological element will have a wide influence. It just may not be immediately obvious, it may be repurposed, it may be broad.  But it’ll be there.

After all if sex is the primal form of communication, being sentient really is about communication as well.

Of course that’ll influence culture, and that’s coming up . . .

– Steven Savage

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/.