So we get to what is in theory the last Sex and Worldbuilding column more or less. OK maybe one more or something, but this covers most of what I wanted. That was certainly one hell of a rewrite over the original – there’s probably a column in itself on all the reasons I had to cover more.
So we’ve covered biology, psychology, society, and how they tie to sex. My fundamental thesis is that sex is best viewed as a primal form of communication for life, and thus logically infuses all aspects of said life. Life, in short, transmits.
But there’s one more element of sex and your setting to consider beyond these – then come the metaphysical, mystical, and divine. If your world has a supernatural (or perhaps “metanatural”) component, then sex is going to impact that too. Sex is part of living beings, living beings deal with metaphysical realities, ergo it’s going to be something you have deal with as a world builder.
Got spirits and sorcery? Sex is going to come into the equation as your sentient races interact with such things.
Now this goes into so many potential areas I’m just going to cover the basics – since your worldbuilding will doubtlessly have its own elements that are unique to your work. I’m just trying to get things going here.
But first . . .
The Gods Must Be Voyuers
One of the issues I find in writing about sex and metaphysics is people assume that the gods, angels, demons, etc. actually give a damn about who’s doing what in the bedroom. Sure it’s vital as it is part of living beings, but there’s an assumption that it’s a massive, vital issue to the supernatural creatures of any setting.
I frankly find this attitude to exist due to:
- Humans figuring everyones worked up about sex as they are.
- The fact sex is a powerful drive so it infuses what we do.
- Nosy people who assume their religion means they can ask what I do in the bedroom and that it matters to them.
Once you get outside of the human sphere, to the realm of magic and gods, be sure to take an appropriate step back and ask just how much the sex activities of your sentient species matter in those areas. It may not that much – in short, you may not have much worldbuilding to do about sex on the supernatural level.
We’re just used to our own drives and lots of busybodies sending up cultural chaff as it were.
So with that being said, here’s the areas sex and metaphysics may come together. If that’s relevant. Otherwise, the gods and demons can go do something more interesting to them.
If you’ve got a world of magic and magical energies that interact with and are acted on through your sentient species, then sex may matter. Sentients use magic (or whatever), sentients have sex, ergo the two are going to come together as it were. Perhaps in horrible ways.
This could be something as simple as “do not try magic while having sexual thoughts, man you’ll be sorry” to mystic energies being part of sex itself (which can be see in real-life esoteric practices). But where there’s sex and sorcery, there’s a chance the two will come together, if only in warnings of why the two shouldn’t come together less you have premature evocation.
Here’s a handy checklist to keep in mind when dealing with sex and supernatural forces:
- Do the mystic forces of your world interact with, affect, are affected by, or indeed power sexual activity? Why or why not?
- What effects does sexual activity, ideas, and thoughts have on said mystical forces and what are the repercussions?
- What social, divine, and other rules exist due to #1 and #2?
- What social, divine, and other rules exist due to #1 and #2 but make no sense, don’t do their job, are no longer relevant, etc.?
Another issue that can happen in dealing with magic and sexuality in our worlds is that the otherworldly beings may also have an interest in it. This has been a big part of human culture, from seductive succubi to the oversexed Zeus. Sometimes, at least in human legend, the interactions of sex and the supernatural get personal on a very intimate level.
When exploring this in your setting you’ll want to ask why this happens. You may have some vague ideas, but ask these questions:
- Why do these otherworldly beings want to have sex with the worldly sentients. To what point? What is the reason?
- Why are they physically compatible (or how do they become so)?
- What happens with pregnancy, as dealing with half-human pregnancy it can be a Herculean effort, massively lame pun intended.
In many cases the supernatural creatures you’re writing might be considered another sentient species – so perhaps like we humans and your sentients, sex is a big part of their lives and drives. Just with more dimensional gates.
The Cycle Of Life
Sex leads to pregnancy, which leads to new life – which can be pretty important in a supernatural setting. New life means a new mind, new body, new member of society – and that impacts the supernatural as well since the supernatural is part of your setting.
If yours is a world of reincarnation, pregnancy isn’t jut a birth, it’s a return. “OK, let’s see who it is this time . . .”
If supernatural creatures prey around the edges of the human mind, a new mind is vulnerable – or is it perhaps the best defense? “The demons are coming, get me a troop of happy babies to form a barrier!”
If everyone in your setting has magical power, including children, pregnancy and birth get a lot more dangerous. Could a child cast spells in the womb? If so that makes reincarnation even more problematic. “Oh, poor thing, her child was a wizard in a former life and now she’s got intermittent thaumaturgy.”
You get the idea. Sex and pregnancy are complicated enough, and throwing in sorcery and demons and ghosts makes it far more complicated.
Here’s some questions to help you out:
- How do the metaphysics and magics of your world affect conception, pregnancy, and birth?
- How do young minds affect or are affected by the supernatural realities of your setting?
- How has society coped with #1 and #2? For that matter has it coped?
If the gods or equivalent beings of your setting made the setting then they made the sentients – and made sex, which is how you get sentients with unskilled labor.
If your setting involves a creationist scenario, why do the gods and demons and beings that made humanity care about sex? Why does it work the way it does? What does that mean for morals and ethics? What does that mean for society?
This gets pretty complicated, so it’s going to be an individual-case scenario. But if the gods made the sex drive of your sentients, then it all exists for a good reason. In turn, you need to know why as a worldbuilder to understand your setting.
Of course there’s all sorts of possible stories here. Maybe the sex drive of your sentients was corrupted. Or the gods didn’t consult each other properly. Or it’s well-designed and in your setting some issues we have with sex your sentient races don’t. Who knows.
But if the gods got into the making game, you have to look at sex and ask why everything works that way deliberately and how and why the gods made things they way they are.
Figure that out and you’ve got a rich sense of detail that makes your world really alive.
Big Picture, Big Question
So in a way, this all comes full circle, from dealing with sentients reproducing to asking the big questions of life. This is normal, just part of worldbuilding, big and small pictures interacting.
As I hammer at repeatedly, sex is part of sentient beings – so it’s going to affect metaphysical realities as well. You’ll need to address these when appropriate or there will be a huge gap in your setting and story. Addressing them on the other hand makes for a richer world.
And remember, just because your reader thinks one thing doesn’t mean they know what’s going on . . . that’s part of the fun . . . especially because we always make assumptions about sex, and shattering assumptions properly can pleasantly surprise the reader.
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/.