This is actually something I finished and published on an old, non-dedicated blog some time ago (October 2010) concerning this particular piece of my worldbuilding, and for the sake of completeness – and because it ties into some of those issues and attitudes mentioned under Blue and Orange Morality - I’m reprinting it now here so that my worldbuilding category will be properly representative.
So, I’ve recently been working on answering the “Ethnographical Questionnaire” set of worldbuilding questions for my conculture – not quite this version, but another version by the same person, I think – in the interest of, by so doing, expanding on all sorts of areas and possible unconsidered lacunae in my current imaginings.
And since I know at least some of my current readers basically follow along just for the worldbuilding snippets, and the rest of the stuff I post here be damned, I thought I’d share each section with y’all as I got it done.
As it happens, the first of the sections which actually is complete – in the sense that every question in it is answered, not just some here and there, is section XII: Questions of Sex. So if you’d like to know more than you knew there was to know, and for that matter probably more than I knew there was to know, about sexual mores in the Empire of the Star, well then, read on…
How does your society define incest?
Incest is defined in two ways; or rather, there are effectively two separate concepts both covered by the same English word, in translation.
The first is reproductive incest, which is a matter of genetic hazard. Once genetic technology became available, technically it’s no longer even a matter of consanguinity – instead of concerning itself with reproduction of people closely enough related to probably cause bad recessive genes to pop up, it concerns itself with any reproductive act that could cause bad recessives to pop up, even if the people in question are entirely unrelated. It is considered a de facto crime against the child resulting, by causing or risking its exposure to, genetic disease, and is punished accordingly.
The second, intergenerational incest, addresses matters of dubious consent due to familial authority issues. Under these rules, incest as defined as sex with ancestors (or siblings of ancestors) or descendants (or sibling’s descendants) two or fewer generations away from you; i.e., parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, granduncles and grandaunts, children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, grandnephews, and grandnieces. Stepchildren and adoptive children are considered as blood relatives for the purpose of this calculation.
Sexual relations with more distant generations, even in the line of descent, is not considered intergenerational incest due to the nugatory familial authority exercised at that generational distance, and the practical difficulties posed by the fact that, in a society of immortals, anyone who lives long enough will be related to just about everyone.
Note that by these incest rules, sibling/sibling relationships are permitted provided that all involved are consenting competent adults. While extremely rare, certainly unconventional, and likely to draw social… curiosity, albeit not condemnation, in the absence of reproductive considerations, there is no compelling public interest in its prohibition.
[How does your society define] Rape? How do people react to these?
Imperial law and custom defines rape as any sexual activity involving another person without their consent, or when consent has been gained through means coercive (including but not limited to duress, and also including pharmacological and other technological coercive devices) or fraudulent. Consent may be given or withdrawn at any time; there is no non-terminable advance consent (“unlimited right of conjugation”) possible under Imperial law.
As for how people react: well, the penalty for rape under Imperial law is death. Sometimes, the courts even get to apply this penalty; usually, when it’s reported after the fact and prosecuted as the result of an investigation. Those caught in the commission of the crime or in hot pursuit thereafter rarely survive the experience; which tells you the public view of things quite definitively, I should think.
(And just to make it completely clear, we’re not just talking about strangers in dark alleys, here. Anyone unwise enough to believe that they’re safely surrounded by friends, fraternity brothers, or some such is just begging to have a short lesson in the consequences of betrayal added to the lynching which shortly will ensue.)
What secret vice is believed to be widely practiced? What secret vice actually is practiced?
It’s hard to really pin down something as a secret vice. Seriously. Again, it’s because this is such a very open society – and most professional procurers of one vice or another are as aware of the value of marketing as any other entrepreneurs, so most vices have fairly public proponents.
Well, I suppose that most people don’t admit to their sexual vices, but that’s not due to shame – that’s because ladies and gentlemen of quality (Eldraeic daryteir) don’t blether on about their sex lives or other intimacies in public, or even group, settings, for reasons that amount to showing a decent amount of respect for a partner’s privacy. But it’s not like you won’t find information on them everywhere from Introduction to Practical Hedonics (okay, maybe Intermediate Hedonics) to Xenophilia for Beginners.
What sexual habits are widely believed common among foreigners?
Well, many less cosmopolitan citizens are of the opinion that since so much of the rest of the Galaxy is “a hotbed of strutting would-be authoritarians and deluded self-abnegating submissives eager to sell their precious sophont rights for a handful of shiny beads and some dubious promises” – to indulge briefly in stereotyping of rather doubtful quality – then they’re probably bringing their thoroughly nauseating ideas about dominance and coercion to bed, too, and just… ewww.
They are, however, and fortunately for foreign relations in general, aware that even acknowledged jackboot-analog-wearing discipline addicts still find overt coercion in this area pretty damned icky, though. At least in public.
How do people react to homosexuality? Is it frowned on? Encouraged?
Pretty much the same way they do to heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or asexuality, or xenosexuality (incidentally, for anyone pondering mechanics at this point – and to borrow a note from a Spider Robinson book – every sophont species has fingers, tentacles, or some other sort of manipulators; anything else is gravy) for that matter. Love’s a funny thing, and not all that common in this universe. When the lightning strikes, don’t let go of it. Mere bodily issues can be sorted out later.
(And, hey, these days when the exowomb and high biotechnology have solved the reproduction problem, uploading/downloading has made bodily gender the next best thing to a fashion choice, and psychedesign can rewrite your sexuality any time you want if your desires don’t match up neatly with your affections, then really, not only are the last qualms of the heir-desiring dealt with, but the whole question has almost been reduced to meaninglessness.)
Or, to put it another way: Their gods never said no.
Are premarital sexual relations allowed? Extramarital?
Is sex confined to marriage? Or, is it supposed to be?
Premarital, yes. There is a notable societal preference that sex should take place within some kind of emotional relationship, however, but not necessarily marital, or even cohabitatory. Imperial social custom provides for a number of semi-formal degrees of such things, scaling all the way down to delesessqámél, which can be approximated as but not precisely translated as “friends-with-benefits”, provided that the friends in this case actually do care about each other, even if not to the extent of love.
“Hooking up” and the one-night stand, however, are socially disfavored, not so much as a matter of morality, but as a matter of bad taste [and, yes, that applies to both sexes equally] (although a reasonable case could be made that anything called out by the Names, Numbers, and Novas as bad taste is probably in an even worse social position that something called out by the moral mavens). There’s also an aspect of pity involved: much as a doughnut lover might have for someone who insists on only eating day-old doughnuts with the powdered sugar scraped off. Sure, they can enjoy doughnuts that way, but one can’t help but feel they’re missing a large part of the point of the exercise.
As for extramarital, well, that depends entirely on the wording of the marital contract in question. Virtually all of them mandate exclusivity, it is fair to say, whether dyadic (again, the majority) or polyadic. To explain this, recall that the highly self-willed eldrae weren’t born a species of calm, serene, honor-bound ur-logicians; they achieved it through centuries of bloody strife and trying to put an end to same. Promises of exclusivity secured on a daryteir’s iron-clad word serve to prevent society from tearing itself into shreds in fits of jealous rage (also, note, the property of no particular sex), and thus the cultural tradition is established and maintained. Frankly, you’re much more likely to see an option to add a member to a polyad – or convert a dyad to a polyad – by mutual agreement in a marital contract than an “open-relationship” clause. (Not that those are strictly necessary; you could just mutually agree to recontract, but some people like to put these things out there explicitly.)
That said, every probability curve has its ends, and so there probably are a few open-relationship contracts out there. They may not have all that much luck finding extramarital partners in practice – since, well, everyone knows about the fit-of-jealous-rage thing, and even if someone claims to have set all such things aside, one may well prefer Not to Taunt – but there’s no ethical or social injunction against them. Remember, the sin in adultery is the contract-breaking/betrayal, not the having of the sex.
How is adultery defined? What (if any) is the punishment? Who decides?
Adultery, sayeth Codex of Imperial Law, 114th ed., is defined as breach of contract, specifically, breach of a marital contract. This is both broader and narrower than the definition here, inasmuch as it does cover non-sexual infidelities which our definition of adultery does not, if they’re specified, and it does not cover sexual infidelities unless exclusive rights of conjugation were specified in the marital contract as written.
As for punishment, that is a matter for the default law of contract, if not explicitly specified, and if explicitly specified, it’s determined to the marital contract as written. It should be noted that the Imperial law of contracts doesn’t place any cap or limit on penalty clauses (since freedom of contract is a matter of public policy), so punishments can be quite severe; nonetheless, if you promise to forfeit it and still can’t keep it in your pants, well then, no-one can say you didn’t set yourself up for that, eh?
Is prostitution legal? How are prostitutes viewed? Is this accurate?
Well, it’s legal. Just about everything that doesn’t involve coercion is, after all. However, it never really caught on en masse, and I’ll give you the simplest reason for that: telempathy. You tell me how well your sex drive works while basking in the cold glow of naked commercialism, and imagine just how good the market is for said service, except among the insignificant number of people who have that particular kink.
What is the greatest sexual taboo?
Coercion. Which, yes, in its most obvious form is rape, but that may well not count as a sexual taboo, simply because it is a sexual crime, which is a whole other order of magnitude. However, in taboo terms, the generalized taboo on coercion spills over onto sadomasochism and dominance/submission – while legally and ethically acceptable when consensual, they steer too close to the forbidden waters to be socially acceptable (in, for example, much the same way as indentured service contracts, only to an even greater extent, as more personal).
(While it might be thought that the opprobrium of coercionism would, in such cases, attach itself principally to the dominant partner, there is a matching opprobrium attached to willful submission to force, lack of the valxíjir proper to a free citizen, etc., that attaches to the voluntarily submissive. Recall, please, that this is a culture which considers even the relatively small loss of autonomy inherent in the time-sale employment common elsewhere to be inadequate to truly support a freeman’s dignities.)
What does this society mean by the word “virgin” and how important is it?
It’s a medical term of art meaning ‘someone who has not yet had sex’, and unless you’re a doctor specializing in one of the related fields or possibly a lawyer involved in one of a rare type of lawsuit, it’s probably not of any great importance to you.
What constitutes aberrant sexual behavior?
As a general rule, “aberrant” sexual behavior falls into one of these four categories, in decreasing order:
- Coercionism (not so much aberrant as Just Plain Evil)
- Anything that, while it may be consensual, causes actual harm to someone.
- Anything that, while it may be consensual, all parties involved aren’t enjoying.
- Bedpost-notching without emotional involvement.
- Non-consensual cession of privacy, or as one might put it without the legal jargon, “frightening the horses”. Also covered here might be ungentlemanly sexual chit-chat that violates one’s partner’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their affairs, but that’s more a social deficiency than a sexual aberration.
Are there any cultural or religious strictures, norms or taboos that specifically address sexual conduct?
On the religious side, Cálíäh, eikone of desire, encourages, well, desire. Although no more specifically for sex than for anything else. Cinníäs the Reveler, eikone of hedonism (among other things), and Édaen, eikone of joy and recreation, want you to enjoy yourself – or more accurately, want a good time to be had by all. Éjavóné, eikone of vengeance and protection, has some really harsh things to say about anything and everything not strictly consensual and, if relevant, intracontractual. Lanáraé, eikone of romantic love (among other things), and the Lover Gods want you to find the right person to have it with. Medáríäh, eikone of fertility, industry, production, and therefore reproductive sex, wants you to make people with it. Rúnel, eikone of etiquette and civilization, wants you to respect each other in the morning. Véválíäh, eikone of hearth and home, wants couples to enjoy each other. And Ithával, eikone of awesomeness, wants you to be really good at it.
Culturally – well, see the rest of these answers.
Are there secular laws that control or restrict sexual behavior?
There are laws against:
- rape (no consent, or consent gained through coercive or fraudulent means);
- bestiality (defined as sex with non-sophonts, including non-sophont intelligent machines; no capacity for consent);
- necrophilia (again, no consent or capacity for same, although a case might be made if they bequeathed you their body specifically for the purpose, but fortunately no-one’s brought that particularly extremely gross case up before the Curia yet);
- sex with currently unoccupied bioshells (not without consent of property owner, and eww);
- sex with minors (i.e. not age-based, but all people who don’t meet the IQSC requirements; no capacity for competent consent);
- reproductive incest (genetic hazard, and defined in terms of probability of same); and
- intergenerational incest (i.e., sex with ancestors or descendants two or fewer generations away from you, due to familial authority issues. And, well, genetic hazard, but that’s already covered).
Apart from that, so long as you’re consenting competent sophonts, go for it!
(Oh, except in the street, or other public volume not intended for the purpose. Sorry. It’s kind of distracting. Remember, kids, the property line is your friend. Addendum: vehicle hulls count as property lines, but please, tint the windows.)
At what age is it considered normal to engage in sex? Are there taboos against sex with children?
It’s not so much a matter of age, except by default. Specifically, like all matters of majority and competence, your competence to engage in sex – which is one of the extremely short list of competences actually regulated by law – is determined not by age, but by the sufficiency of your self-signed (which is to say, held and paid for in your own right) tort insurance to cover the potential consequences. Anyone holding this minimal quota of tort insurance is legally and socially empowered to have all the sex they want, provided that anyone else involved also does.
In practice, most people achieve their IQSC (Insurance Quota for Sexual Capacity) sometime in late adolescence.
Should sex be a one-to-one experience? Or are groups allowed?
There is no particular moral freighting either way, per se. Of course, what’s already been said above on the topic of exclusivity rather settles the matter for dyads, and the social disfavoring of “hook-ups”, etc., answers the question for the casual orgy. Polyadic relationships, or at least the smaller ones where the logistics don’t become impractical, do prefer to find ways to involve everyone, though. It’s just plain nicer that way.