Ethnographical Questionnaire: IV. Questions of Family

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. I thought I’d share each section with y’all as I got it done.

Previously answered:

III. Questions of Race and Ethnicity
XII. Questions of Sex

How many spouses may a man or woman have?

As many as they can persuade to contract with them; there’s no particular legal or social limit.  One is the social default/assumption for the eldrae, but those species and individuals both who prefer polyadic relationships are on safe and comfortable ground.  (Oh, and it’s not transitive; if A is married to B and B is also married to C, A is not married to C – unless the contract says otherwise, of course.  Make up your own topology – star, line, ring, helix…)

Who decides on a marriage?

The involved parties, and only the involved parties.  Matchmakers may matchmake, it is true, and friends and family may drop broad hints and arrange introductions, but family, parents, society, gods, and everyone else need not think they get to decide anything, here.  Anyone who even thought about inventing the arranged marriage, the shotgun wedding, or other means of forcing someone into such an arrangement would run straight into the culture’s attitudes on Coercion, Evils Of, followed by Slavers, The Righteousness Of The Shooting Of, in the worst possible ways.  Shudder.

Can a marriage end in divorce? How?

Well, it’s not called divorce, but a marriage can end in three ways:

1. If it’s written into the contract that defines the marriage.  This includes options to terminate at-will (mutual or individual), automatic termination after a fixed term with option to renew, etc., etc.

2. If both parties mutually agree to terminate the contract, even if such an option didn’t exist beforehand.

3. If one party defaults on the contract.  What exactly this includes mostly depends on what’s written into it in the first place (adultery, for example, counts as default if the contract includes promises of sexual/emotional exclusivity; financial misfeasance may well; domestic violence [see below] always does; and so on.)

Who usually takes custody of children if a marriage ends for some reason?

What happens to orphans?

In either case, it’s down to the contract, if the parents saw fit to make arrangements (and, in the event of default, bearing in mind that under any normal arrangement a defaulter on the marriage contract has defaulted on his children, too).  If not, the genarchs of the families (since – see below – children are not necessarily counted in the same lineage) find, bearing in mind this and keeping siblings together and so forth get to discuss matters and find the best place to put them in the families.  Failing such a voluntary arrangement, it will ultimately go to the courts to find the optimal place – but the courts get very ironic if they have to intervene in this sort of thing that people should be able to sort out amicably without making them take it to court.

Doubly so if they have to make these arrangements for young children after a voluntary termination of contract, because parents have contractual responsibilities to their children, and they really do not like people who play silly buggers with those.

How are families named?

Family names generally take the form “House-ith-Lineage”, which can reasonably be interpreted as “clan; family within that clan”.  Where the House and lineage name are the same (meaning the senior family of the House), they can be elided into just “House”.  Family names are neither matrilineal nor patrilineal.  Rather, children take the family name of their opposite-sex parent and are counted part of that family; i.e., siblings of different sexes would be considered members of different families.

How are boy and girl children treated differently?

By and large, they aren’t, except in re biologically or morphologically implied necessities.  See also under VIII, Questions of Labor (when I post it), in which I point out the lack of a distinction between “men’s work” and “women’s work” among sane and reasonable people; well, the universe isn’t kind enough to always guarantee that someone of the appropriately arbitrary sex is there when a job needs doing, so everybody gets to learn to cook and run a forge and make clothes and earn a living and sew embroidery and wrangle balky machinery back into operation and make beer and do science and raise children and shoot and fight if necessary (for “those without swords can still die upon them”) and and and and and…

People are people, and need to learn all the skills needed by people.  The universe also isn’t kind enough to give us the luxury of wasting the potential potential of large chunks of the population by declaring things Not Their Business.  And even if it did, doing so would be pure idiocy.

What, if anything, is considered a good marriage gift?

The traditional marriage gifts (from the families) are a forge and a fruit tree, in honor of the twin aspects of Medáríäh, eikone of fertility and mass production; in traditional and old families, an exchange with each other (the families) of statuettes of the principals for the family shrines; and weapons for the defense of the new household.  (Only the most formal of the war-temples require the happy couple to use them immediately.)  Those marrying don’t exchange gifts, because they’re giving themselves each other.

Gifts for the newly married from friends and relatives vary widely; they’re usually not household goods, because people tend to marry at a late enough age that they already have everything they need, if not twice as much.  Extra points go to close friends who can slip some sly ribaldry in without letting everyone know they’re doing it.

What inanimate or sexless things are considered male or female?

Sufficiently complex machinery – essentially, anything complex enough in behavior, principally meaning vehicles, heavy machinery, computers, assorted autonomous machinery, cities, etc. – is often anthropomorphized sufficiently to be given a name, and having been given the name, is assigned the appropriate gender in speech despite this being a technical solecism.  (For ships, the tradition is that the ship takes the opposite gender to his/her first captain, and most other such namings follow this pattern.)

Does this society connect the ideas of marriage with love?

Absolutely.  They’re a hopelessly romantic lot, and as such have a hard time imagining why else you might want to marry, really, given how many simpler ways there are to arrange most of those other things.

(But, as I said before, where it differs substantially from most of our cultures’ fluffy romantic notions, is that it also emphasizes that marriage and love are also extremely hard work, and that there are no Magic Relationship Fairies who will make it work out for you, or more importantly, keep it working out for you as the years, and decades, and centuries, and millennia roll by. Rather, it makes it very clear that you, newly-minted spouse, have just acquired a whole new obligation and career in making it work, and unilateral quitting is not an option for a gentlesoph, etc. It also, in fairness, tries its best to provide you with the tools to do the job, ranging from those which would be relatively familiar to us, to such uniquely-to-long-lived-species notions as taking ten or twenty years to go off and do your own thing, the theory being that at the end of that, you’ll both have a lot more to talk about, plus the chance to remember all the things that made you fall in love and want to marry in the first place…)

How big are families, typically?

Individual families usually contain, say, the parents and three to four children, but given the eldrae lifespan, those children can be spread out over hundreds if not thousands of years; except for twins, it is extraordinarily rare for your siblings to be within a century of you in age.  That being said, all of these are part of sprawling extended families (the Houses) and almost always interact with their myriad cousins and other relatives.

What constitutes a household? How many people live in one household? How many generations?

Households vary widely in size and structure.  The largest tend to be the home estates of the Houses, which can house hundreds of people over a dozen generations under one (admittedly very large) roof.  Sizes then vary down through the cluster-house (a half-dozen or so houses and private gardens around the inside of a circular wall, sharing common space in the middle), usually shared between an extended farm household or several generational/related/friendly nuclear families in an urban setting, to the single house or apartment-house occupied by a single couple or even single individual; the latter becoming more common in the modern era now the cluster-house’s advantages in defensibility and shared infrastructure are no longer so significant.

Are girls or boys preferred and why?

Neither, except for occasional idiosyncratic personal preferences.  Reasons being much the same as given above concerning them being treated differently.

How common is domestic violence? Is it understood to be a problem, or a normal aspect of family life?  If it is seen as problematic, what is being done about it?

Rare, very rare.  You see, eldrae by nature are very, very self-willed types who are thus disinclined to acquiesce to external self-valuations, and long before you can reduce one to the psychological state in which they’ll accept the way you’re treating them, you’ll pass through the psychological state in which they’ll reach out and gut you like a sturgeon, you lousy Defaulter bastard.  (Or someone else offended by your behavior will, which amounts to pretty much the same thing in the end.)

This ‘solution’ to the problem pleases everybody, and so nothing further seems necessary to do in those cases.  (Although there are legal mechanisms to take care of the rest, usually with a similar conclusion.)

Ethnographical Questionnaire: III. Questions of Race and Ethnicity

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. I thought I’d share each section with y’all as I got it done.

Previously answered:

XII. Questions of Sex

What are the chief races in the region?

Among the eldrae, the original races – for values of original equal to “once the original (limited) population had spread out and settled down enough for these to appear” – were the eseldrae, lumeneldrae, seleneldrae, vereldrae, azikeldrae, and kireldrae, with the alaereldrae and telireldrae appearing later.

Of these, the most common are the first three, the eseldrae, lumeneldrae, and seleneldrae, who together make up about 75% of the population.  The eseldrae [“star people”] are stereotypically eldrae-pale, with nearly-white cream skin tone, dark brown to black hair, and eye colors generally brown, gold, hazel, or amber.  The lumeneldrae [“sun people”], by contrast, are the darkest of any of the eldrae races, being golden, darkening to rosy-copper, with eyes of deep blue and green, and hair colors ranging from a pale silvery-white [“sunrise”] through a deep, burnished gold into shades of deep, dark red [“sunset”], although both extremes are rare.  The seleneldrae occupy the middle ground, being paler than lumeneldrae copper but darker than eseldrae cream, with hair ranging from deep gold to dark bronze and auburn, and eyes of almost any color, merely avoiding the extremes of light and dark.  The seleneldrae are also distinguished by curly hair; while not unknown in other races or found in every seleneldrae, it predominates among them.

Among the less populous races, the first is the vereldrae [“forest people”], a chiefly forest-dwelling offshoot of the seleneldrae, sharing a similar skin tone although somewhat more golden in hue, with hair and eyes both lightened; the former to light gold, brown, and red, and the latter to sea- or sky-blue, or pale green-grey.  Occasional mutations have given some vereldrae hair shot through with green tints, or even plainly dark-of-verdant green.

The second is the azikeldrae [“stone people”], descended from those who moved underground to avoid the Winter of Nightmares and stayed there thereafter.  In hair and skin color, they resemble the eseldrae, but tend to be shorter and more powerfully built (which is to say, by our standards they’re still tall and slender).  Their eyes, however, may be grey-almost-black, dark blue, or even violet.  The azikeldrae also contain a minority subrace who acquired a silverlife infection/symbiosis during their time underground, the “silvertouched”, who are distinguished by metallic “flecks” in their eyes’ irises and sclera (known as “star-flecked”, metallic strands (of actual metal, copper, silver and gold being most common) appearing in their hair, or skin colored gold, copper, gray, or blue from metallic deposition, even sometimes to the extent of acquiring a slightly stony texture or actual freckle-like inclusions of crystal or stone.

The third, and the rarest, are the kireldrae [“first people”], throwbacks to some of the original engineering that made the species in the first place.  Their skin is even paler than that of the eseldrae, to the point of near-translucency that gives it an almost bluish tint from the blood beneath.  They have either very pale or very dark eyes, never in between, often grey, sometimes even silvery, black, or purple.  Their hair is usually dark, although occasional kireldrae of unusually unstable breeding manifest very unusual hair colors – vivid scarlets, dark blues, indigos and purples, even ashen white.

Later, although most unusual offshoots created by genetic engineering either come in all racial varieties (the spacer mods – ignoring, for the moment, the ebony-skinned people who live outside habs, directly in space – for example, look merely like four-armed examples of any of these races) or have morphology determined by other aspects of their clade design, two new races appeared – designated so for numbers, unique appearance, and ability to breed true.

The first of these are the alaereldrae [“ocean people”]; modified to live underwater, with amphibious skin, slightly webbed fingers and toes, and full-body gills, they otherwise have pale skin similar to that of the eseldrae, but marked by a faint turquoise tinge, as is their hair, whether it is dark, blonde, or the mid-blue, ocean-green or jade-green shades also common among the alaereldrae.  (Red hair is unknown among them.)  Their eyes are universally a shade of liquid blue-green.

The second are the telireldrae [“sky people”]; a winged clade designed to fly unassisted on lower-gravity worlds and habitats, they combine seleneldrae skin tone with pale eyes and hair, although not quite as pale as the sunrise hair found among the lumeneldrae; very occasionally dark hair shows up among them, but this is a rare exception.

(By the way, just in case you think it’s kind of racist that no-one here is darker than a Native American, you can find the reason why under “Trope-a-Day: But Not Too White“.  Essentially, the same Precursor genehackery that upgraded their immune systems as part of the whole immortality thing broke the mechanism that releases melanin when cells are damaged by exposure to UV light; they don’t tan, they don’t sunburn, and there’s no evolutionary advantage to spending the energy to make melanin in the first place, which is half the reason that white people evolved *here* in the first place; the skin tones they have are essentially a leftover.

And, also by the way, they did re-invent dark skin later on, per that reference to the ebony-skinned chaps who live in space and can use the radiation protection, and no-one has a problem with that.  So.)

What are the chief ethnic groups of each race in the region? How are they distributed in place?

Well, originally, the chief ethnys around in the Old Empires were the Corones of Upper Cestia and the Alaelaes of Alatia (eseldrae); the Stanné-lin of Selenaria and the Daen-lin of South-East Cestia (lumeneldrae); the Querach-lin of the Crescent, who were also a minority in Selenaria and Cestia (seleneldrae); the Verthraen of Veranthyr and Chielraen of the forests of central Cestia (vereldrae); and the Azikraen of Azikhan (azikeldrae).  The kireldrae were around, but were too rare to form any sort of actual ethny, and neither the alaereldrae nor the telireldrae existed yet.

How do they differ by language, appearance or ancestry?

By appearance, not very, in terms of inborn characteristics, compared to other ethnys of the same race; they didn’t have enough prehistoric time to diversify further in. In habits of dress or culture, it was substantially easier – you could pick out the Querach-lin, for example, by their habit of wearing their armor everywhere but bed or bath, and sometimes even there, and always carrying a damn great axe around; the Daen-lin by not wearing very much at all when they could get away with it; the Verthraen by their movements, shaped by spending much of their life at treetop-height, and dressing to allow them; the Stanné-lin by their elaborate hairstyles and even more elaborately folded clothing; the Alalaes by the seawater in their dress, speech, and movements, and so forth.

In language, things had started to merge by the time of the Old Empires – the Corones, Alalaes, Daen-lin and Chielraen all spoke dialects of Old Cestian, for example, as did the Querach-lin minority there, albeit one flavored with loan-words and formations from the Crescent’s language.  Likewise, the Stanné-lin of Selenaria and their Querach-lin minority also shared a language, one that acquired some flavor from their northern neighbors in Veranthyr, who, along with the Azikraen, kept their own unique ancestral tongue.  Post-Empire, of course, everyone officially spoke Eldraeic, but most of those older languages still exist to one degree or another, if only to add flavor to life.

(There are also, of course, more elsewhere on the world — but I think that’s enough for now.)

What jobs do the chief ethnicities primarily occupy? Are any groups denied work because of racial or ethnic heritage?

Pretty much the same jobs as everyone else, even back in the day, and almost certainly not.

The eldrae are really too innately individualist to really get the hang of racism.  Culturism, that they can manage, and goodness knows more than a few people who were too attached to the bad old days and their coercive ways of doing things found themselves on the wrong end of the swords, rifles, and flame-belching giant mechanical spiders of the Freest of the Free — but if you live and let live and stand by your word, oppressing you or excluding you just ’cause of what you look like or where you came from?  How stupid is that?

What are typical attitudes of the native (or majority) ethnos to immigrants and other ethnicities?

The Empire claims to be generally welcoming to immigrants of essentially any ethny, clade, or species, as the above might suggest, and by and large, it lives up to it – once the immigrants arrive.

That being said, the Empire has always reserved the right to be rather picky about which immigrants it permits to join up.  As an ideological state with an explicit social contract, the Empire is essentially structured as a mutual-benefit corporation of its citizens, and so any prospective future immigrants are expected to show the same sort of deep attachment to the core principles of the Fundamental Contract and Imperial Charter as the original members.  And to put together enough assets to purchase one citizen-share, under most circumstances, by way of demonstrably not being a parasite.  And the Empire also makes no secrets of its broad libertist-technepractic consensus or the Great Imperial Melting Pot, and isn’t exactly interested in recruiting people who aren’t willing to go along with those, in the interests of not setting itself up for ghettoization or future internecine strife.

But, hey, once you get through that gauntlet, you can be a three-eyed nine-armed trilaterally symmetrical soph from a cold-slush planet no-one’s ever heard of, with more cultural quirks than you can perform a situationally appropriate ritual at, and Imperial society will take you to its bosom.  And try and figure out how to make a methane-snow pie to welcome you with.

In short, mind matters; meat doesn’t.  No offense intended to the infomorphs in the audience.

How has any variety of ethnicity in the region changed the society’s culture?

It’s tricky to say in any depth – to cover the listed ones above and the obvious contributions, the Alaelaes brought a nautical tradition and an exploratory urge, the Stanné-lin brought the notion of popular assemblies and sortation, the Querach-lin brought their warrior tradition, the Verthraen brought the best silviculture anywhere, the Daen-lin brought some desperately needed urge to relax occasionally, and so on and so forth.

But it’s safe to say that they all did, and even to the modern day, any new ethny/culture/species turning up in the Empire can expect to be welcomed by lots of enthusiasts wondering “What have you got?  And can we have some?”, culture-wise.

Ethnographical Questionnaire: XII. Questions of Sex

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.