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In sci-fi, we can find the concept of artificial fertilization and incubator quite commonly. I work in a company that's heavily involved in that technology, so I became curious to adapt this to my medieval Europe-inspired fantasy world as some magical force. It could be some sacred tree that a couple can spill some of their blood into the sap and the tree will offer an egg-like fruit that a baby will eventually break out of. Or maybe even the old tales of birds carrying the couple's baby from somewhere. The mechanism doesn't matter at the moment. What I'm interested in is the effect that such a means of reproduction that doesn't involve 10 months of pregnancy will have to the population and society.

Let's lay down some assumptions first:

  1. The mechanism has practically unlimited capacity, but won't allow a couple to use it too often.
  2. The baby is the biological offspring of the couple and the couple has no control whatsoever to the traits the baby will have, just like conventional reproduction.
  3. Inter-species offspring is also possible (like half-elves), but only if the couple is biologically similar enough. Obviously, a homosexual couple can also have a baby this way.
  4. Perhaps the mechanism will do some tweaking to prevent genetic diseases, which could be an added bonus to using the system. This also means a baby boy from two females is also possible.
  5. The baby is delivered much faster than conventional reproduction.
  6. There are no concerns like "can we really say this is our baby even though we didn't birth it?" or "does such a baby qualify as human?" at all.
  7. The world visually resembles medieval Europe, but assume a utopia in terms of human rights, equality, protection of the weak, etc.
  8. Abusing the mechanism to mass-produce humans for slavery, war, etc is not possible, nor would anyone think of attempting it even if it was.

Now, I'm looking to build a world where this mechanism has been in place for a long time since before history, rather than trying to imagine how the world would react to its sudden discovery. What would population growth and maintenance in a world where this mechanism is common look like? Of course, traditional pregnancy still exists.

I think it's obvious that the biggest difference would be when a rapid increase in population is required, such as at the early stages of a settlement's growth, or right after a big drop in population due to some calamity. But in normal periods, how would families be in the presence of such a reproductory mechanism?

Update: one thing I'd forgotten about is the production of breast milk, which requires pregnancy. Alternatives to natural milk would be in demand, creating interesting ideas for the economy and industry in the world. Although males being milk producers is an idea I'm willing to probe.

Update 2: I originally wasn't going to bring this up because it's my fault for making this question too vague and I didn't want to stop people from exploring a lot of possibilities based on the core concept (such as JBH who brought up wonderful points) regardless of whether it fits my intentions, but I noticed that too many answers are actually restricting themselves to the tree example and the interpretation that anyone can make a baby anyhow out of any people. I'm still not trying to stop anyone from exploring under that assumption so I won't update the above points but I will clarify this: I failed to list the fundamental assumption that two people must intend to use the mechanism with the specific wish of having a baby between them and full understanding of what they're doing. Which is evidently a very big communication mistake on my part because I was just thinking as a biotech worker. Too late to point it out I guess. I think I will post a separate question that will be closer to my intention in the future, after coming up with a proper mechanism that 1) will be hard or preferably impossible to abuse and 2) is also a difficult process although it has no biological impact to either parent.

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    $\begingroup$ Does normal pregnancy still exist? Or are humans otherwise infertile? $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Jun 10 '18 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ Not a complete answer but in medieval times, pregnancy and delivery was a very dangerous process both to the mother and the child. While the number of infant deaths might not change a lot, there would definitely be a lot fewer deaths to the mother due to the stress giving birth and bad sanitation. Ps. 2. and 3. are contradictory: if the child is biologically the couple's then how can two women have a baby boy? Where does the Y chromosome come from? $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle Jun 10 '18 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @RealSubtle Medical care may have improved since medieval times, but please note (before you are lynched by the women of Earth :-) ) that pregnancy and delivery are still dangerous processes. This is possibly why male scientists put so little effort into finding ways to allow men to become pregnant. :-) $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jun 10 '18 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Quick question, is this mechanism readily accessible or is it a single thing like your tree example. The availability of the mechanism drastically changes the answer. $\endgroup$ – Naryna Jun 10 '18 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ In your world, is it necessary for a baby to be breast fed, or there is a good alternative for that (so children may be raised by men as well as by women)? $\endgroup$ – abukaj Jun 11 '18 at 9:04
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You haven't nailed down the process, which is rather important as to how it will affect the population. Let's consider this solely from the perspective of the magic tree and blood...

This process has some messy issues.

  • What stops the local Duke, age 90, from hauling out the local pretty girl, age 6 and nowhere near birthing age, from combining blood to create a child?

  • What stops two men, or two women, from combining blood on the tree? Does the tree require actual biologically viable reproductive components? Or does it produce people (we'll stick with humans) who have only half the required chromosomes?

  • What about pre-arranged relationships where the heads of two families bond their alliance with the scion of two seriously underaged children?

  • What stops the local shrew from stealing into the king's room one night to steal a tincture of blood with which she creates a legitimate heir to the throne?

  • How long must the blood be viable? Could Some knight's wife sop some blood from her dead husband's body and use it to create a legacy? (What happens if women sop up the pools of blood, heaven only knowing whose blood is all mixed together, and uses it?)

  • And what could convince society that the children of the trees are equal to the children of the body? Would your society consider the children of the trees easily disposable?

You see, what you're describing only looks like a mythical convenience for problematic childbirth on the surface. It's really a nightmare — socially, emotionally, politically, religiously, you name it.

Which makes it ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS for a story!

This breathtaking idea makes all the shenanigans found in Game of Thrones pale in comparison! If you think about it, conventional reproduction has natural filters, like women not having the ability to conceive before menstruation starts or needing to actually find time to get together with someone, and (outside of rape) actually needing to know who it is you're with (well, rape, drunkeness, you get the point). Conventional reproduction naturally gates (compared to your trees) the process of interfering with lines of succession and legal rights of inheritance. It would be terrifying, a system that could be so easily abused for blackmail, exploitation, (there's gotta be a dozen words that go here, but it's late....). Like I say, Game of Thrones on steroids.

  • People would develop a terror for cuts and blood loss. It would almost become religious in its nature (possibly even interwoven into religious practices). Think of a chastity belt for both genders that looks a lot like plate mail — only it's a cultural taboo rather than a physical barrier.

  • Cremation would become the prevalent form of cadaver disposal.

  • Myths about approaching battlefields after the battle, reinforcing a taboo that protects the blood of soldiers, would abound.

  • It used to be that (fantastically) princesses were locked in towers to protect them (and the family). Now everybody's locked in towers to protect themselves from the ruthless.

  • It might even set back the development of the medical scienes as people are afraid of coming in contact with another's blood — just in case you didn't wash as well as you thought you did, scratched your hand on the brambles when you tripped, and caught the tree to try and keep your balance — Dang!

And one more thing:

There would be so many bastards that the word wouldn't have meaning

Somehow the culture would need to change legal concepts from "of my blood" to "of my body." It's easy to see to wonderful people creating a child they'll care for as their own. But who's responsible for the gutter-rat "conceived" in any of the situations mentioned above? Oh, what a tangled web we weave....

And we won't even talk about the cults who seek for a "supreme being" by regularly mixing all the adherent's blood into a bowl and pouring it over the tree, believing that the child thus born is holy.

Oh, yeah. There would be effects. An uncontrolled reproductive process like this where there's little to no hope of protecting yourself from the intrusion of childbirth... the culture would be unrecognizable compared to our medieval civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ Okay I'm honestly disgusted by the implications of what I just thought up. Big eye-opener for the naive me. Now, my world is meant to be an escapist fiction where people in the world are nice for once, so I'll explicitly avoid everything you pointed out and just keep it as a healthier alternative to pregnancy (hope you aren't upset), but you bring some seriously golden points to consider. Even if nobody will abuse the system, what other problems can there be? Will there be fear of blood loss? Will that discourage people from fighting? The implications are endless. Thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 10 '18 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ One of the issues about worldbuilding is thinking through the implications of your worldbuilding assumptions. If you don't take an honest look like this answer does, you risk writing yourself into a corner, or having to pull some deus ex machina out of the hat in order to resolve the story, which is very unsatisfying to the audience. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jun 10 '18 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ I'm a believer in working from the big picture down to what you actually want. The problem (wonderfully reflected in The Matrix movies and other shows in that the first "perfect" matrix was rejected by humanity) is that even the nicest people have their petty, selfish moments. You're right, I brought up grand, sweeping issues that would affect nations. But those themes work because they're a big and obvious version of the little complications of our own lives, like office politics and family squabbles. We can relate to them. They feel more real than perfect. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 10 '18 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Fabulous answer! And yes, one has to consider that even the Garden of Eden had its snake. So it's very likely that while this world would look pretty and shiny on the first glance, it would have a very seedy underbelly. $\endgroup$ – Anonymous Jun 11 '18 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Iroh Just remember: the more rules you create, the more ways you create for people to misuse, abuse and circumvent the rules. If you really want to create a "nice" world, look at the one we have and eliminate the downsides we have. For "better" pregnancies, eliminate morning sickness, pregnancy complications, loose pelvis and pain/bleeding during delivery and you have made that whole child-rearing thing a whole lot better. Most of this you can just ignore or hand-wave away in a fantasy setting. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Jun 11 '18 at 7:06
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First, big population boom. You just removed the nine-month limit, but more importantly, you just effectively removed one of the big killers of humanity: childbirth. You know when you see figures that the average lifespan in the Dark Ages was about 30? Well that was because of the woman and children dying mostly; the men lived for decades more. Now woman will be on equal footing in that regard. You might still have a high child mortality rate, but that's easy to fix. Just make more children. Besides the fact that people won't be dying, parents will make a lot of children this way. For most of history, children were used as free labourers by their parents and this will still be the case in your world. Parents might not be able to use the magic often but they'll use it as often as possible, especially poorer people, until they can't feed any more people.

You already said that this society is a utopia for equal rights but this is a big thing. Women would equal now for sure. Through history, the reasons they've been second-class citizens have been many and varied, but they mostly come down to pregnancy and ensuring that the father's children are in fact there. With this out of the way and no longer relevant, women as a group would be way more equal.

Interestingly, I expect proper pregnancy, as it still exists, to be kind of like a privilege. It'd be something that the rich women of society do to show off their status. Consider that manual labour is certainly easier for women who aren't pregnant, it would be a sign that the female in question didn't have to work and that they could financially accept the burden of actual pregnancy. This especially true if normal pregnancy takes longer than the magic: it shows she and her husband can easily take the financial hit of her not working, or being less productive at least.

Never forget the role of religion. Considering that beliefs accept society as well as the other way around, you might find that true pregnancy gets an aura of sacredness and divine blessing. Priestesses might become pregnant on purpose etc. Because it isn't normal, there'd be an air of 'specialness' around it. Pregnant women may even be venerated. This may flow onto the children: those born naturally may have a higher station in society.

However, all of this assumes one crucial point: you have reliable contraception. Otherwise, regardless of your magic breeding, women are going to be pregnant the old-fashioned way, and quite often. For most, you'd be right back at Medieval birth rates, and then some. People would have two children at once and increase it even more before slowing off. If there's no contraception, then women will keep dying in childbirth and the rest of my answer can be safely ignored.

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    $\begingroup$ The "30-year lifespan" was nothing of the sort. Most of the people who died were infants. If you made it to five, you'd probably make it to fifteen; if you made it to fifteen, you'd probably make it to fifty (barring violence, of course). As many as half of all babies didn't make it to five, which is what skews the life-expectancy-at-birth numbers down. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Jun 10 '18 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ I'm aware of that and I said that. Didn't check the fingers and you're right, they are a bit off. I did find the real ones though and correcting for infant mortality (i.e. only counting those that lived to adulthood) the average life expectancy for a woman was about 41, with men having a life expectancy about 8 years more. Considering they were essentially all violent deaths, the lowers the female one even more in comparison. On a cursory search, I found 1 in 3 women died in childbirth in England at the time. That's a tremendous amount. $\endgroup$ – Serenical Jun 10 '18 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence As I understand it, Serenical said exactly the same thing you're saying. Please clarify how this answer could be improved, because you seem to have noticed a problem. $\endgroup$ – Agent_L Jun 10 '18 at 17:43
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Unfortunately, I think the consequences of the childbirth method you mention are mostly negative. I'm continuing on in JBH's vein in a sense

Life Is Cheap

Unfortunately, it's part of human nature to value things based on its scarcity. If 'child-getting'(calling it childbirth is misleading because that term's meaning is based on the real world process of having a child) is so much more expedient then people are that much less likely to value children. Without the physical process of pregnancy, emotional bonds between parent and child are likely to be weaker or even nonexistent. The way people view children would probably be closer to how we in the real world view pets, with abandonment becoming a big issue as a result

This translates upwards to the level of the state as well. There may be safeguards with war or slavery in mind, but how far do these safeguards go? Would they do anything to prevent a Stalinist regime from coming about, or wage slavery as opposed to the ancient form of slavery? As a neither-good-nor-bad aside, another consequence I see would be to push the needle towards modern preschools and kindergartens, especially if 'child-getting' results in a sufficient amount of stray kids to require a state response. These childcare centers might have an indoctrination element to them, depending on the state in question.

What You Can Do

I understand that your original vision was much more escapist and utopian than how it actually to turned out. In order to get to that, you'll need to finetune and alter the exact mechanics of 'child-getting'. It might help to draw some inspiration from a 90s Japanese fantasy novel series called Twelve Kingdoms.

In Twelve Kingdoms, for a couple to have children, they tie a ribbon to a special tree and pray to the gods. If the gods decide to grant their wish, a child would then grow on this tree as a cocoon with said ribbon on it. Childbearing in the sense we understand it doesn't exist at all, and even beasts and demons are born through a similar process with special trees in the wilds. As a result, these trees are considered sacred with connotations you might expect. Blood cannot be spilt while under the shelter of these trees; a law that all living creatures must respect or face divine punishment for breaking. As a result a traveler under attack by wolves can seek inviolable sanctuary under such a tree if he's lucky enough to find one and fast enough to get there first.

Removing childbirth from the equation entirely could help you build the world you want, since it'll take away the biggest biological reason for 'keeping women in their place'. It'll definitely shake things up and would probably open up the job market for women. Whether you want to go this far is up to you though.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the insight that the ease of having a baby might make them less valuable. I might want to change the assumption that the healthier alternative is faster. Which might give people another incentive to prefer traditional reproduction. The example you give also sounds quite similar to the picture I originally had in mind (refer to Update 2 I made just now). And finally most people seem to agree that the reduced significance of childbirth will ensure better female rights which I'm definitely all for, so I'm quite sure I'll try to find a safe way to go up that road. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 11 '18 at 13:10
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My guess is that families would look pretty similar. For the most part, families throughout history tend to be sized based on what the parents want (poorer and rural families having more kids, urban families and wealthy, well-educated ones having fewer as a general rule) regardless of biological factors. There's some variations, of course, the odd surprise, but for the most part it tends to work out. Even as "costly" (in a broad sense) as having children the old-fashioned way is, and it is, raising them is by far the more significant expense, in time, money, and effort.

So I would expect families to mostly be around the same size as they were in the real world under different circumstances. Similarly, mass production of people for the purpose of bulking out your army, making a slave labor force, or rapidly settling areas would be extremely problematic - the big issue being food supply for all your people. I'm assuming that once the children are born, they develop in the traditional way, so you need to sustain them for a long time before they're suitable for things like heavy labor or soldiering.

One situation that this would help is replenishing populations after disasters (especially plagues, which kill a lot of people but leave the infrastructure, as opposed to say an earthquake or invading army). You'd still have to shepherd your population carefully to make sure your children didn't eat you out of hearth and home, but it could rebuild your population fairly easily and reliably. Ironically, this might be a bad thing; there are theories that the dearth of laborers after the Black Death (and the related rise in the value of labor) played a role in making later Europe more egalitarian.

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  • $\begingroup$ part of the reason poorer families in the past had more kids is more labor for the farm $\endgroup$ – Seserous Jun 10 '18 at 15:00
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Almost none

Most people don't have sex with the sole purpose of making babies. People have sex because it's fun and babies are an occasional consequence if nothing is done to prevent them.

In the modern world, the people who would make use of this are the wealthy and career women who want to minimise the interruption of their working lives to reproduce. In a medieval world it would be dominated by the wealthy who wanted to safely create a baby without risking the mother's life.

Everyone else will continue to make babies the old fashioned way, by having sex and occasionally making a baby.

Remember that serfs are basically property, we're not talking about a population free to do as they will.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, but I disagree with the principle of this answer. Of course people have sex for fun, but all sorts of cultures and classes throughout history have placed and still do place an enormous importance on bringing up a family. From Henry VIII trying to beget a male heir, to modern IVF treatment, people spend an enormous effort on making babies, even when they are most definitely not having fun doing it. $\endgroup$ – IMSoP Jun 10 '18 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @IMSoP but the importance of an heir (and even a spare) would have a negligible difference on the overall population. Henry VIII had 3 surviving children including a male heir. Perhaps with this device he'd have had fewer wives, but it's unlikely he'd have had significantly more children. The number of people requiring fertility treatment is vanishingly small compared to the general population who have children the normal way, deliberately or otherwise. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 11 '18 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ I've actually been thinking after reading your answer, if this mechanism is very readily accessible and has been used for long enough to affect humans' evolution, then sexual drive might be dimished and eventually disappear because it won't factor strongly to reproduction anymore. Even otherwise it will probably affect sexuality in one way or another. Still, it's definitely valid to note that not all babies are born out of planning. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 11 '18 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Iroh, it could very well be a "first child" thing, any further children are born the usual way without planning, but that important first heir comes through the mechanism. That gives you all sorts of strange options for lines of "pure" first child lines where it's been hundreds (thousands?) of years since an ancestor wasn't born through the mechanism, but that's social rather than population. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 11 '18 at 13:18
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Whoever controls the device can control so much of the world. Especially if there was a way to make it so that the device becomes the main or only form of viable reproduction (pregnancy has huge demands on the body, if for some reason those demands weren't sustainable such as working conditions or frequency of disease it becomes even more risky for a woman than it already was in that era). Whoever controls it can dictate whatever they want be it as ransom from the couple or over societal norms.

Now comes the more interesting part since the poster is trying for a more Utopian world. You have the potential for radical changes in sex differences between male and female.

A huge driver of evolution by natural selection is sexual selection. Choosing mates based on traits that have little to nothing to do with fitness (in a survival sense). Peacock's tails (probably the most common used example even though the tail's trade off's make it also an indicator of fitness). Much of the physical difference between male and female is because of requirements for reproduction. But not all. Breasts are needed to feed a child, but how large are they really needed? Looking at patterns across the world, it's obvious that there is way more differences between groups than should be justified if the only selection pressure on breast size was how efficient it is for keeping children alive. I specifically mention this one because larger breasts are mostly about more fat, which is about the woman having eaten more and so for a long time it was the ideal to marry such a woman because clearly she has enough food (the same for paleness as an indicator that the woman didn't work the field which indicated wealth).

So there is no longer a selection pressure for woman to have the traits that are most needed for child birthing/rearing. With the indicated time frame this could eliminate much of the physical differences between the sexes overall. It could also lead to more extreme physical changes such as groups looking so different from each other it may not be obvious that they are all still human. (This group preferred tallness for so many generations above all other traits, their average height is twice that of a human, hey, they are giants! But in realty, still human just humans who grow way taller.)

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding your "even though" under peacocks' tails, I believe there is a theory that all sexual selection is actually a proxy indicator of fitness, and the peacock's tail is the common example precisely because it's thought to be a typical case. $\endgroup$ – IMSoP Jun 10 '18 at 21:10
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Maybe worth to mention that if this technology will be available to everyone then men will eventually be attracted to less feminine women. The beauty standards for women are mostly based on there ability to make babies (wide hips etc). There would be no evolutionary pull anymore towards fertile bodies if babies can be made on a tree. This will also mean that men will no longer be attracted to young women.

The fact that babies can still be made naturally does hardly matter if the alternative is so much easier and safer. Those conceived natural will be seen as uncivilized as in Huxley's "Brave new World".

The effect on society is probably that people reproduce on a later age and old people will occupy most of the resources before they start to reproduce. The only thing that currently stops women from reproducing at later age is that they will no longer be able to.

As a whole this will mean that more of the resources (houses, ground, money) will be occupied by older people and humans will live with there parents till a later age. Maybe this can have a positive affect on humanity in terms of fewer violence, but it might make society as a whole more hierarchical traditional etc.

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    $\begingroup$ "This will also mean that men will no longer be attracted to young women." This would only be true if the trees were in existence for millions of years, and even then it's dubious, since survival-neutral traits are neither selected for nor selected against. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Jun 10 '18 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 part of that preference is cultural, need babies, women tend to die during birth, start breeding young. There has already been a trend away from this since family size has shrunk and women tend to survive childbirth (say tend, because laws are a huge part of why there are fewer child brides in USA than a third world country). Doesn't invalidate your point, but it is another aspect to consider $\endgroup$ – Seserous Jun 10 '18 at 14:58
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What would population growth and maintenance in a world where this mechanism is common look like?

I would expect that very strong social customs would have come into effect to prevent people from abandoning their tree-children. Bujold's Ethan of Athos is an SF novel centered on an all-male world that used imported ovaries, but they still had the social issue of requiring evidence of responsibility before having children. One also earned "social credits" by taking care of newborns. This world had been populated for about 200 years and not all couples/relationships were homosexual.

Along that vein, I suspect that your world would have lots of intentional communities, which would be set up where people could live together without needing a heterosexual component for reproduction. One could have all-male (such as Ethan of Athos), all-female, or celibate "monasteries" (or communes) where they'd have children without sexual involvement. Shakers were a celibate religious movement in the US who are now known for a style of furniture.

But in normal periods, how would families be in the presence of such a reproductory mechanism?

Keeping in mind, your statement about medieval Europe level technology, I suspect that most children would be born via the tree, as death in childbirth was very common until the necessity of hand-washing and cleanliness were "discovered" by Ignaz Semmelweis. Cultures that encouraged tree-birthing and discouraged body-birthing would have significant advantages due to lower death rates among women.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of communities consisting of specific type of people and continuously reproducing between them, never accepting outsiders unless they have the same trait and can be considered to be fit to be a part of the community. It will be possible to have a village purely of males without making it disgusting. The ideal of "purity" has never, ever been a good thing though, so perhaps such a settlement would be a comparatively antagonistic force in a generally happy world. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 11 '18 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Oh no, scratch that. It will still involve gender selection so it will be disgusting $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 11 '18 at 13:39
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JBH did scratch the surface, but I'm afraid he didn't go deep enough...

medieval Europe-inspired fantasy world

Then, since the events are occuring before the invention of feminism, I as your Supreme Leader cannot help but take note that a population entirely made of men has roughly twice the military strength of a population of 50/50 men and women (no matter how "strong and independent" the latter may be)... since your magical contraption allows dudes to reproduce then the first kingdom to outlaw women (lets call it the Rainbow Islands Kingdom) gets such a military boost that it promptly takes over the world in an unstoppable wave, and generalizes the idea. In other words, if this has been going for long enough, then there are no women left (except as pets for your magnanimous Supreme Leader, of course).

Likewise, if the events occur after the invention of feminism, then there will be no men left (except as pets/bodyguards for your Supreme Leader, of course).

But the cool thing is that you've ended sexism! Pretty cool.

Additionally, besides providing better mixing of genes, sexual reproduction (aka, screwing) also performs an important role in keeping the gene pool in working order: it weeds out the uglies, the crazies, the sick, etc, due to the fact no-one wants to screw with them. So, if anyone can reproduce to their heart's content by stealing a drop of blood from someone, then the species will go degenerate pretty quick... but perhaps someone will object that this does not necessarily require a magical device, only a lack of natural selection...

The world visually resembles medieval Europe, but assume a utopia in terms of human rights, equality, protection of the weak, etc.

Kumbaya! Unfortunately, such a utopia is only possible when resources are abundant. In a medieval setting where you have to work 15 hours a day in a field for a meagre pittance, useless mouths to feed simply die. Only people with full bellies think about trifles such as "Human rights". Hungry people think about dinner instead. Gotta have our priorities straight. Look up Venezuela.

Therefore, in order to make this viable, your plot device should do something to the babies, perhaps "elevate their soul" or whatnot, so they become people who are actually able to live in such utopia. Also you'd have to get rid of all genetic defects etc, and if you don't want too much crime, you'll probably have to also abort everyone with an IQ below 120 or something (calling Aldous Huxley? Yeah at this point it does become a bit creepy).

Plot twist: the device cheats. It delivers a baby but it isn't yours. It actually uses the genes of the best, healthiest and smartest people instead of yours. So the children are all beautiful, smart, civilized, etc. But they're not yours.

Plot twist #2: humans resulting from normal screwing are normal, which means they don't get the "soul elevation" the device imparts. In other words, they will rise to the top due to being more ruthless, cruel, and hard bastards!... So many possibilities...

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