I have a world where populated by simultaneous hermaphrodites. Which are like human women plus male reproductive organs, penis and testicles. They could father children like human males, and bear children like human female. Their bearing fertility drops in the 30s and they enter menopause as human female.

Technology is at a early iron age level. Society is tribal in nature. Most hermaphrodites marry and raise children as couples. In some couples both partners bear and sire children. In others more attractive (richer, higher in status) partner sires while less attractive (poorer, lower in status) bears children. Lowest members usually don't have partners, and raise their children from extra-maritial wiring. Few elites have several wives.

Testosterone has similar effect as in humans but less pronounced: more muscle mass, more aggression, more body hair, potential for balding, reduced ability to bear.

Hermaphrodites with small chances to sire children (unattractive, poor, low status) sometimes undergo castration. Everything else being the same castrated hermaphrodites are considered more attractive as wives due to more pronounced feminine characteristics. Criminals are often castrated against their will, especially the violent ones to make them less aggressive.

Does it make sense to have inter-tribal warfare under above circumstances?

On one hand hermaphrodite tribes who conquer other tribes could increase their fitness by killing the older enemies and taking the younger members as their wives. On the other hand why should any member make a risk, since they could reproduce anyway.

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    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't they have war still? Most wars in real life have had nothing to do with finding a mate. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 18, 2018 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_LR so fight war over resources, wells, herds, pastures and have mates as an extra? $\endgroup$
    – Biafra
    Oct 18, 2018 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ You might be interested in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness which explores a race of androgynous humans who lack war but not conflict. $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2018 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Are they carnivores? Then yes. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Oct 18, 2018 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Biafra Yes; mates are just one thing that living creatures desire. There's also shelter and food. Then there are plenty of things that are biologically unnecessary but socially required -- access to religiously important sites, for example. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Oct 19, 2018 at 2:46

3 Answers 3


Yes, war is rarely about reproduction.

The most common historical reasons for war can be grouped into the following categories: Economic Gain, Territorial Gain, Religion, Nationalism, Revenge, Civil War, Revolutionary War, and Defensive (preemptive) War.

As long as one of these factors is strong enough, there could be wars. The society you describe might consider wives either an Economic or Territorial gain, but that doesn't rule out other, non-reproductive, Economic or Territorial forces.

The easiest reason for tribes to go to war in the situation you describes is probably territorial. If one tribe has access to a particularly good iron deposit, other tribes might fight to acquire that territory, and the other tribe defending it.

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    $\begingroup$ To be honest, most reasons for war boil down to economic gain. Wars are expensive after all... $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Oct 19, 2018 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's worth mentioning that reproduction(or rather rape) is a means of waging war rather than a goal in and of itself $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ territorial and economic are (mostly) the same. Ditto for civil and revolutionary. All others are pretexts for economical wars. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Oct 19, 2018 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Burki "Revenge", "Religion" and "Nationalism" could also fall under "ideological war", as a third option distinct from your categories. "Own stuff", "control stuff", "think/believe stuff" $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2018 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal I don't think I can find a single example of ideological war started against someone not wealthy. Thus, I believe that it is only a motivation for commoners, not a real reason for war. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Oct 21, 2018 at 18:40

Of course they will. If the tribe has something that others want, they must be able to protect it. And if other tribes have something they need, they could either trade for it, steal it or loot it.

Fertile land, herds, pastures, hunting grounds, springs, trade routes anything important for tribe livelihood might be something worth fighting for.

Since hermaphrodites lack expendable young males to fight their wars, individuals in their 30's and 40's will most likely play that role. Since they are still strong enough to handle the physical stress, but their fertility decline makes them less valuable for child bearing.

Or they could specialize.

Strapping young girl? Military caste. Go forth, try your best to kill or be killed. Take risks. Don't breed, as death in childbirth is the worst shame a warrior can know. If you grow old enough to become a man then you have an awful lot of experience and can be used to train the raw recruits, not to mention stud the next generation of warriors into existence.

Likely to get killed in the first skirmish? Don't worry: There's always a need for the working caste. Feel free to breed if you want to, but don't expect any special treatment from the other castes. You're here to primarily support the other castes, including taking care of other people's children if required. If you grow old enough to become a man then bully for you.

Wide hips? Good pedigree? Mother has a history of twins? Breeder caste. You get food, protection and your pick of the men. You're likely going to die giving birth, but hey, at least you perpetuated the species. If you don't die and manage to live long enough to be a man then clearly you're good at this whole 'giving birth' thing, and the next generation could use some of your genetic material. Go forth and multiply.

Maybe even have warrior tribes, who extract tribute from peasant tribes. Those who refuse to pay are vanquished and sold into slavery. Which is good occupation for tribes who practice warfare as part of their life, for example by herding and hunting.


Russian Sci-Fi to the rescue! Yes, also here.

The point is, that certain novelist sketched up a quite alternative biology, that is also different from the suggested in the question.

A planet of hermaphrodites

Well, the basic idea is: think of a reproduction biology that works like following, for all species there. The premise is that it works in the wild. All newborns are formally male (but are hermaphrodites, so they could develop into females). After they hit adolescence, they fight. Cruelly, very aggressively (probably, needing testosterone to sustain male biology, although the novels don't detail), and not up to death. Then basically, the loser gets his penis bitten off, triggering the transition of the hermaphrodite to the female biology.

So, basically they have three genders: male-not-yet-decided, female-decided, male-decided.

Now, imagine a society

The actual focus of the novel was the sociology. Basically, but an independent observer in somewhat medieval society of people, who are biologically like that.

They are very aggressive, the duels are formalised, omnipresent, and astonishingly rare to death. There is also an ermm... ethic, distinguishing just winning a duel and basically, marrying your opponent in haze. The biology dictates the shift from aggression to sex, but the conscience can suppress it.

What does this have to do with the question

Phew, these were quite different hermaphrodites as asked about.

The point of this answer is that social consequences, including way of waging war, depend a lot on the underlying species' biology. The super-aggressive non-simultaneous hermaphrodites would duel a lot, duh.

The normally-aggressive simultaneous hermaphrodites (that I infer from your question) would probably wage war in the ways similar to known to us.


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