Clarified and narrowed down as requested!

The following guidelines have already been established for the world. These are presented so you get an idea of the people we are dealing with:

1. The members of this society are humans who evolved from social sapian creatures, just like us.

2. Total human population is about 2-3 million people total. These are grouped together in villages or hamlets of up to 1500 people. These villages are permanent settlements. No more than 3-5 days of travel separates each village.

3. The planet they live on is Earth-like, but with an extra cold climate. There are 4 seasons just like parts of our world, but milder. Temperatures range from 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit (7-18 °C) in summer to as low as negative 70 (−57 °C) in winter. Precipitation is moderate year-round. Plants and animals adapted to survive in these conditions are the same as those on our Earth that can live in these conditions (think north-american or siberian).

4. Villages are centered around agriculture, with the humans devoting their energy in the "warm months" to growing and stocking food. Food is hardy, cold-resistant stuff like cabbage, carrots, chives, radishes, etc. Sheep and goats are the domesticated animals of choice, providing wool, milk, and meat to keep them fed and clothed through the winter. Wild game is hunted only for fur, creatures like buffalo, rabbits, elk, etc.

5. Though each village has certain unique cultural traditions depending on their location, history, etc, the human culture as a whole is the same. They are united and do not war against one another. Trade and communication have been well-established, as well as a basic "global" economy.

6. Technology-wise we are looking at roughly Bronze Age. Mostly spears or bows & arrows for weapons. Armor is rare because the thick layers of fur commonly worn by people to keep warm provides sufficient protection against attack. Metal is used for plows, pots, and tools, not warfare.

7. Medicine however, is very advanced, and lifespans are close to current First World levels (70 years or so), due to an over-abundance of healing herbs. This planet happens to have an impressive list of hardy, cold-resistant herbs. Natural birth-control, blood coagulation, natural antibiotics, congestion, allergies, bowel irritation, etc. These herbs are documented and cultivated by specialized farmers. Now surgery, setting bones, and other physical hands-on remedies would still be incredibly dangerous, but at the very least they can provide herbs to numb the pain and to stave off infection.

The guidelines above are firmly established for this world and not part of the question, just meant to help out. The following three concepts are the concepts of "marriage" or domestic partnership that I am considering for this society as a whole.

A. Partnerships are temporary and flexible. Men & women are both in control of the "transaction" so to speak. Men and women will court and flirt with whatever partner they like. The partnership can last for a single night, or several months, but longer than that is considered weird or even taboo, and under no circumstances do they move in together. Because birth-control is available, each woman gets to decide when and with whom they will have a child, with each woman being "expected" by societal pressure to have at least ONE baby, most having multiple. Men are not involved in the raising of their biological offspring. Instead, each household consists of brothers and sisters, the children of the sisters, and the grandchildren of those daughters. Men remain in their mother's households for life, and are responsible for helping to raise their nieces and nephews. In this way, men can always be assured they are caring for their own blood and helping the next generation to grow up protected, and women can always be assured they are never raising children alone without financial support.

B. Marriage is between two men and one woman. Each woman would marry two eligible men. Whether they have a choice in the matter, or if this is an arranged marriage doesn't really matter, but let's assume the initial partnership is amicable to all three. The woman would have sex with both men, but not have sex outside of her marriage, same for the men. Any children born of the arrangement could be either husband's child. Therefore, each husband is supposed to assume the baby is theirs, and care for their wife and child(ren) cooperatively with the other husband. In this way, a woman would always have two men working to put food on the table, and if one of them should grow sick or be killed somehow, she and her children are not left bereft and without someone who can provide for them.

C. Men and women are kept separate from one another and no formal partnership exists. There are no "family" households, but rather large dormitories where men and women sleep. Village work is assigned to each gender and men and women are kept separate for most of the day. Meals, meetings, village discussions, etc take place in a large communal building or setting, this being the only time that the genders intermingle. Men and women are free to choose whatever sexual partners they please. Sex in general is seen as an optional and enjoyable activity, not something for the purpose of reproduction. Pregnancies would be by choice, or perhaps would be "assigned" to each woman upon reaching her fertile age. Infants are taken care of by the women, but as soon as they are weaned they are split up by gender. The whole gender is then responsible for rearing "their" children and mothers and fathers are out of the picture. The "takes a village" model applies here, with every woman being responsible for the raising and disciplining of girls, and every man raising and disciplining boys. ____________________________________________________________

How would society as a whole view sex, sexuality, and gender identity in each scenario? I.E. how open are people with sex and their bodies, how would society react to or treat homosexual relationships, would there be openly transgender or transsexual individuals, how could they be viewed by others?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding and this looks like a fantastic series of questions. Generally, we like to have one question so that it doesn't take too long to answer. Please consider breaking up this mammoth question into several smaller ones. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 22:10
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "There are 4 seasons just like our world" — There are not 4 seasons in our world. There are 4 seasons in certain parts of our world. In other parts, there are only two seasons (rain season vs. dry season). And I'm not sure whether there are seasons at all in the big deserts like Sahara. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ I want to upvote but green is right, this is too many questions in one. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 16:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't have time to write a full answer, but you might be interested in reading about the Na, a minority group in China. People live in matrilineal households, when a girl comes of age, she gets a room with an outward-facing door so that she can receive visitors discretely when she chooses, and paternity is not tracked -- a man is responsible for helping to raise his sisters' children, but is not considered to have any relation to his own children and probably doesn't even know who they are. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 13:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that A and B would not go too well with our biology but would do with switched genders and C does not work for societies where survival and a decent level of safety and consume are not being a given. Men aren't naturally enforced to commitment to their offsprings (They could leave the mother after mating and would still spread their genes and several women can be pregnant with one fether's children) while women naturally have a high commitment (They commit energy and reduced physical capability for month even if they don't want to keep the child and can be pregnant only once at a time). $\endgroup$
    – hajef
    Commented Jun 14, 2019 at 13:01

7 Answers 7


Question one

I'd say scenario A fits best. There are households rules by women, and only women can found new households. Men are destined to keep at their family forever. Men are not involved in the raising of their direct children, only in the children of their sisters. Note that only their own male offspring carries their Y chromosome, that is the very part of their genome that makes them a man, and it's the women who have the control over that.

Scenario B could work both with men and women as head of the household (in case of the men being the head of the household, there would be a natural hierarchy between the two men, but I think that will happen in most cases anyway).

In scenario C, there are no households the women would be head of. Indeed, the strict separation between men and women would mean they are essentially parallel societies. Of course that doesn't preclude one being the dominant, but only in the form that the other one would be oppressed. Given that men are usually stronger than women, it is likely the women could not oppress the men for long. It certainly would not make for a peaceful world.

Question two

Naturally, the proportion of male vs. female will always tend to be equal (I'm assuming that they don't have a way to prenatally determine the sex of the baby, so sex-specific birth control is out of the question, and I also assume that killing babies after birth is not accepted in that society either). This speaks against scenario B, as for each woman with two men, statistically there has to be a woman without man.

Question three

Scenario A: For men, there will be an inherent conflict between their duty of helping to raise the children of his family, and his desire to mate another woman (I assume that mating inside the family is shunned, as is in most cultures). To help raising the children will mean to mostly stay at home or work in the fields, while to meet other women he will have to go out at places where he can meet other women. I'd expect there to be official events allowing men and women to meet (that's the function of balls in our own past); in those events participation would be expected and thus not that easily prevented by the head of the household ("you stay at home and look after the children!"). Anyway, it will still remain a conflict.

And of course for both men and women there will be the classic conflict between two persons of the same sex competing for the same person of the other sex.

Scenario B: Here the main conflicts arise due to the 2:1 rule. I understand your description as the marriage of all three occurring at the same time (so a woman is either married with two men at the same time or unmarried, unless one of the men she was married with died). This means that a man and a women falling in love cannot just marry, but they will have to find another man to share them. If not arranged, that will take ample potential for conflict (so in terms of storytelling opportunities, scenario B is probably best). Also, there will naturally be rivalry between the two men in the relationship.

On the other hand, before marriage rivalry between women will be even more pronounced, as another woman just needs to snatch one of them away to make the marriage fail. Moreover the fact that half of the women will end up unmarried will increase the rivalry. On the other hand, men will have a distinct advantage due to many women seeking for a second partner.

Scenario C: Here I see no specific potential for "drama" between the genders.

Question four

Scenario A: Given that partnerships are loose, and the bonds to the family are larger than the bonds to the partners, I'd expect non-amicable divorces to be rare.

Scenario B: For reasons described in the previous section, there's a large conflict potential, so there will be lots of non-amicable divorces, unless the rules of the society are strictly against divorce (in which case, non-amicable states of partnerships will still be common, just without the divorce). Note that with three people in the marriage, already two of them not being on good terms to each other will suffice.

Scenario C: Since there are no partnerships, there will be no divorces, whether amicable or not.

Question five

Scenario A: This society would likely be a relatively open society in those questions. After all, frequently changing partners would be the norm. Homosexual men would likely be no problem at all; they'd just spend more time helping rise their family's children. Homosexual women on the other hand might be seen less favourable as they don't get children.

Scenario B: This society would probably have a more "traditional" view of sexuality. Especially homosexual men would be looked down upon; after all, there's already a lack of men for this societal model. On the other hand, homosexual partners could better hide their relationship by marrying a woman, but living their homosexuality in the marriage (the woman will likely keep that a secret as it would give a negative light also on her to be married with two homosexuals).

On the other hand, homosexual women will possibly get less rejection as they remove themselves from the competition; however they will very likely be looked down upon, as unmarried women (and they'll almost certainly be, unless they do a formal marriage, which however is more difficult if two men are required) will be seen as the losers.

Scenario C: I don't think anyone would care at all. Since in that society sex is purely an enjoyable activity, homosexuality will be just another way of enjoying.

Question six

I think scenario C is most prone to depopulation, as there's no drive to get children.

Scenario B has the problem that half of the women are not getting children at all, but that may be made up by the other half having more children.

Scenario A is IMHO the least prone to depopulation. The family matriarch will care that the women of the family will have enough children to increase the family, by encouraging them to mate and not use contraceptives.

  • $\begingroup$ "Given that men are usually stronger than women, it is likely the women could not oppress the men for long." Oppression can come from various sources. At some point, there probably must be a concrete source of power, but that could be physical strength, knowledge, weapons, or many other things. After that, the original advantage can disappear, with oppression being maintained purely through social pressure. $\endgroup$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 20, 2015 at 19:54

Of these three options, A, B, and C, A seems most viable to me. In it, society could be as open and as accepting as you like, and probably would be more so than in ours, because in this scenario a stable family unit doesn't depend on the institution of marriage. There's less at stake in defining the rules for sex; people are likely to be more casual, less morally rigid. This is especially true if STDs are not a thing on this world. Men get to do what they love (i.e. run around poking their cocks into every hole possible, with no consequences) and women have their brothers, sisters, uncles, mothers, and cousins to help them care for their children. It works. I like it.

Option B seems to have real issues. To start with, of course, humans usually have about an equal number of male of female children. To have two married men for every married woman, half of the women would have to be removed from the pool somehow - perhaps they become celibate nuns. That leaves the remaining half of the women "responsible" for producing twice the usual number of children, just to maintain the population: each one has to replace herself, her two husbands, and her celibate sister, at a minimum, or the society will slowly go extinct. The men, on the other hand, face a different kind of hard problem: amicably sharing a wife. They'll have to be very good friends for this to be a comfortable arrangement. It almost makes more sense if the two of them meet first and then find a wife together, or perhaps if they're brothers or cousins who've grown up together (lions do it this way). I'm not sure most men are capable of such an arrangement, although I suppose if it were the social norm, they would give it a go. Overall this seems too fraught with complication to be likely, unless circumstances somehow forced it - like a virus which killed predominately girls, changing the demographic balance.

Option C is very awkward. How can sex be as casual and enjoyable as you describe, when the people doing it hardly have the chance to get to know each other? At what point does flirting happen, if people are kept separate throughout the work day? Of course, there are societies which segregate themselves in this manner - but I've never heard of one in which sex was casual! They tend to be very strictly monogamous and rigidly moral - often with arranged marriages - because otherwise, what's the point? You keep the sexes separate to prevent casual encounters, not to facilitate them. It takes a lot of effort and powerful taboos to counter people's natural tendency to intermingle, and you lose something in tribal and familial unity, and in the synergy of diverse thought processes, as the price for doing so. Given the difficulty and the cost, there must be some strong motivation for adhering to this against-the-grain social structure. A need to limit population, a need for tight control over population genetics (perhaps because of a limited gene pool), or (as on Earth) a patriarchal obsession with confirming the parentage of offspring are all possibilities. In this scenario, there seems little room for trans-gendered people, as they don't fit within the tightly defined and enforced gender roles. Homosexuality, on the other hand, might be more common than ever - just due to availability, like when men are forced together in prison.

So yes - options B and C could be made to work, if you insist upon it. But I really like option A. It seems more in keeping with the vibe of a harmonious, war-free global culture, and less in need of artificial circumstances to explain its existence.


A more stable pattern for scenario A would be that the base of a household consists of women, their daughters, and adolescent/infant sons. When a boy reaches adulthood, they will leave home to seek out a mate with a woman in another household. If the man is accepted by the woman, he is accepted by the household and then is free to have sex with any of (of age) the women in it, and has access to the family resources but also associated responsibilities, including keeping the sex within the household (so long as he isn't caught going outside).

A man is free to leave any household he's been adopted in at any time, but he's not permitted to leave with anything he didn't bring in. For young men, this typically means when they're young and carefree they'll be likely to hop between households, but as they get older and look for more security, they'll tend to settle down, because their odds of being accepted into another household go down as they age. The responsibility goes both ways: a family is responsible for the welfare of a man who's been accepted by the women in it and who has elected to stay with them, unless he's betrayed their trust or all the women have gotten tired of his bullshit in which case he can get the boot.

This will tend mean that the overall family structure will look like this:

  • Elder females (usually sisters, if more than one) who are the matriarchs of the household;
  • Older males who "married in" to the household and have elected to stay as members of the household;
  • The adult daughters;
  • The adult males who have been accepted by at least one of the adult women;
  • Underage children

Child rearing is a joint responsibility between the older children, the adult daughters, and the older males and elders. Because the younger adult men can leave at any time, they aren't considered reliable enough for it. The longer a man stays in the household, the more respected he is, and eventually would be considered a leader equal to the matriarchs.

The exception of a man leaving with nothing he brought in is if one of the adult women and the man decide to form a new household. In that case, the couple leave with a fair share of the family resources in order to start new. Really, though, it's the woman who gets the share of the resources, he's just a tag-along.

This system would also lead to two other things: men, who for some reason would think they aren't as desirable (injury, age, plain looks, whatever) would tend to stay with a household that accepted them. Households might also offer what are essentially bribes to get particularly desired males; someone who is renowned as a great warrior or artist or whatever might get "loaned" to another household for compensation to his original house, or a household might simply offer him something directly to come with them.


Your option A is very like a matrilineal society, such as the Iroquois had. However, the head of the family was not a woman, but the oldest brother. Men born in a family did not all stay - many moved over to their wives family when wed, at least for a time, to sire children there.

If men remained in that household, they could only marry their sisters. If other women arrived for them, the family would have its blood diluted with other women's. So one of your ideas has to go.

Women would need to have several children, so that the brother would have a set of sisters to use as partners for the extension of the family, even if he cares nothing for his own blood children, who would be in another tribe.


Welcome to the community :)

The type of relationship in any community depends on several factors, some of which I am listing below:

1- Qavvam. It means the responsible one. There have been very few cultures in human history on earth where women have been head of families. There are still some prevailing cultures in northern India where such societal structures can be found. Generally physical strength and fulfilling the needs of the family determines which gender is qavvam. If you want to put women in charge, you might want to make them physically stronger and responsible for supplying the household.

2- The ratio of genders. Naturally the gender with lesser number of individuals would enjoy partnership with more members of the opposite gender.

3- There is a natural tendency of ownership in humans. When it comes to relationships, ownership turns into an expectation of loyalty. If you want to keep relationships temporary, you would have to modify the very nature of the people there. Any social structure that contradicts natural human instincts and desires would prove fragile and will shatter eventually. No wonder you see nearly the same expectations about one's partner all over the world.

4- As to your question 3, there are little chances for drama in scenario A. Romantic pairs can bond in, break up (without bonding with anyone else), bond up again after a couple months, then break up ... rinse and repeat. There is some room of drama and romantic tension in scenario B. A man could form an attraction to another woman (not his mate). And a man could get very possessive of his mate and try to eliminate his rival (her second partner), both of these cases being the source of a lot of drama. Maximum drama is expected in scenario C where men and women are kept in dorms. As this model resembles somewhat with Plato's social model, it would involve a lot of tussle when pairs become romantically involved.

5- I cannot answer your question 4, as it is too subjective. About question 5, it depends on their social values. For example, in medieval ages, women of all regions were shy and covered up. Then the social exploitation of women began around mid 20th century and now things are far different. Shyness and modesty have (in general, exceptions could exist) lesser chance in scenarios A and C where relationships are fragile and flexible. Only in relationship type B, men are expected to be shy and modest, women would be more open about their sexuality, somewhat like an inverse of modern societies.

6- For question 6, I would say scenario C holds the maximum chance of depopulation. Where sex is more for pleasure than a social or religious duty, women wouldn't want to bear through the suffering of pregnancy.


Some discussion about option B only

I will not answer everything, but I will address point B and why it would not work in the long run.

Namely, there is a reason why multiple males with one female is a very rare arrangement in nature. This, as opposed to multiple females with one male, or one male with one female. The reason this is uncommon is because of genetic output, one of the driving factors of evolution. AKA, to evolution having more kids that are yours and survive is better than having fewer kids that do the same.

To exemplify this, lets look at the outcome for each sex in each situation:

  1. One man and one woman. The man has children at a normal rate and the woman has children at a normal rate.

  2. Multiple women with one man. The man has children at an accelerated rate, and the women have children at a normal rate.

  3. Multiple men with one woman. The men have children at an extremely reduced rate and the women have children at a normal rate.

In terms of evolution, scenario 1 and 2 are winning conditions for both sexes. However in scenario 3 there is a very clear loser, the men. This is because women form the bottleneck of reproduction. For this reason alone, aka that it will be opposed by the pressures of evolution because literally any man that cheats on this system will benefit, you have a system that is bound to fail.

You also have the issue that if men and women are born in approximately equal quantities, but 2 men are assigned to every woman only, then this will create a vast population of women that are unwed.

So I think that this option is not viable, except perhaps as a government experiment in the short run.


As I recall (from a college class 40 years ago), of the studied human societies (~6000 IIRC), ~75% were monogamous, ~25% were polygynous (multiple females), and four where polyandrous (multiple males). Of the four, in three, the multiple husbands were brothers.

Of course, all this can change if the birth ratio is changed. If it is 75% males and 25% females, then I would expect to find polyandry.

The one other factor that you may not have considered but that did affect early societies: They might not have worked out that sexual intercourse causes pregnancy. In this case, females were considered to have the magical ability to produce a child.

One other thought: It turns out that jealousy (wanting your partner not to touch others of your gender) and infidelity are both of survival value for both genders. (Aren't we a messed up species?) I won't detail unless asked.


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