Suppose in a world with technical development similar to ours (with nothing else changed), a genetically modified virus infected some of the people, making their children capable of parthenogenesis.

Definition and details
Parthenogenesis refers to the reproductive behavior in some organisms where a single animal can produce offspring that are genetically identical to itself.
In the case of my world, the infected generation are hermaphrodite with fertile male and female reproductive organs. The exact biology doesn't matter right now, but the parthenogenesis have the following attributes:

  • Pregnancy must be initiated deliberately by the hermaphrodite parent
  • Creates children that are genetically identical to the parent
  • No genetic defect, but inherit any genetic disease

First, because the hermaphrodite people were created suddenly and without justification, they will probably be repelled by the rest of society, possibly becoming the subject of infanticide, prosecution or even mass murder.
The above being the case, the stage is set for solidarity among the hermaphrodite. In addition, marriage between hermaphrodite and non-hermaphrodite will probably be uncommon. Conversely, marriage between hermaphrodites would be common, if they in fact find marriage beneficial or necessary.
In the case where a single hermaphrodite has decided to reproduce it (for the sake of convenience) can form an exponentially enlarging family, and I expect strong family bond among its members, since only one parent hold the power of child-raising and can impart its ideology to its children unimpededly. I expect such "homogeneous families" to play important role in the world, with the family governed by the eldest member, controlled by radical ideology and austere reproductive schemes. While to the outside world, I expect an attitude of hostility and distrust.

So that's what I have thought, please tell me if there is some critical element of the setting that is dysfunctional, or if there is something obviously amiss with my speculations. I would also like to hear alternative speculations and other interesting features of the world that would result from hermaphroditism and parthenogenesis.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, what is the proportion of hermaphrodites? Also depending on the virus' transmission rate you might find that the probability for a regular human to produce a hermaphrodite child higher than expected, which could change the view humanity has about hermaphroditism. Also this is a valid hypotesis on genetics (but unllikely to happen) since the placenta in mammals is the result of a retrovirus infetion. $\endgroup$ – Hallelouia Oct 12 '16 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ hermaphrodites are a thing, but afaik, their gender is decided and surgery is applied while they are babies. while these cases are rare, i think this is waht would happen at least with the first cases of your infected until soneone notices the massive increase of these cases. $\endgroup$ – Burki Oct 12 '16 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ extremely interesting question I would love to dive into, though I don't have the time and admittedly it is too broad. I will say that I think parthenogenesis will be less important then being hermaphrodite and simpley different for the sake of discrimination. I suspect we would still hold on to having families primarily through sex. Genetically parthenogenesis is detrimental to sexual reproduction. I imagine those biased against these new folks will use this as an excuse to criticize or ostracize those that use parthenogenesis disproportionately also. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Oct 12 '16 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ Would a hermaphrodite be able to have children with other people, hermaphrodite or not? $\endgroup$ – Diego Sánchez Oct 13 '16 at 6:50

Hermaphroditic Family Structure

I think less will change in this regard than you propose.

Sure, your hermaphrodites can reproduce without a partner, but child rearing? Just have a look at single mothers; it is very difficult trying to raise a child and at the same time earn enough money to feed it and pay for the house and for the baby sitters / daycare you need to actually be able to continue working. It wouldn't be any different for hermaphrodites without a partner / other support structure. Yes, it will be considerably more likely that they pair (or triple or quadruple or...) off with other hermaphrodites, but they probably will look for help in raising the next generation.

Secondly, unless you completely change the physiological and psychological makeup of hermaphrodites, they are still social creatures just like normal humans are. Meaning, they need close social contacts, be it a family or a partner or any other kind of social structure. They need touch. They need intimacy. They need to have someone to talk to. They probably still have sexual urges that want to be satisfied. They need friends. So, I think there will be a lot fewer... single hermaphrodites... than you propose. Their partnership / family structure might be different from a regular monogamous heterosexual couple, but I don't think you will get a new race of... self-replicating hermits mutating into hermaphrodite-clan-structures.

Discrimination against hermaphrodites

Yes, there will be a lot of discrimination against them, least of all because they probably will look quite androgyneous. Then again, an androgyneous look is considered beautiful nowadays, so maybe not that much discrimination because of their looks.

I think most of the discrimination will come from the way you introduced them. The very first generation will come as a total surprise, and I'm pretty sure that parents will have a lot of sex-changing (meaning: making their child either male or female but not both) treatments for their 'malformed' kids -- and inevitably the kids will get an impression of there being something wrong with them, even if nobody actually says so out loud. It will continue during school (which bathroom do they go to?) and up to their adult life.

A large percentage of the firt generation will be fighting with severe psychological problems stemming from a schism between their own body, and what society thinks their body should be like. It is not made easier by a total lack of psychiatrists knowing what to do with a third gender, and a total lack of knowledge of what they can expect from their bodies as they grow older. There will be a lot of body horror, probably not made easier by suddenly being able to bear children.

As the hermaphrodites grow more numerous in numbers, knowledge about them will increase, and the likelihood of them developing into normal, well-adjusted humans without a metric ton of psychological issues increases. By then, though, the third gender will already have a reputation for being strange, outcasts, deviants, etc. (all the tells that say 'not a normal human' besides the obvious physical differences) - and it will be a work of centuries to actually get rid of that kind of prejudice. If it ever becomes possible.


For information on self-parentage it might help to look at some writing on post/trans humanism. I think a reasonable amount of the fallout may be similar to the concept of copying your own consciousness.

This is different in a number of ways from parthenogenesis but there may be some interesting parallels.

On a second note parthenogenesis can also lead to many of the same ethical issues as cloning. It's unlikely in most first world countries that the offspring wouldn't have human rights; however, one can imagine some countries where the offspring may be property and used for things like replacement organs. Depending on the tech level maybe even used as a younger body for the older self to take over the consciousness of at maturity.

I would make a list of the worst case implications and a list of the optimal legal rights situation. Then depending on where your story takes place blend the two as needed and consider regions with other political authorities that embody the darker and the lighter side of the ethics.

If you are considering large family structures built of primarily clones one big concern is that the majority of the family members would have the same strengths and weaknesses. This would be an argument for the more rational families introducing more genetic diversity in their power structure. So maybe a family has a variety of specialized individuals. IE all Karen's are scientists of some variety. All Toms are in marketing/branding/the arts.

Ask yourself if these families adopt/sell infants to each other knowing that they don't need another Karen but they need some money and Weyland inc. needs a Karen.


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