In the world I'm building, there's a non-human race that I want to have no concept of gender. Their language doesn't contain gendered words like "man" or "woman," and sexual attraction is not based on biological sex. They are roughly humanoid in shape - two legs, two arms, stand upright - but have very few characteristics that would distinguish biological sex.

How would such a species develop?

One possibility that occurred to me is that they don't reproduce at all like humans and have only one biological sex, but I'm not sure how this would work for a species that's vaguely mammalian.

They may have had genetic engineering at some point in the distant past (thousands of years ago), but certainly no longer have it, if that changes anything.

Edited to specify that I'm asking about gender not biological sex. The two are different. The species I'm developing has no concept of gender, but they could still have two biological sexes.

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    How is sexual attraction not based on sex? That is true by definition. – Oldcat Dec 16 '14 at 23:46
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    ^Then just think of them as all bisexual or pansexual. – CoolCurry Dec 17 '14 at 0:20
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    Have you come across Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin? ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Left_Hand_of_Darkness ) "Le Guin's introduction to the 1976 publication of the book identifies Left Hand of Darkness as a "thought experiment" to explore society without men or women, where individuals share the biological and emotional makeup of both sexes" – Fionnuala Dec 17 '14 at 7:13
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    Huh? They reproduce like any other of the millions of species on earth that don't have gender. Why would that be a problem for any species, given that you are free to make it up? – Jan Doggen Dec 17 '14 at 7:50
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    I was going to make an answer about invisible, intangible spores, "the way cats do it" with a link to the Dwarf Fortress Wiki, but apparently an update to DF removed the ability for cats (and dwarves!) to breed while never being adjacent. I am saddened. – gatherer818 Dec 17 '14 at 22:40

16 Answers 16

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Okay so to everyone stating that the species show reproduce asexually in some form I feel like this needs to be stressed - you can have a gender neutral environment without having sexual reproductive neutrality. Gender is of course, a social construct.

Getting on to the actual question keeping in mind the OP's requirements - If you have a species where there is little to no sexual dimorphism, the likeliness of there being gendered social attributes is not as probable. Because there are no visual cues between the two, the chances of enhancing or hyper-focusing on the appearance or presentation of one sex vs the other would be less likely to occur across the board as there is no base to start from. I'm of course, referring to things such as colors, clothing, and beautification.

When you consider how much of our society (modern western society) segregates and polices gender and gender presentation based on secondary sexual characteristics, you will find that if they are removed, the chances of similar segregation occurring is very unlikely. There may still be a form of gender related tropes in your species, however they will likely be wildly different and are less likely to focus on anything visual or presentation related. It would also be one of those things that manifest very differently from tribe to tribe.

So you're looking at a mostly fluid sense of presentation in the society, where any tropes or 'stereotypes' will likely be entirely related to how they live their lives, environmental factors, as well as the various pockets of religion, leaders and leadership types, wars and propaganda.

For the record I'm working on my own gender fluid/neutral presenting species that are of 2 sex reproduction, so it's something I've given a lot of thought and consideration about for several years.

  • Thank you! I was really looking for an answer from this perspective. – CoolCurry Dec 19 '14 at 20:50
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    I think you left out a key discussion to this, how can you have a species with no sexual dimorphism? remember humans have a relatively minor sexual dimorphism compared to many species already. However, the needs of the two sexes are different, and that results in dimorphism. As long as you have one species responsible for carrying a child there is a major dimorphism, which will likely lead to gender and gender roles. You need to do away with mammalian reproduction entirely, even most forms of egg laying, for mating habits that share almost identical responsibilities between both parents – dsollen Jul 2 '15 at 15:42
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    ....at which point there is no reason for there to be different species, and the species would instead be unisex species, because why limit half of your population from being able to carry children unless they gain SOME genetic advantage over being a hermaphrodite; and the advantage can only come from some physical, or psychological, dimorphism. Admittedly you can minimize gender roles by lowering dimorphism, but again you have to toss pregnancy out for different form of reproduction for this to be viable. – dsollen Jul 2 '15 at 15:45
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    If you think modern western society segregates and polices by sex/gender to some unusually degree, you really need to study a broader range of cultures. Modern Western society is easily the least gendered culture in all of human evolutionary history. As technology replaces muscle power, sexual dimorphism means less and less. – TechZen Mar 29 '16 at 19:24
  • I think your conclusion is the opposite of what actually happens. The more different the sexes look from each other, the less likely a species is to enhance and hyper-focus on minor differences. This is because the differences are obvious and are not minor. The less different the sexes look, the more likely a species (or culture) is to enhance or hyper-focus on minor differences. This is because the differences ARE minor. – slebetman Mar 30 '16 at 9:06

Make them hermaphrodites, with both male and female parts on all individuals. You have the advantages of sexual reproduction, without two genders.

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    Are there any Earth species which are hermaphrodites? The most complex I can think of off the top of my head is a type of frog, and it more switches between genders than is both at once. – CoolCurry Dec 16 '14 at 23:42
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    Earthworms. That doesn't make it impossible though. – Oldcat Dec 16 '14 at 23:44
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    There are various hermaphrodite species on earth. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermaphrodite including Snails, some species of fish, slugs and (as already mentioned) earth worms. – Dijkgraaf Dec 17 '14 at 1:55
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    It is unlikely that a human-like species would continue as a hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodism is highly susceptible to parasitic strategies that simply adopt the male role. – Jack Aidley Dec 17 '14 at 16:16
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    Seems like that would be less of a problem with intelligent hermaphrodites, who could know when that happens and beat the fellow up. – Oldcat Dec 17 '14 at 18:28

Parthenogenesis - asexual reproduction, even for some vertebrates. No genetic engineering needed, happens naturally when embryo develops from unfertilized egg when males are absent.

Offspring is usually female - cycle can continue.

If individual of same (single) sex are attracted to each other, they can live in common household and help each other raise offsprings.

Wikipedia says: "there are over 80 species of unisex reptiles, mostly lizards but including a single snake species, amphibians and fishes in nature for which males are no longer a part of the reproductive process". Just FYI.

BTW it has also benefits: all individuals can bear offspring, unproductive males are not necessary. It might be advantage if species is well adapted to stable environment compared to sexual reproduction.

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    A parthenogenetic organism would not be able to reap any of the benefits of sexual reproduction, however. Since the vast majority of organisms known are sexual, this advantage is rather significant. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – March Ho Dec 17 '14 at 8:10
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    I know but apparently it works for 80 species. Evolution would be possible, but much slower. – Peter M. Dec 17 '14 at 13:32
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    Actually the role where parthenogenic reproduction has the most success on earth is not a stable environment, but an unstable one. If resources are scarce, but a lone organism might stumble over a rich deposit a parthenogenic bug can breed to exhaust this boon at once, while a two-sex bug needs to wait for a bug of the other sex to show up. – Oldcat Dec 17 '14 at 22:49
  • @Oldcat actually in environments with rapidly change some form of sexual recombination of genes is utilized usually to encourage adaptation, along with the potential to reproduce without a mate. For instance species with both asexual & sexual reproduction options is common, as are hermaphrodites that can self fertilize. There are also species which utilize intentional incest for mates, such as many Haplodiploidy insects that can birth males to mate with. One species of mite has a male mate it's sisters while still in the womb, then sisters eat their way out of mom leaving brother to die. – dsollen Sep 1 '17 at 18:15

I've seen this as a variation in a couple games...I think Futurama has a reference towards this in the Kif character.

All members of the species has characteristics that we generally associated (as humans) with female traits...they all produce eggs and they would all have the capability of becoming pregnant and carrying a child. Exchange of DNA for reproduction is something simple...hand holding, perhaps kissing, all you really need is some way of one being absorbing another beings DNA. Gives them a pretty hyper-reproductive and anti-touch type society (people wearing gloves or avoiding contact with one another).

If you believe in Evolution, the only reason we have sexes is because it was particularly beneficial. Most believe that it assisted in the dissemination of beneficial mutations.

Absolutely nothing at all prevents you from having a humanoid with one sex. It seems unlikely in our climate, but evolution is sneaky, and it is entirely possible that we could get this far without it. All that is left is to figure out procreation.

  • Asexual reproduction: Whenever you deem it right, have your individual begin gestating a child, using their own DNA. This may be a clone, or you may have alternate solutions

  • Hemaphroditic reproduction: If you want the benefits of sexual reproduction without the silly mess of genders, consider letting both of the individuals gestate a child, while the other provides genetic material.

  • Invisible transfer: Many bacteria swap genetic material, even though they are asexual. It would not be impossible to have an asexual species which transfers DNA by another means to provide genetic mixing.

  • Hemaphroditic reproduction would be the "best" most likely one, it gives posibility to decide when it is time, and genetic materials are shared. – Magic-Mouse Dec 17 '14 at 9:12
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    No down vote, but I disagree that it is "entirely possible that we could get this far without [two sexes]". Evolution is not arbitrary, and each method of reproduction has tradeoffs that make them appropriate for some situations but not others. Asexual reproduction does not compete well evolutionarily (too slow), hermaphroditic reproduction has a general devolution to a two-sex system, and invisible transfer has effectively the same issues as both (though in varying amounts). The only major disadvantage to two sexes is when resources are very scarce and you can't guarantee dual survival. – GrinningX Oct 20 '16 at 14:22
  • @GrinningX Resource scarcity isn't really the main reason for 1 sex systems. For asexual systems it's usually adaptive due to ability to spread rapidly relative to resources and spreading of 100% of one's genes, but usually is not a long term evolutionary strategy (it's evolved many times, but usually species either die out or evolve back to be sexual later) It's rare to last long term, and usually only in very stable environments. hermaphrodites are usually preferable when mates are hard to find/spread out to make it easier to find a compatible mate, or self impregnate if necessary. – dsollen Sep 1 '17 at 18:22
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    @dsollen - I don't think there is disagreement here. I said that having two distinct sexes is most disadvantaged as a strategy when resources are scarce, but that's not the same as saying that resource scarcity is the main reason for 1 sex systems. Put another way, costs for cars are a significant disadvantage for their purchase, but it doesn't mean it's the primary reason people own motorcycles. In both cases though, if the downsides become bad enough the alternative which is less restricted will take over. More "not losing" than "winning". Everything else we have is in accord. – GrinningX Sep 6 '17 at 11:59

as already stated, make them hermaphrodites. There is simply no way to have a genderless species unless it is also a sexless species, there is too huge an evolutionary difference between sexes that it would be impossible to believe species with different sexes would not have different genders assigned to them to some degree (not necessarily the same as our gender roles).

With hermaphrodites everyone would be treated equally, gender wise at least. However, even then you have some interesting questions. If hermaphrodites still have male and female roles (ie one has to carry a child at far greater expense then the one that provides the sperm) this would be a huge impact on life. Perhaps the rich and powerful, or simply more dominant, always take the 'male' role, and it's assumed the weaker partner will have to settle for the 'female' role. Perhaps it's a status symbol to be the sperm donor rather then carrier. Keep in mind I'm not saying this because I think men are superior from a gender perspective, I'm thinking of evolutionary and sexual conflict where hermaphrodites always prefer playing the male role due to the lower investment required, and how culture would develop along those evolutionary predispositions.

Look at "penis fencing" as an example, where hermaphrodite species 'fight' for the right to be the father instead of the mother because it costs less resources to be a father, but replace the physical 'fight' of penis fencing with the more social/verbal/cultural battles that intelligent herding species prefer for handling conflict and you have an idea of how a 'fight' over gender role might occur.

Or alternatively it may be a subtler role, think of a lesbian couple where one has to decide to carry their child and one doesn't, what cultural impact's drive that decision? (not a perfect analogy, since there is a strong biological incentive to carrying the child for lesbian couples in carrying on of genetics that wouldn't exist in hermaphrodite species where both partners would still provide the same percentage of the genetics).

If you don't want this sort of sexual competition then a hermaphrodite species that lacks traditional male/female roles would be possible. Perhaps sex always results in both partners conceiving and carrying a child, thus avoiding competition as to who should carry and who doesn't. This could result in many different cultural changes. What happens if sex is seen as only a way to exchange genetics, without the expectation of partnering or a romantic relationship with someone afterwards. Since both sides received and gave the same out of the relationship they may not have the same emotional or familiar expectations after the exchange.

It's also possible to create a system where one child is conceived but both sides provide equally towards the development of the embryo. Perhaps they both lay eggs (or somehow produce a single egg in a way where both are play an equal role in production of said egg). Then both are needed to carry it to term. This would result in strong nuclear families but without any sense of gender.

However, whatever role you take remember sexual competition will exist, even if it's a subtle one built within specific cultural roles. Always there is a competition to make the other partner commit as much as possible towards the caring of the child while committing as little resources as possible yourself. Any system where one partner must contribute more towards the raising of the child then the other will result in this competition, even if they are not traditional male or female. Look at species where the male carries the child, in almost every case the mating and sex roles are reversed from the traditional roles, where the female are fighting for the right to mate with the male, because in these species the male is the one contributing more towards production of offspring. These sexual competition develop into interesting cultural effects.

For instance the reason that men are often treated far more favorable for having multiple sexual partner then women is ultimately caused by sexual competition, men gain far more out of multiple mates then female on a purely genetic level and this has developed into a cultural effect without people even thinking about the cause (note, I'm not saying that I approve of this phenomenon, I definitely don't, I'm only point to the fact that it exists and part of it's cause)

If you do wish to have multiple sexes but still limit genetic roles another option is to have technology have superseded the sexes. Perhaps you have traditional males and females, but everyone now incubates children in artificial wombs rather then carrying them due to health benefits, and it's also fairly easy to produce egg from sperm and vice versa. Then people may be born of one sex or another, but any two sexes can 'mate' and they both have to contribute the same 'expense' towards doing so. This would not remove gender though, simply underplay them. At the end of the day the sexes would have evolved in a past where sexual selection and competition was common, and it would have effected the evolution and very predisposition of the sexes; evolution won't have caught up to the change in technology and thus their evolved biological predisposition would still be driven by sexual conflict even if conflict need not exist due to technology. The sexes would not be the same to some degree. Between that and cultural recognition of the sexes of the individuals there would likely be some level of gender concept; it would simply be far less significant or defined as our current gender identity.

Why not make them parasites - on their parent?

Take, for example, the parasitoid wasp. Female adult wasps lay eggs in or on another creature - the host. The young them develop inside the host, feeding on it and taking in some of its nutrients. Eventually, the host dies and the young come out through its skin from the inside. And so the joyous circle of life begins once more.

These wasps are part of a class of parasites called paratisoids, whose members grow inside a host and often kill them from the inside out. Quite frankly, it's gross. But perhaps some entomologists see it differently. The majority of creatures in this class are insects (and yes, there are some plants). There are some crustaceans that follow this behavior; they're typically barnacle-like creatures, and pretty tiny. It appears that the largest animals that are paratisoids are insects.

Let's say that each of these creatures, at some point in its life, creates a copy of itself via asexual reproduction - just an embryo - in a womb-like part of its body. Over time, the embryo grows until it begins taking over the creature's digestive system. Note that the hosts of paratisoids may exhibit normal behavior, so it's quite possible that the adults will go on living normal lives. Eventually, though, the young spring out, killing the adults.

And so the joyous circle of life begins once more.

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    These wasps still have genders. The use of sex to have 2 (or more) individuals mix genes is a big evolutionary advantage no matter where the eggs develop. So a wasp that laid eggs on itself would still have 2 genders, one of which gets killed on birth. – Oldcat Dec 17 '14 at 0:09
  • @Oldcat There are two approaches here: One is yours - the hermaphroditic one. the other is asexual reproduction. I really meant this to be a form of asexual reproduction; I should clarify that. Thanks for pointing that out. – HDE 226868 Dec 17 '14 at 0:12

Everyone is talking about asexual and hemaphroditic approaches so far. There is (at least one) another approach that is found in on Earth that turns the gender upside down. Slime molds.

We've got a chromosome that has two different layouts that determine gender. There are other variations on this like the temperature dependent sex ratio and other environmental aspects that select for one gender or another - but still having two genders.

Boring.

Some fungi have a tetrapolor mating system where there are four 'genders' rather than two. But this still doesn't address the no concept. The key is to then go to the too many options.

The Schizophyllum commune fungus has more than 28,000 genders. Thats right. Twenty-eight thousand. There is no way to even conceive of male vs female. They don't have different genitalia equivalents but rather go for nuclear transfer and if, by chance the two are comparable they produce offspring.

You really can't go further in the other direction to get away from the concept of gender that is so ingrained into our mind. In this model, you are comparable with almost everyone who isn't your sibling (the driving factor behind this is for genetic diversity and it appears to work for the Schizophyllum).

This isn't hermaphrodites where each organism has both male and female parts and you trade genes through that approach (note: there is fascinating material out there on the question of if males started out as parasites in a hemaphroditic system). With a system like the Schizophyllum has, there are too many other options for any one gender to try to parasitize another.

The key aspect with this (and many other aspects of gender) is that you need to move the genetic battle (see Genetic Battle of the Sexes) out of the picture. This presents a different set of challenges that would need to be addressed.

Related reading:

And after searching for all of this, you're going to have the funkiest looking browser history around

  • When I said gender, I meant something different from biological sex. Biological sex has to do with your genetics and reproductive organs. Gender is more of what you identify as - typically male or female (both cisgendered and transgendered people), although there are people who identify as agendered or as a third gender of some kind. – CoolCurry Dec 18 '14 at 20:12

Adding another answer because of a very different idea for approaching what you want. This is one I have toyed with before, though it would be one that is hard to implement well; still I think it would cover all your desires and be quite interesting.

Imagine a species where their genetic coding is somehow more module, making it possible to use the DNA (or equivlent) of multuple 'parents' at once. Perhaps the 'mother' could collect DNA from multuple fathers and merge then to create one child, for instance perhaps they could use a chromosome of one father and a few chromosomes from another and most from a third. Maybe the amount of DNA used from each potential father is decided by how much the mother likes or respects that father, the more 'attractive' the father is the more of that species DNA is used in the resulting child(ren). Now imagine a hermaphrodite species where each organism is capable of providing said DNA, and of carying a child.

In this world the collection of DNA would be little more then acknowledging that you feel someone has positive traits you would like the child to carry. Since the mother may use DNA from many 'fathers' the concept of paternity may become murky, to the point that no one bothers to ask who the father is if he is only 1/15 the father, and the father(s) would likely play no significant role in the child's development. This would drastically devalue sex from both ends, since each sexual encounter is less relevant. Perhaps sex would be a social activity, someone who respects another would touch his organ to another and dna would be exchanged quickly and easily, perhaps in public; it could even be as simple as a handshake. Eventually, when someone decides to have a child they could make a conscious decision to merge the DNA they have collected to produce a child.

This would devalue sex and remove gender entirely. In essence there would only be a concept of 'mother', since the mother was half the DNA and everyone else a tiny fraction. The potential social results of this vary greatly depending on how you develop it. Some examples

1) the mother has no control over dna merging, anyone she has 'sex' with is equally likely to be part of the child's DNA. In this version sex would still be limited only to those that are respected, and thus have some cultural importance. However, sex would likely be fast and not nearly as taboo or major as it is today. Perhaps it's a common token of respect done between two people, but still done semi-regularly. An important gesture, but not life changing.

as a perfect example of the culture of a species like this may evolve look at the bonobo, my favorite primate. Only one male will ever father a child, but the dynamic of sex is very different. In bonobo land since females mate with SO MANY males no male view sex as a gaurentee of paternity, instead sex is a social gesture. Sex leading to a small percentage of your DNA being used is very similar to sex bonobo's world where sex leads to a very small percentage chance of all your DNA being used. Look at every instance where bonobo use sex as a social function and mirror them in your species and you will have a pretty realistic culture.

2) Say the mother can engage in sex, but can choose to discard the DNA of someone they don't actually like. Then sex would be a more ritualized act. Perhaps it would be as simple as a handshake, though I think it would be considered slightly more relevant. Perhaps something closer to a kiss/hug, and a salute or sign of respect. something you do to show you like or respect someone, but still done regularly. the standard military salute may very well be sex, since it's a sign of respect but also anyone who does not desire the saluted person can simply discard the dna from the exchange so it is safe to do it for cultural reasons without it effecting offspring. Keep in mind at this point 'sex' would have to be something easily done as simply as we kiss, which is pretty likely evolutionary.

3) Imagine the degree of dna used from each donor is effected by the mothers feelings towards the donor, though perhaps not consciously. The more respect, trust, love, or admiration the mother has the more of dna used from that donor. The level of control the mother has can vary

4) if the mother has full control over the amount of DNA used this could have interesting cultural ramifications. Perhaps it's possible to give birth to a full-clone, but it's culturally frowned upon due to the lack of dna exchange (there are many reasons exchanging DNA is important). Perhaps a sign of deep and strong respect between two people is to use a full 50% of DNA from that person to produce the child, and this situations result in more traditional nuclear families but are less common. Maybe using only one donor to produce a child, and living with them, is viewed much like our culture views homosexuality, different and some think is wrong, while others see no issue with it. There would be encouragement, on an evolutionary level, to use DNA from multiple fathers to increase diversity so using predominately one persons DNA would be the exception and treated as odd rather then the norm.

Getting the science to work here is somewhat difficult, but not impossible. The key thing is to have some concept of chromosomes, an independent 'unit' of DNA which can be used as a building block and combined with other 'units' from other donors. IF DNA could be made module then the above sort of organism would almost certainly evolve, there would be strong evolutionary advantage to it. In fact look at any species that tends towards producing lots of young and your see the mothers trying to have as many fathers as possible for genetic diversity for exactly this reason.

You're not going to get away from making them a hermaphrodite race with much ease.

A simple idea that might easily arise is that while reproduction is sexual, it is done by pollination, with each adult individual alternating between giving pollen and receiving pollen. Pollination requires no specific courtship, or act of copulation; if the pollen reaches the receiving organ on a receiving individual, pollination takes place.

The eggs, after a period of gestation and development, are extruded and allowed to drop. The eggs hatch into larvae with the intelligence of earthworms, capable of surviving in the wild. They subsist on various smaller lifeforms until they reach a certain size, at which point they pupate, to emerge as a very small version of the adult form.

Those who are found shortly after emerging can then be raised as children; they will imprint on whoever is raising them, and acquire civilized characteristics, learn to talk, and so forth. Their primary emotional attachment will be to the adult who fostered them, with whom any genetic relationship is purely accidental, and with lesser attachments to other acquaintances during childhood.

Those who are not found will have enough instincts to get by, but after their window of domesticability has passed they will remain instinct-driven wild creatures, and a general nuisance to their civilized brethren (eating crops, etc.)

A world without sex as we know it.

Late to the game here, but hey.

Kingdom Animalia is boring. Many fungi have hundreds of sexes, each of which is fertile with each other sex besides its own. If your creatures have a setup like this, there might be ... too many variations to take root in the culture, especially in pre-science days. The difference in sexes might just be an unconscious "my type" vs "not my type" just like some humans are attracted to brunettes and some are not. Similarly, Tetrahymena thermophila (a protozoan) has I think 7 sexes.

Really though, the key is that it's hard to escape the concept of gender if you have gender di- (or poly!) morphism. If the sex differences in your creatures are noticeable to them -- especially if they are large and significant in their lives like in mammals -- they'll accumulate lore, stereotypes, and gender is born.

There is no need to avoid sexual reproduction or try to introduce hermaphroditism. You can do perfectly well with two sexes and no genders.

While the majority of Earth cultures have well-defined genders (sometimes more than two) and accompanying them roles and expectations, there are few peoples that are almost androgynous. Semai people and some peoples of Tahiti in French Polynesia are examples mentioned in Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity by David D. Gilmore. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gender and different gender combinations.

Gilmore notices a very interesting tendency: harsher conditions lead to higher competition which in turn leads to greater gender stratification. Semai and Tahiti people live in a tropical climate with abundant food and very few natural predators. They are non-violent and prefer to flee rather than fight. Gender roles and expectations are very similar. Men often help with childbirth, cooking, cleaning, etc. and women help with hunting and other 'manly' things. Please refer to the book for more detailed descriptions of these cultures.

Considering real world examples, you can place your humanoids in a nice warm area where food and water are plentiful and threats are almost non-existent. There will be another problem, though. You will need to come up with a motivation for a technological progress if you want it. Tradition and religion can be important here.

There is no reason to have two sexes implied:

  1. Each have both male & female equipment. Note that this implies two genders, but everyone is both. In any given sexual interaction, presumable someone behaves as the male and someone as the female. (Penis duelling, like snails?)

  2. Concept which is not our usual human one: the number of genders is not two. For example, they could have k different genders. Maybe j can only mate with j+1 mod k, or some such rule. Having k greater than about 3 or 4 might lead to interesting nightlife...

  3. To have no concept of gender at all, reproduction (or sex) would have to be symmetrical, or "male" and "female" rules (plus k-2 others) would be identified. Maybe each person lays half an egg, and they bury it?

Just my two cents.

You made me remember "The Gods Themselves" By Asimov.

From Wikipedia:

The second part takes place in the parallel universe, whose inhabitants are divided into dominant "hard ones" and subject "soft ones", whereof the latter have three sexes with fixed roles for each sex:

Rationals (or "lefts") are the logical and scientific sex; identified with masculine pronouns and producing a form of sperm. Emotionals (or "mids") are the intuitive sex; identified with the feminine pronouns and provide the energy needed for reproduction. Parentals (or "rights") bear and raise the offspring, but are identified with masculine pronouns. All three 'genders' are embedded in sexual and social norms of expected and acceptable behavior. All three live by photosynthesis; whereas sexual intercourse is accomplished by bodily collapse into a single pool (known as 'melting'). Rationals and Parentals can do this independently; but in the presence of an Emotional, the "melt" becomes total, which causes orgasm but also results in unconsciousness and memory loss. Only during such a total "melt" can the Rational "impregnate" the Parental, with the Emotional providing the energy.

And a spoiler

The "hard ones" are the result of the 3 "soft ones". That becomes permanent with the time

This division in "lefts", "mids", "rights" with fixed roles, may be, indeed, a kind of gender. So not answering really your question. Anyway, i think it is worth to put here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves

  • Asimov did intend that situation to be three different genders - all were needed for reproduction. – Oldcat Mar 11 '16 at 0:20

Your race could have the following traits:

  1. Reproduction potential is on a long cycle (annual or bi-annual, for example).
  2. Reproductive equipment is much more similar, with both storing everything internally until needed, and both having similar appearing external components.
  3. Gestation time is quite short, with further development needed after birth (such as marsupial). Alternately, gestation is entirely or nearly-entirely external.
  4. Food for offspring is not produced (ie lactation), but must be gathered and prepared (ie pre-masticated and/or regurgitated).

The first and second traits means that your non-dimorphic species does not have any different appearance or abilities when not engaged in the breeding cycle.

The third and fourth traits would remove the energy requirement for pregnancy from being entirely on the mother. Except during the actual gestation, the male parent is equally capable of watching over and feeding the offspring.

For pansexuality and genderlessness to be the norm, there would need to be lots of sexes which are largely reproductively compatible or the species would have to be hermaphroditic. There isn't really an evolutionary advantage to pansexuality for a 2-sex species because it causes about half of all pairings to not reproduce just by chance. It behooves the survival of a 2-sex species to be heteronormative, and thus one naturally tends to evolve dimorphia and genders. Whereas this isn't really a thing for, say, a 7-sex species where any two of different sexes can reproduce. In fact, under this model, the more sexes there are, the better. The issue that comes to mind is the species needs to have a mechanism for exchanging DNA which might imply a hermaphroditic set of organs, which essentially reduces them to a single-sex species in practice. Having wildly flexible knobs and orifices is out of the question due to combinatorial explosion of physical compatibility required by pansexuality, which is why you don't see large numbers of sexes much in the animal kingdom.

You pretty much have to have hermaphrodites for this to work, though there may be a concept of sex in the actual gametes.

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