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Horny and Hungry

"You're like a father to me."
"Yeah, I wish you were dead, too."
"Thanks, Dad!"

I have a world in my stories in which the inhabitants evolved from a race that practices sexual cannibalism. That is, the female eats the male during impregnation, just like the black widow spider. Yum!

Thankfully, not all sex involves reproduction. It’s not until the females reach sexual maturity, several hundred years, that their mates ‘go to dinner’ for the last time.

In the interest of brevity:

The Females

The society in which the creatures, sentient and spacefaring, live is fraught with gossip from the females: disdain about the males and complaining about the males leaving them to be single parents.

The Males

The males of the species, on the other hand, have a Spartanistic (yes, I know that’s not a real word) ;)~ humor about their fate. Always joking about ‘meal time’ and the fact that father figures are deceased.

No-Nos

Cultural taboos in my story only involve dating someone’s wife. Physiology of my characters only allow the female to mate once. Hence, those dating mothers are cowards escaping the fate of contributing to future generations.

Thoughts?

How would a culture under these constraints develop over thousands of years (cultural years)? I’d be delighted to learn your opinions. Several of you out there are incredibly knowledgeable and imaginative.

Let's build a world!

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, is that a yummy question. Welcome to this site! $\endgroup$ – PatJ Feb 22 '17 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ Related question here, possibly a duplicate. To sum it up briefly, only your females are likely to be sapient. It doesn't make evolutionary sense for males to expend significant resources on sapience and intelligence when reproduction is fatal for the males and likely occurs soon after sexual maturity (if the reproductive drive can't overrule self-preservation, the species would go extinct due to males refusing to commit suicide-by-sex). $\endgroup$ – Palarran Feb 22 '17 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ Also: you'd better have a good justification for why reproduction is always fatal for the male. If it's not (if the male can in any way avoid being eaten after sex and the female still bears children afterwards), then sapience means that your premise goes up in flames. The males would logically opt for reproduction minus the devouring part, and the females (assuming anything resembling love or affection, which is a safe guess) would hardly devour the males if an alternative existed. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Feb 22 '17 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ This may sound like a silly question, but if each woman can only mate once then doesn't the population half every generation? Or are twins commonplace? $\endgroup$ – Liath Feb 22 '17 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Liath, when reading the question, I was thinking along the lines of spiders etc with multiple eggs in one pregnancy. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Feb 23 '17 at 7:29
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Species that practice sexual cannibalism (spiders and mantises) have two things in common. First, they tend to be low-energy ambush predators that spend a lot of time waiting for food; pregnancy will take a lot of energy out of them that they may not have to spare and therefore it is highly advantageous for the developing offspring if the mother gets a free meal to help produce them. Second, they live in an environment where potential mates live far apart and getting killed is easy; as such, the chances of a male finding a second mate are very low, so the best way for him to pass on his genes is to ensure that the children from his first mating survive.

Intelligence, at least in the species familiar to us, favors safe, social environments. Parents tend to have few children and spend a lot of energy teaching those children, which implies that the chances of any one child surviving to reproduction should be reasonably high.

However, there is one exception to this rule: the octopus, a solitary species with a lifestyle not entirely unlike spiders and mantises, yet is nonetheless fairly intelligent, apparently for the purpose of adapting to a changing environment and large amount of food sources, many of them shelled creatures that are tricky to open. They also put a large amount of energy into a single mating, to the extent that it kills them, and sexual cannibalism is quite common among them as well. So I would use them as a base: an initially solitary species that lives in a dangerous world, that eats a large variety of hard-shelled creatures that they need to be smart to open up.

Ancient History

Unlike in humans, where intelligence largely grew out of social behavior, intelligence in this species would be driven by complex nesting practices. The female builds a burrow that is difficult to get into, and waits in the center. Only males intelligent enough to find their way to the center of the nest would have the privilege of mating. Due to sexual selection, this would increase the intelligence of the species as a whole over time. As these nests increased in complexity, they could develop into temple-like structures, the builder serving the role of the "goddess" at the center, with males spending their entire lives trying to crack the puzzle that would allow them to achieve fulfillment by dying in the sacred jaws of their chosen mate.

The female would need to stockpile food, and would probably be able to go into a kind of hibernation or stasis to survive until the male made it to the center.

Male and female societies could develop independently, with females assisting other females in constructing elaborate temples, and males joining together in "adventuring parties" to help each other reach the center - in other words, a "dungeon crawl" species! Either the females who built the temple would wait in the center as a group, allowing all the males in the party to mate at once (markings outside the temple could indicate how many females are at the center) or there would be a single "leader" of every construction/party, with the younger "assistants" benefiting by gaining experience in building/exploring for the time that they would build/explore a nest on their own.

Or the males could just fight to the death once they reach the center. That works too.

Relevant post

Modern Era

A spacefaring race probably won't be spending its time building temples, but the societal conventions will be built around those that developed in its early history. Males and females will likely live separately and have different natural skillsets: females will be architects, and males may be engineers that like to solve puzzles.

Marriage will be very different from that of human culture. It will be a long period of preparation that culminates in a single act of sex, followed by the female eating the male. During this period, the male may teach the female all the information he collected over the course of his life, information which the female later teaches to her children.

Religion and sex will likely be highly intertwined; and being eaten after sex will be seen as the ultimate fulfillment of a male's life.

It is, however, possible for a male to either escape from a female after mating without being eaten, or to mate with a female who has already selected her partner. Either one would be considered "cheating". To prevent males from escaping, there may be a traditional "marriage burrow" based on the design of the ancient temples, which are designed to be physically difficult for an unwelcome male to enter, and also difficult for the male partner to escape without his mate catching and eating him. When couples forgo this traditional burrow and the male ends up leaving, conservative parents will tell their daughters that they should have stuck with tradition.

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    $\begingroup$ Really enjoyed the thought of how the character’s ancestry would develop over time. From the rise and fall of religions and governments to the actual changes produced during millions of years of evolution, the role men (damn, males!) play in society changes. I followed all the links and suggested relevant posts and enjoyed the answers their too. You guys are awesome. $\endgroup$ – Charles Cole Feb 22 '17 at 10:58
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Some unconventional men & women will only "date" the man they love after they get pregnant. So they don't have to eat them, I guess.

I am confused by some of this: "Complaining about the males leaving them to be single parents." If the "the female eats the male during impregnation." That is, during sex that causes children, I don't actually understand how the males are "leaving to be single parents."

Maybe that's a new development, through SCIENCE! But keep in mind that no male they have probably ever known has had much to do with child-rearing, at least from what I can gather. The concept of a male being present to rear a child would be...like a totally foreign concept. Normally, I would say uncles who haven't bred might have that experience, EXCEPT that you say they breed only ONCE, so unless the pregnancy results in multiple children (like spiders or insects), this might not even be a concept that occurs to this culture. Basically the premises that you have set up: one breeding in a lifetime for both men and women (men because they die, women because you indicated: "Physiology of my characters only allow the female to mate once.") and because fathers are dead by the time children are born, do sort of c*ck block the idea of single male parents.

On the subject of father figures-- they would not have a concept of father figures at all. They're more like the donator. The word you are looking for is likely fatalistic, not Spartantistic?

And some questions: what EXACTLY does marriage mean? To have and to eat? What's the point of even having marriage? Why does this culture HAVE it? Marriage is actually not a concept you should take for granted. You would likely need to parse apart what a marriage might mean in this culture--these may be very short.

Dating a married women would mean what, exactly? She'd be a widow if she was pregnant.

Is there recreational sex? You talk about dating, and about breeding only once. It changes EVERYTHING if there is recreational sex, which, in many species, doesn't happen. Humans are weird. There are animals that have sex recreationally (dolphins, apes & monkeys) but most don't. And in the case of this species it would be very risky.

Do they eat the males during sex? After they get pregnant? this too would change the culture.

Really look hard at all this--your answers are in these answers.

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    $\begingroup$ Q: "Dating a married women would mean what, exactly? She'd be a widow if she was pregnant." A: She's an adulteress. Also, her husband won't be able to impregnate her, so he lives, but her children will have someone else's genes (not hubby's). Presumably she inherits everything when hubby impregnates her, after she chomps him down, but with hubby around this is gone. Shame, dishonour, and economic disaster. This is not just a No-No, it's a major taboo. Plus one for a good answer. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 22 '17 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Erin- I should have said males abandoning the women, not leaving to be single parents. There really would be only one place they’d be going. Also, didn’t mean Spartan as in warrior, but in the humor taught. Great comebacks were just as important to their society as their talent in thrusting a spear. (Umm… literally not figuratively.) $\endgroup$ – Charles Cole Feb 22 '17 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesCole Spartan is just too culturally packed with meaning to use in this case (although I am sure you know what you meant!) :) $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Feb 22 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Yes, I agree. But I do think there will be some unconventional people on the fringes who do break the taboo (as there always are). $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Feb 22 '17 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ The taboo breakers might form an interesting subculture. Their kind always exists, but unlike adulterers as we know them these would be easily identifiable. This hints at an interesting social dynamic. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 23 '17 at 1:10
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It would have a hard time developing

If males are sentient, they may be more concerned with not being eaten or suffering immense pain than appeasing one mate.

In the real world, male spiders that allow themselves to be eaten are more likely to pass on their genes. However, if you make the females intelligent, they will be able to reproduce regardless of how long they have intercourse with a corpse. Therefore, the males who run away will be able to reproduce with multiple partners, and in the long run, cannibalism will be disadvantageous.

In addition, it's hard to build a society with a lower population! Imagine if all human men died after they finished having kids. How much longer would it take to develop technology?


If you're hard-set on keeping cannibalism, you could evolve in something psychological that makes males forget they're about to be eaten, and make females less sympathetic - or have some chemical ease the pain.

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    $\begingroup$ "Imagine if all human men died after they finished having kids. How much longer would it take to develop technology?" In one word: Irrelevant. Either that, or amend your answer to show how there is some intrisic biological reason why females could not develop technology. Preferably with recent scientific citations if we are to assume human-like beings, or in the general case if that's what you are aiming for, or even in some specific case such as the society posited by the OP if that's all you're shooting for. That the human tech sector is male-dominated does not mean females are unable. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 22 '17 at 10:11
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    $\begingroup$ Didn’t think about going extinct after killing off all the men. There’s no real evolutionary gain from this model. It makes little to no sense for a species to gain spaceflight technology with those limitations. It leads into the next great point- If you gain the knowledge to launch rockets into space, somewhere along the line someone should have asked, “Hey, has anyone seen Ted? He was just here a minute ago.” These technologic marvels should also give rise to a strong desire to push biomedicine towards a ‘cure.’ Maybe that was Ted’s idea. Where is Ted? $\endgroup$ – Charles Cole Feb 22 '17 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Rather than saying "it's wrong, fix your answer" could you offer a bit more please? I did not, and will not, say that human males are any more capable than females; I said losing them would greatly impact technology, just as losing females would, because it's slicing a major part of the population. Gender does not matter, nor have I said it does; less people generally means you get less done. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 22 '17 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesCole Not necessarily extinction; it will be difficult to evolve intelligence, but that doesn't mean it couldn't work if only the females are intelligent. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 22 '17 at 13:20
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Starting with your question about how culture develop, the answer is just fine. An alternative reproductive strategy will have remarkably little impact on social and technical progress. It will change everything about social relationships, kinship, economic and political power.

This is a species that has evolved from organisms with a cannibalistic reproductive strategy, and has extreme longevity in living hundreds of years. There is every reason to assume the population will keep expanding. The females on their single mating will need to produce multiple offspring. There is no reason to assume that they are viviparous and bear their offspring live. Spiders will a similar reproductive strategy lay eggs. Presumably the sapient females raise their young, which is unlike the spiders, but characteristic of sapient organisms capable of creating social organizations, culture, and technology.

If there are similarities with spiders expect the females to be larger than the males. Certainly stronger and more powerful, possibly armed with biological weapons like a poison sting to subdue males who might want to run away.. Males will be the weaker sex. Females rule OK. Economic, political and social power will be theirs. Males may be major contributors too, but their lives will be cut short by mating. They might not be educated. After all, why waste a good education on a male. Even if females live for many hundreds of years before attaining full sexual maturity, there could be a first phase of sexual adulthood where females can copulate without the risk of being fertilized, males don't need to live as long. They're only there to contribute their genes for the next generation. Young and tasty males, eh?

Presumably the female feeding frenzy will be triggered, somehow, by the act of reproductive copulation. Considering this species enjoys recreational copulation, it also suggests males be unaware which copulation will be their last. Perhaps the manner in which males are devoured ensures their spermatozoa are available for impregnating a female's ova. If this is so, then the reproductive organs of males and females will be quite unlike those of humans.

Social and economic organization will be dominated by females. After all, they outlive the males and quite likely for centuries beyond their pregnancies. Certainly egg-laying makes more sense. Although it is possible that although they mate once, females might produce offspring on several occasions, especially if they can retain the egg sacs of the males in their bodies, something like spermatotheca, over a period of time. That way they don't have to fertilize all their ova at once.

The cultural taboo of taking married females, let's not be coy by saying dating, as lovers will be massive. Most particularly, if a male has a married female as a lover especially since females only mate once. If this pregnancy happened with a lover, then hubby will still be alive. The female will bear the young of someone who isn't her husband. This will have economic and cultural consequences. Shame, dishonour, and economic catastrophe. The consequences will be complex and painful.

This answer assumes that the OP's isn't human, despite calling males and females man and women, this confuses the issues.

Please note: concepts like father figure and single parents would be alien to this species. Fathers are only sperm donors who die during the act of mating. All parenting is single parenting, with children raised by mothers, so they know no other kind.

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You could change the ratio of male-female to counterbalance some of the issues. Secondly, you could change the reproduction system to require females to eat males, make that only way a female can get pregnant. Allow the male to delay having kids until late in their lives. Probably your females should live much longer. For instance, allow man to live to their 80s before having kids. Female should live longer, say up to 120, to keep an eye on kids.

This society will thrive but there will be lots of differences. For instance, males will not be physically stronger as they are as precious as females (not the case in mammals). So both sexes will equally contribute to warfare, if one ever starts. Females will definitely be smarter, as they will be the educators of the young.

Marriage might also be possible, let them live together until deciding to have children. You could also allow males to cheat by removing their internal reproductive organ with surgery and offering it to his wife to eat. But as their role is finalized, they should wither and die in a short time after the surgery. Female should give birth to many babies at once in order to balance the population.

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  • $\begingroup$ Marriage was a good topic. I’d not really venture to far into that myself because everyone so far has summed it up pretty good. I think all the answers are correct, given the thousands of years and distance between groups, they would all have varying conceptual plans and views of marriage. I do disagree a little with the thinking that ‘cheating’ would be acceptable. It’s not in today’s society, and there’s no evolutionary reason why it shouldn’t be. $\endgroup$ – Charles Cole Feb 22 '17 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesCole Cheating might not be acceptable in our society, but we do it, and it happens frequently enough that there are websites devoted to it. There are lots of evolutionary reasons why cheating would be acceptable, given the model presented. And, this really depends on what country you're talking about. Here in the US it's not good for a politician to cheat on their wife. But in France, the Prime Minister did, everyone knew and most did not care. Because it is a different culture. The idea of a man having a mistress as long as it didn't interfere with his married life is very old. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Feb 23 '17 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ By cheating I was talking about cheating the getting eaten part, not being faithful. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 23 '17 at 13:38

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