Unless they spring wholly from a rock or live alone on an interplanetary outpost, the characters of your speculative novels are bound to have parents, children, lovers, or spouses. Even if these relationships don’t take center stage, their influence should inform your characters’ motivations and actions. Writers who aim to create matriarchal or egalitarian worlds should then consider how the dynamics of such relationships might differ from ones formed in the patriarchal world we know. The differences may be subtle but impactful. Let’s start with the seeds of most relationships—dating.
In many modern cultures, specifically those in western societies, dating brings with it the expectation or assumption of a sexual relationship. In the United States, an overwhelming majority of today’s adults have had casual or non-marital sex before the age of twenty, a number that approaches one-hundred percent as people near forty, though current research shows those numbers may be dipping. At the same time, conservative cultures around the world discourage or even forbid unchaperoned socializing between unmarried men and women for fear they might engage in premarital sexual relations.
No matter the level of perceived conservatism, the sexual status of women—or rather, their status as virgins (at least in the context of hetero sex)—has always been more sacred than that of men. Men are often encouraged to be sexually active at a much younger age and before marriage, while women are expected—or at least preferred—to be virgins on their wedding nights. Of course, young women today unironically wear white bridal gowns for their wedding without thought to its original meaning of sexual purity, but wedding night blood tests are still held, if only symbolically, in communities throughout the world.
Once she goes from bride to wife, a woman’s sexuality transforms from something to be protected to something to be used. At the behest of male-dominated societies mostly driven by religious interpretation, women in hetero marriages have long been expected to submit to their husbands’ demands in all things, including sex. As we’ve progressed from the dark ages to modernity, mainstream society has adopted more progressive attitudes in marriage equality, but the stink of centuries of patriarchal attitudes still remain, especially in conservative communities and religious households (warning: reading linked article may cause some women to throw tables).
Women also have a short period of time in which they are allowed to be sexual creatures. Once they become mothers, women are not allowed to be sexy or sexually desiring unless it’s in service to a man’s objectifying needs. Want proof? Do an internet search for the term “MILF,” and you’ll find that all the top results are porn sites. Do one for “DILF” and you get definitions and an article on how to be one.
Once the children of those nonsexual mothers start pondering sex for themselves, we find that patriarchal viewpoints also invade the way we approach sex education and expectations (look under “Gendered Content”; the associated article is linked here) with our children. Consider the enduring popularity of the “shotgun-toting father greets his daughter’s prom date” meme. Parents are not bothered with their sons’ chastity in such a way, which is why you won’t see a gender-swapped version of Blockers (NSFW) any time soon. Sons are instead taught to be aggressive, sexually active, and non-emotional by the male role models in their lives, which then reinforces the idea that teenage boys only have one thing in mind on prom night.
Now, let’s consider the above relationships in the context of a world in which the human race has only ever experienced asexual reproduction, or intercourse that is perfunctory and non-pleasurable. Would dating and romantic relationships still function the same?
Sexual attraction is often a strong draw in intimate relationships and can keep a couple together while other affections develop, but that’s not always the case. People who are asexual and aromantic don’t form relationships based on sexual or romantic attraction and often do not find fulfillment in dating and intimate relationships at all. For those who do go on to form long-term partnerships, they are based not on lust but shared interests, respect, and the strength of platonic love.
And what becomes of marriage and motherhood in a sex-free world? Aside from the disappearance of the MILF concept, it’s possible matrimony—either religious or civil—might not even exist. A handful of modern societies form families not around wedded couples but matrilineal lines in which a woman’s mother and siblings help raise her children while the father of her children stays in his mother’s home to help raise his sister’s children. However, given that our thought experiment still requires the basic biological mechanics of reproduction, people may still form marital bonds to create and raise children. In fact, procreational pragmatism may be the primary reason such relationships are formed. Financial stability, physical and mental health, or lifelong affection might also drive people into long-term partnerships, ones in which women would not be relegated to submissive roles.
Finally, what about parent-child relationships? One thing is certain—a sexless world means the disappearance of the time-honored tradition of “the talk,” and who wouldn’t like that? I expect the way we raise our sons and daughters would also be more equitable. Girls would not be taught that their primary value rests with physical attractiveness, empathy, and chastity. Parents would have greater pride in their daughters’ academic, athletic, or artistic accomplishments and not in their future potential as wives and mothers. And perhaps our sons would be more open to expressing compassion and nurturing tendencies.
When you look beyond the influence of sex and sexuality in our modern world, you can then also see past the traditionally male-preferenced views of dating, relationships, marriage, and parenting. That’s not to say parents of matriarchal or egalitarian worlds wouldn’t still cock-block to protect their daughters’ chastity; just that they’d be as likely to twat-block to protect their sons, too.