Saturday, August 04, 2007

Alien Culture & Alien Sexuality Themes


a.) War, Alien Invasion: The most common theme is aliens seeking to conquer Earth or destroy Earth. Prime examples of this type of story are SF movies and TV series like H. G. Wells War of the Worlds, Independence Day with Will Smith as a fighter pilot taking Earth technology against the evil aliens, and V-the TV mini-series.

b.) Evil Aliens: Another common theme involves human heroes and heroines fighting evil bloodthirsty alien creatures, either on Earth or in space. Classic examples of this theme are The Thing, the Alien horror series with Signoury Weaver, The Blob and of course, the movie Signs staring Mel Gibson.

c. Earth as a refuge: Aliens seeking Earth as a refuge for their people, the TV series Alien Nation was an excellent example of this theme. Zenna Henderson also uses this theme in her short story series entitled, The People, No Different Flesh.

d.) Miscommunication: Aliens come to Earth for peaceful reasons. Humans are afraid and believe the aliens are evil and mobilize their armed forces to fight back against the evil aliens. A very early black and white SF movie made in 1952, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic example where the alien flying saucer lands on the White House lawn and the president calls up tanks, airplanes and the military to defend humanity against the alien invasion.

Another good example of miscommunication is the novella Subcommittee by Zenna Henderson.

Here's the first paragraph of that story. First came the sleek black ships, falling out of the sky in patterned disorder, sowing fear as they settled like seeds on the broad landing field. After them, like bright butterflies, came the vivid-colored slow ships that hovered and hesitated and came to rest among the deadly dark ones.

In this story aliens came to Earth for a refuge. Battles take place in space and many lives are lost on both sides. This story starts where humans and aliens are trying to negotiate peace but they're not getting anywhere because neither side wants to reveal their weaknesses. What finally brings peace is when a human and alien child meet and their human and alien mothers learn to become friends and the human mother brings the crucial piece of information to the negotiation table as to WHY the aliens came to Earth.

a. Space law: There are a number of Space Treaties and laws already in existence on Earth.

b. Alien criminals, alien cops and bounty hunters: This is a subset of the basic alien invasion theme played out on a more personal level, usually with one or two humans figuring out the problem and fighting back. Prime examples of this theme are the Predator movies and the movie I pointed out at the beginning of my class, I Come In Peace, where the alien criminal comes to Earth killing humans while draining endorphins from their bodies to sell as drugs while another alien cop/bounty hunter arrives chasing him and humans get involved to help the alien cop/bounty hunter kill the alien criminal.

The theme of alien criminals and bounty hunters/cops chasing these criminals is a popular theme for Erotic Alien Romance type stories. I used another subset of this theme with my Erotic SF story, The Huntress, where Rulagh is an alien exo-biologist sent to Earth on an animal control mission by the Interstellar Humane Society. The Men in Black movies used this concept also but they did it as parody/comedy rather than a straight SF action-adventure type story.


Every culture has religious beliefs and beliefs about life after death. As I mentioned in my previous lecture, in my story The Huntress, they not only believed in reincarnation, these aliens had documented reincarnation as scientific fact. There are many examples in human culture and history that you can adapt and use when you create alien religions and even alien cults that are on the outskirts of the main alien culture. Do not make the mistake of having aliens where every alien has the same culture and religious beliefs. Look how many different cultures and religions we have here on Earth.


The most common SF theme is aliens who can speak and understand English because they've been listening to our radio and TV broadcasts for a hundred years. Another common SF theme to take care of language differences is the universal translator device.

C.J. Cherryh's leonine aliens cannot understand their human stowaway when they first meet him. In fact, they're not even sure he's not an escaped animal until he starts writing numbers in his blood that's smeared on the deck plate from the cuts he received from one of the Chanur spacer's claws. Half of the first book in that series shows the human working with a computer and painstakingly speaking his words into that computer for the different images shown in order to give their translator device enough human words to use. Gaining a complete dictionary/glossary of the human language becomes a critical and very important item of trade for the Chanur.

In The Huntress, Rulagh implants his language into Sonia's brain with a sleep-teaching device. I also created alien words for Rulagh to use when he referred to breasts and genitals and because he has a forked tongue, he hisses and for every word in English that began with an s, I added extra ss's. For example, he would say "I ssee you."

For my Alternate Earth Reality book Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, they have mute telepaths who can transfer the new language into a person's mind. Teoh, the mute telepath in this story transfers his language into the two women, Twig & Sammy who get transported into this alternate Earth via the Bermuda Triangle.


You can use following types of cultural systems as a basis for your alien cultures.

1. Patriarchal: A system of social relations whereby the senior, decision-making member of the group, clan or tribe is a male elder. Patriarchal groups often have a matrilineal kinship system, with descent being reckoned from a male ancestor. Extreme examples of patriarchal cultures are manifested by a few of the more restrictive Islamic religions. There's nothing that says your aliens can't have a patriarchal culture. However, if your aliens have the exact same culture as the basic WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) mainstream culture in many countries on Earth including the USA, then they won't seem very alien to your readers, would they?

2. Matriarchal: A system of social relations whereby the senior, decision-making member of the group, clan or tribe is a female elder. Matriarchal groups often have a matrilineal kinship system, with descent being reckoned a female progenitor. Many of the Eastern Native American tribes like the Iroquois had matriarchal cultures.

a.) Celtic: Celtic laws were created by a matriarchal culture.

The position of women in the Celtic Law system was amazingly advanced compared with the rest of the world. They were lawyers and judges and queens, while women in other parts of the world were the chattels of men.

Even in some religions today women are not given the power that men have. Ireland was possibly the most advanced of all European cultures: it had an Iron Age culture which included bards, historians, judges and a set of laws that governed all aspects of life.

This voluminous set of laws covered everything from hurting a chained dog to behavior while drinking. The set of laws was known as the Law of the Commoner or Freemen, or the Brehon Law. So balanced and just was the ancient Law that it was adopted by the majority of the Norman conquerors and held sway among the populace until ruthlessly put down by Cromwellian forces in the 17th century. Many suppose that the Brehons served as judges. Actually, the Brehon was but the legal expert.

b. Australian Aborigines: The Australian Aborigines are said to have a matriarchal culture.

c.) Tauregs: The Tuareg culture are a Berber tribal culture in Africa's Sahara that has a complex system of both matrilineal and patrilineal descent. They were originally patrilineal but adopted matrilineal descent. They also have a complex society of Thaggaren or nobles. Marabouts or priests, Innghad or serfs, and Ireghenaten or cross-breeds.

d. Role Reversal: This is another subset that's under matriarchal cultures. Too many writers make the mistake of doing role reversal when they try to create a matriarchal culture. This is incorrect. A true matriarchal culture is NOT a patriarchal culture with women as the strong rulers and men as weak, submissive partners.

A strong woman wants a strong man as her partner, not a weak, submissive slave. Wen Spencer does a little bit of role reversal in her SF story, A Brother's Price but she makes sure the men in this culture are strong and sexy. You can read an excerpt of Chapter One from A Brother's Price here at this url

Wen Spencer uses polygyny (more commonly referred to as polygamy) for this culture i.e. one husband with multiple wives instead of polyandry where you have a woman with multiple husbands.

Another common SF cliché is to portray women only, matriarchal cultures as static, technologically backward, hierarchical and insect-like. Those stories based their culture on Queen bees and their hives filled with female workers and male drones. This kind of fiction operated very much out of traditional cultural assumptions. The female characters were alien because they weren't "proper" women.

Or they have men and women living in separate societies (and I'm not talking Mars and Venus, either).

3. Polygamous/ polyamorous cultures. A basic l definition of polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one spouse at the same time versus monogamy where each person has only one spouse or life mate. Technically speaking with divorce and remarriage accepted as normal part of the mainstream WASP cultures, you could say they practice serial monogamy rather than pure monogamy which would mean 'until death do us part' with no remarriage after the death of a spouse. There are numerous examples and excellent definitions presented of the many different types of polygamous cultures at this web page.

There is additional and detailed information about polyamory arranged by topics at the following website.

Classic SF books that look at polyamorous line marriages are Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land and The Moon is A Harsh Mistress. Another excellent SF novel with polyamory/group marriage as a normal part of the culture is Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury. But don't expect a lot of sensual sex in these stories. The sex scenes are very short.

I created a matriarchal/polyamorous culture for my Sidhe trilogy, Covenants, Down Came a Blackbird and Out of The Dark. If you're interested in reading the first three chapters of these books, they're at my author website of

4. Transgendered cultures:
A good example of this would be the Native American Berdache. Bisexuality, cross-dressing and transgendered were all part of
the many different types of berdache in the Native American tribes.

Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness is a classic SF novel where the inhabitants are a neuter gender who change to either male or female depending on pheromones of their lover.

My novella Christmas Noir has a hermaphrodite as the main character in a future where hermaphrodites are the last minority to receive equal rights. Of course, there's a serial killer targeting hermaphrodites in this story and Shannon the hermaphrodite character has two detectives, a man and woman guarding her after Shannon receives a death threat with photos of the latest murder victim.

I also have hermaphrodites as part of the alternate Earth reality in Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which won the 2005 Dream Realm Award for Best SF Erotica.

Lots of possibilities here if you want aliens who are transgendered, who can morph into either sex depending on who their lover is or who are dual-sexed.

You can find tons of information about hermaphrodites at this website.

5. Animal culture models: If you want to create an alien culture modeled after wolf pack socialization, this website has very detailed information.

Lion social behaviors are shown here at

and at

Feeding habits, social behaviors of seals, sea lions and walrus.

Development of sea lion social behavior through play.

Some animal species reproduce asexually. Seahorse males carry their fetus in pouches. Other fish species lay their eggs in the water and have nothing to do with them afterwards. I mentioned in an earlier lecture the fact that reptilian reproduction is scent-based and that many reptilian species have a double penis. Flamingos need a group of other flamingos around them in order to reproduce. Some zoos use multiple mirrors around their caged flamingos in order to encourage them to reproduce.

6. Marriage customs: A subset of the different cultural systems covers marital customs:

When a community does not allow marriage with members outside of the community, this is called endogamous marriage patterns. Endogamous marriage means that individuals are marrying their relatives in some way and so the lines of descent remain fairly pristine.

When a community marries only members outside the community, this is called exogamous marriage patterns. Such communities incorporate the one spouse into the other spouse's community, depending on which family the married couple settles down with. Individual married couples and nuclear families almost never settle by themselves, but they move in with or next to one of the spouse's family.

In exogamous marriage cultures, then one spouse must move out of their kinship-based community and move to the other spouse's community. If a society demands that the wife move in with the husband's family or move to the husband's community, that is a patrilocal, or "father-located" kinship society. If the husband must move in with the wife's family or community, that is a matrilocal, or "mother-located" kinship community.

In C.J. Cherryh's sprawling epic about human space exploration, Downbelow Station, she shows a mixture of marriage customs. There are three political structures pitted against each other, the Alliance, Company and Union. Stationers and merchanters are the Alliance. Earth with its vast mercenary troopships funded by corporations is the Company and Cyteen and its colony planets are Union.

Stationers have a patriarchal and patrilocal structure. The traders who live on the vast merchant ships that travel from star to star have a matriarchal and matrilocal structure. The soldiers on the Company ships fighting the colonies of Cyteen have a polyamorous structure for their lives and no children. The colonies past Cyteen run the gamut of all the different customs depending on the planet.

She illustrates this with the relationship between Quen and Konstantin, the stationmaster at Pell. Ellen Quen's ship was destroyed in the war. She is the last Quen simply because she left her ship for one year to be with Konstantin and now that her ship is gone, she wants to get pregnant despite the war that is going on between Alliance, Company and Union space.

Konstantin wonders about trader morals. He asks Quen about the fact that they move from station to station and they make love promiscuously and accept all children born to their women into their family name. Quen looks at him and says, "But all the men on my ship are my cousins, where else would we get our children?" So, after he thinks about it for a bit, he comes back to her and tells her, yes he'll give her children and he agrees that the first child she has will be a Quen in order for the Quen Name to continue because the Konstantin family already has more than enough children to continue their Name.

7. Symbiotic cultures. Bloodchild by Octavia Butler

shows a large wormlike alien species that develops a unique symbiotic relationship with humans. In return for humans acting as the host bodies for the alien fetuses, the aliens cure human illness and give them a much longer lifespan. Of course, there's also extreme danger with this symbiotic relationship. The aliens must remove the fetus via C-section right before it becomes fully mature because the normal process of "birth" has the fetus eating its way out of the host body.

I used symbiotic aliens for my book, On The Edge of Time. In that book, the aliens are shapeshifters who can function on their own within wrymhole space and they form a partnership with humans whereby they fight wrymdragons in wrymhole space and keep the wrymdragons from destroying the human spaceships and brutally killing the humans. However, in order to survive outside of wrymhole space, the aliens in this story must link with their human hosts and they appear as living serpent tattoos on their hosts' bodies. Plus, for reproduction, they implant their eggs within the male host because the male has the larger and stronger body.

In order to write Alien Sexuality, you need to think the cultural themes through first. After you’ve developed the culture, the sexuality for your alien characters will have a natural flow within the story and the love scenes will be believable.

Thank you.

Barbara Karmazin


  1. Anonymous2:01 PM EDT

    That's a lot of information to digest. And thank you kindly for it. I've no doubt got some research to do before I can tell if I've waded off into foolishness with my own multi-alien society. And to make matters stranger yet, the dominant alien species has a soft spot for humanity in spite of our peculiar ways. Culture clash can be such fun.

  2. You're welcome, David.

    I have more information that I'll be posting weekly.
    SF is my first love and I'm a research junkie when it comes to worldbuilding.

    I also run a very active critique group for writers in all genres.

    Barbara K.