Sex and Sexuality in science fiction

Modern science fiction frequently involves themes of sex and sexuality. This was not always so. During the 1930s and 40s "golden age" of science fiction, sex was rarely, if ever, explicitly mentioned, although there was certainly no lack of innuendo and suggestion.

The "New Wave"

Sex was rarely explicitly addressed as a topic until the New Wave science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s, which reflected its times by attempting to break earlier taboos about what could and could not be the subject of science fiction. The men's magazine Playboy published regular serious science fiction stories throughout this period, by both male and female authors, offering them significantly more scope than some other publications.

Two different themes emerged: one trying to explore the boundaries of what "sex" could mean in a world of altered humanity and reality. Separately, many writers deepened the exploration of gender in science fiction, examining issues raised by the feminist and gay movements.

Other sub-genres

A number of works of mainstream erotica, including the Gor novels by John Norman, have also used the science fiction format. There is now a separate sub-genre of science fiction erotica that aims to integrate the two genres: writers in this genre include Cecilia Tan, whose small press Circlet Press caters especially to fans of erotic science fiction.

Science fiction erotica is frequently associated with Gay science fiction, Lesbian science fiction and S/M (Sado/Masochism) Erotica.

In recent years there has been a growing BDSM awareness in the science fiction and fan community.

Movies and TV series

Numerous science fiction television series and science fiction films have used science fiction plots as an excuse to fit in gratuitous sexual or fetishistic content: one of the conventions of much filmed science fiction appears to be that the future will be peopled exclusively by attractive people wearing skin-tight clothing in shiny materials. Nevertheless, some science fiction-themed TV shows, such as Farscape, have been acclaimed for their handling of such themes. The series Lexx features sexual themes in almost every episode, one of the main characters of Firefly is a "companion" (courtesan), and Andromeda is imbued with the carefree sexual spirit that seems to characterize the spacefaring future (or, at least, screenwriters' hopes for it).

The various Star Trek series treat sexuality in different ways. James T. Kirk earned a pop-culture reputation for bedding countless green-skinned or otherwise exotic alien women portrayed in the soft lighting characteristic of 1960s romantic pulp. ', usually regarded as a pinnacle of principled (i.e., less gratuitous) science fiction TV, featured a risqué theme in episode #2 that involved sex between female officer Tasha Yar and the android Mr. Data. The focus on sexy females was ramped up in all of the subsequent series (with increasing obviousness) - notably ''s Jadzia Dax, '''''s B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine, and 's sultry T'Pol.

The re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica, by contrast, set out to portray sex in a more realistic fashion. The gratuity and fetishism of bad television "science fiction" were done away with in favour of more natural expressions of sexuality, both good and bad in nature. While initially ridiculed by some for its over-use of sex in certain areas, the producers were quick to point out that nothing happens on the show that hasn't been seen on shows like ER, NYPD Blue or Sex and the City multiple times already, only it was happening in space.

Sexuality in Babylon 5, in keeping with the rest of the show, was more implicitly realistic and experimental - even when used for comic effect. Interspecies mating, alien attitudes towards sex, and even alien sex and reproduction, were dealt with extensively. The "humps" on the backs of Pak'Ma'Ra are said to be their females, bonded to the males; Drazi genitalia is in the arm-pits, not the groin; male Narns carry their newborns (known as "pouchlings") in a Marsupial-like pouch; and male Centauri carry six sexual tentacles, three on either side of the body, which are inserted into six openings on the lower backs of Centauri females, with each tentacle inserted resulting in greater pleasure for the two (or more) partners. In a scene in the pilot an alien woman is warned off a human male who had been seducing her; he is then informed that the females of her species eat the males after mating. G'Kar is known to have a fondness for Human women, while Susan Ivanova is required to mate with the emissary of the Lumati in order to finalise a treaty. Human-alien pornography (including Snow White and the Seven Narns and ''My Little Pak'Ma'Ra'') is mentioned in the spin-off series Crusade. However only two characters - Delenn and Jeffrey Sinclair - are shown as having reproduced with a race other than their own, in both cases due to genetic manipulation causing them to become Human-Minbari hybrids; in fact Delenn is later shown to be descended from Sinclair. The series also explored purely human sexuality, including sex between telepaths, celibacy & virginity, and homosexuality.

Influential female sex symbols from movies include characters from the 1968 movie Barbarella as well as Princess Leia in '''', where she wore a metallic bikini.

Themes explored

Some of the themes explored include:

Notable works with sexual themes

Written Works

Year Author Title Comments
1921 Yevgeny Zamyatin We Sex frequency and partners are selected by the government
1932 Aldous Huxley Brave New World Only promiscuity is socially acceptable and sex is completely separated from reproduction
1948 Lisa Ben (pseud.) ''New Year's Day'' Depiction of futuristic utopian world in which homosexuality and gay identity are accepted
1949 George Orwell (pseud.) Nineteen Eighty-Four Depiction of futuristic dystopian world in which people are indoctrinated to experience sex as joyless and mechanical in order to prevent the formation of any strong inter-personal bonds.
1953 Theodore Sturgeon The World Well Lost Alien homosexuality.
1953 Philip José Farmer The Lovers Arguably the first science fiction story to feature sex as a major theme
1960Philip José Farmer Strange Relations A collection of five stories about human/alien sexual relations
1960Philip José Farmer Flesh To counter declining male fertility, a hypermasculine antlered man ritually impregnates legions of virgins
1960 Theodore Sturgeon Venus Plus X A contemporary man awakens in a futuristic place where the people are hermaphrodites.
1961 Robert A. Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land A form of group marriage in the fictional inspiration for the "Church of All Worlds"
1961 Brian Aldiss The Primal Urge Emotion Register on forehead tells others when you experience sexual attraction
1962 Naomi Mitchison Memoirs of a Spacewoman Interspecies mating during shore leave; aliens that change their sex
1966Samuel R. Delany Babel-17 Starship crews bonded by group sex; sexual relationships with the "discorporate" spirits of the dead
1967 Harlan Ellison, ed. Dangerous Visions A collection of taboo-breaking science fiction stories
1968 Philip José Farmer Image of the Beast Sexual sadism on a par with de Sade, committed by shape-shifting creatures from another world
1968 Samuel R. Delany Nova First major science fiction novel with a gay male protagonist
1969 Ursula K. LeGuin The Left Hand of Darkness Set in a world of androgynous people who become male or female a few days a month.
1969 Philip José Farmer A Feast Unknown Superheroes' higher level of existence forces them to resort to extreme violence combined with extreme sex
1969 Norman Spinrad Bug Jack Barron Graphic depiction of oral sex coupled with the publishing magazine being funded by the Arts Council leads to parliamentary question
1970 Robert Silverberg Tower of Glass Genetically engineered slaves are sterile but superior in every way to their creators - graphic descriptions
1970 Ira Levin This Perfect Day Programmers of "UniComp," a master computer, control every aspect of marriage and procreation; women do not grow breasts, men do not grow beards
1971 Robert Silverberg The World Inside Promiscuity and procreation are culturally enforced in a world of giant city-towers
1971 Stanislaw Lem Return from The Stars Extinction of the sex drive
1972 Thomas M. Disch 334 Flexible sexual relationships, but compulsory contraception; male pregnancy
1972 James Tiptree, Jr. (pseud.) 'And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill's Side' Humans become fixated on sexual relationships with aliens
1972 Harlan Ellison, ed. Again, Dangerous Visions A sequel to "Dangerous Visions", a collection of taboo-breaking science fiction stories
1974 Samuel R. Delany Dhalgren Sexual freedom and exploitation in all conceivable combinations
1974 Joe Haldeman The Forever War Homosexuality becomes universal, originally adopted as a form of population control but later becoming the norm by convention
1975 Naomi Mitchison Solution Three Privileged homosexuality in a future society used as meditation on privileged heterosexuality
1975 Joanna Russ The Female Man Four parallel universes, one without men, one with male sex slaves
1978 Gardner Dozois Strangers Human must be surgically changed to alien to mate with his alien lover
1978 Douglas Hill, ed. The Shape of Sex to Come Anthology of stories dealing with sex and sexual relations, featuring Brian Aldiss, Thomas M. Disch and Michael Moorcock.
1978 Elizabeth A. Lynn A Different Light (novel) Gay sexual relationship
1979 Diane Duane The Door Into Fire Gay sexual relationship; high fantasy
1979 Elizabeth A. Lynn Watchtower Gay sexual relationship; high fantasy
1980 Larry Niven The Ringworld Engineers Rishathra, sex between humanoid aliens of different species
1980+ Godard Ribera Le vagabond des limbes The eternal Eternauts live an eternal childhood or until they meet their true love and then choose their sex accordingly
1981 Elizabeth A. Lynn The Sardonyx Net Plot revolves in large part around central character's sexual sadism
1982 Tanith Lee Silver Metal Lover Human-robot sex
1983 Isaac Asimov The Robots of Dawn Human-robot sex (not explicit), culture largely free from sexual taboos
1983 Norman Spinrad ''The Void Captain's Tale'' Starship FTL drive powered by female orgasm
1983 Rudy Rucker The Sex Sphere Details relationships between humans and an alien species of sex organs
1984 Samuel R. Delany Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand Love, individuality and humanity are explored in this romance of a "cultural plague" survivor with cosmically idiosyncratic sexual preferences
1984 Jeffrey M. Elliot Kindred Spirits First anthology highlighting gay and lesbian SF
1984-86 Mike Resnick Tales of the Velvet Comet Four novels set on a spaceship bordello
1985 Margaret Atwood ''The Handmaid's Tale'' Women are subjugated by men in a theocratic America; five classes of women, one only for procreation
1985 Geoff Ryman The Warrior Who Carried Life Transgendered protagonist; gender issues
1986 Theodore Sturgeon Godbody Religious sexuality
1986 Joan L. Slonczewski A Door Into Ocean Humans engineered into an aquatic parthenogenetic race
1986 Lois McMaster Bujold Ethan of Athos Reproductive scientist on a planet with no women
1987-2000 Iain M. Banks Culture Novels People can change gender at will; bisexuality is the norm
1989 Spider Robinson ''Callahan's Lady'' A time-travelling madam runs a unique house of prostitution
1990 Ellen Datlow (editor) '''' Notable theme anthology
1991 Marge Piercy He, She and It (also published as City of Glass) A woman trains a cyborg in what it means to be human; this leads them to a sexual relationship
1993 David Brin Glory Season Sexual vs. asexual reproduction
1995 Neal Stephenson The Diamond Age An orgiastic culture of "drummers" in a sort of neural net functions as a means of technological advance
1995 Greg Egan Distress Features a character who has chosen to be non-gendered and biologically altered to that effect.
1996 Mary Doria Russell The Sparrow A human priest loses his faith when he is mutilated and held as a prostitute on an alien planet
1997 Nicola Griffith & Stephen Pagel (editor) Bending the Landscape: Fantasy The first in three genre-themed gay and lesbian anthologies
2000 Lois McMaster Bujold A Civil Campaign Featuring a female-to-male transsexual
2002 Greg Egan ''Schild's Ladder'' A culture in which sexual identity is an irrelevance as genital couplings are malleable, uniquely molding partners together.

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Cinema and television

Year Written by Title Comments
1968 Terry Southern & Roger Vadim Barbarella Celebrated 1960s film of a science fiction comic book heroine and her sexual adventures
1968 Meyer Dolinsky "Plato's Stepchildren" (Star Trek episode) First inter-racial kiss shown on US television, between Lt Uhura and Captain Kirk
1971 George Lucas & Walter Murch THX 1138 'Soma-like drugs used to suppress emotion, including sexual desire; characters include a holographic porn actor and scenes include a female character's use of an upright electronic device for providing sexual stimulation
1973 Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman Sleeper Orgasmatron orgasm booths after all men, except those of Italian descent, become impotent and all women become frigid
1974 Jason Williams & Suzanne Fields Flesh Gordon A campy erotic spoof of the Flash Gordon serial films from the 1930s
1982 Anne Carlisle & Slava Tsukerman Liquid Sky A comedic science fiction film in which space aliens land to feed off of endorphins released during orgasm
1993 Peter M. Lenkov, Robert Reneau & Daniel Waters Demolition Man (film) Based loosely on Brave New World, except that sexual contact has been forbidden by law in order to prevent the spread of diseases; sexual stimulation is acquired through the use of headsets that stimulated the brain's pleasure center directly
1995 Dennis Feldman Species An alien mimics a human in order to reproduce
1995 René Echevarria and Ronald D. Moore "Rejoined" ( episode) First same-sex relationship portrayed in the Star Trek universe: host-symbiont species has a taboo against relationships with new hosts of past lovers
2004 Carlos Atanes '''' Not only sex, but physical contact between human beings is forbidden.
2006 Russell T Davies, et al. Torchwood Every character has both heterosexual and homosexual experiences, however fleeting: 1950s time travellers allow different attitudes to sexuality and sexual conduct to be explored

Other works

See also

External links

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