The Mermaid Conundrum: Sex and Fantasy Worldbuilding

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Let’s talk about sex today. No, this is not a dirty post, get your mind out of the gutter. Okay, well. It kinda is. But we’re not going to talk too dirty today. Today, we’re going to explore sex and worldbuilding, the latter of which I do almost all the time even when I’m not creating a fantasy world for my writing.

Worldbuilding is, like writing, one of the most fun things you can do by yourself (Forget the innuendo, dude, by the end I’ll be talking so dirty even the most Cultured of you Men of Culture will cringe). It involves creating a whole new world from scratch, usually with a new assumption or two. The most famous instance of worldbuilding comes from the writings of JRR Tolkien, whose extensive history of Middle Earth told in the Silmarillion and other writings has inspired many to create their own worlds and races full of awesome creatures, exciting events and even their own conlangs (or constructed languages) much the way Tolkien introduced us to Elves, the tales of Beren and Luthien and the Quenya language.

One question many worldbuilders usually skip over is the question most people have when encountering a new species after the initial ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s or even ‘eww’s – how do they breed? Normally, the temptation is to just hand wave it (they just do, all right) and move on to the conlangs. This is acceptable – the point of worldbuilding is to approach it like a tourist to these entirely made-up places, not as a peeper. You want to check out their architecture, their cultures, their art, not how they boink. And yet, answering this question may also lead to more answers about a culture than you’d expect. If this sounds like one handed writing to you, it doesn’t have to be. Just treat the issue the way you would the Mermaid Conundrum.

If you haven’t heard of the Mermaid Conundrum, a) congratulations, you’re not a pervert, and b) brace yourself for one of the biggest questions of post – nut clarity plaguing mankind since ‘What the hell did I do last night’. Note I said mankind – humankind, in general doesn’t waste brainpower on stupid questions like these.

The Mermaid Conundrum asks the following question; if a mermaid is half woman and half fish, which half would you prefer to be human? The question usually then continues to describe the choices available. First, you are eased into the story by having a regular, Disney princess mermaid being described to you. She has a human head, human torso, arms, and everything, but everything below the waist is that of a fish. Then you are challenged with the second choice – the halves are reversed, i.e everything from the waist upwards is a fish, but she has a human waist, legs and everything in between, so to say. Now, which would you prefer?

What you respond with certainly says a lot about you. If you pick the first one, you’ll be challenged – but dude, she doesn’t have a vagina. Ah, you say, ready to defend your choice, but she has tits you can play with, a mouth to kiss and suck you with, and anyway you’re a sucker for a pretty face. Proponents of the other side of the coin will be ready to defend their choice – sex is meaningless unless you have a vagina to stick your dick in, and who cares what she looks like up top anyway? Come on, dude – you’ve had some butterfaces in your life, haven’t you?

We haven’t even gone to the variations available on this issue. What if her bottom half were a dolphin? Dolphins are mammals. Mammals have vaginas. Win win situation. What if her bottom half were an octopus? Tentacles for days. Perhaps her top half were an anglerfish. Perhaps her top half were a lobster – how would you do it, trying to dodge her claws? What if she were a literal whale – and your puny six incher wouldn’t do nothing to her. What then?

This is the Mermaid Conundrum – the Trolley Problem of the Boys’ Locker Room. As you no doubt have inferred, only Men of Culture discuss such game – changing philosophies. In the context of real life, this kind of discussion is utterly meaningless, but for a worldbuilder this kind of question may pop up, and thus exploring this issue is something they may want to consider.

Noooope, you say. I’m not running a game of FATAL here, thank you. To which I say, okay, but I’m not asking you to write a Kama Sutra of Orcs and Elves here (if you do, get some pictures in it and send it to me. For Science). I’m asking you to consider what most people forget when they talk about sex – love. Another term for it is love making, after all.

Too often we hear tales of dragons making off with maiden princesses to be locked away in solitary towers, but we never stop to ask why. I mean, yeah, it could be a political power move (obey or your heir dies). But if it isn’t, then…why? Dragons look nothing like humans. Dragons aren’t even in the same Dungeons and Dragons size category as humans, much less their non – Dungeons and Dragons (and non-worksafe) size categories. Dragons are probably measured in feet, not inches. The poor bitch is going to be torn to shreds. Even better – if we assume the same biology for Dragons as we do for other cold-blooded lizards, then dragons (and this is supported by many, many works of fiction) lay eggs, which are usually fertilized externally. But hang on – in certain egg laying creatures, which is to say most lizards, the fertilization is internal, meaning that the eggs that are laid are already fertilized, meaning that yes, dragons do nut in their partners. Which is it, then for the Ancient Red Dragon? Or are we talking about dragons too old to reproduce – can Ancient Red Dragons even reproduce? Do they need to be in the lower age categories, like Adult? Is it creepy for an Ancient Red Dragon to hit on a twenty-year-old human princess? We’re not even talking about polymorphing magic yet and the existence of Half – Dragons.

See the kind of questions you come up with when you ask these sorts of questions? They don’t have to be one handed; they can be purely academic. Which is usually just an excuse, but hey, now you’re telling the truth. And while you start somewhere uncomfortable, you will usually end up in places you won’t be afraid to show your readers (and won’t get arrested, or dubbed a pervert). About the dragon – why a human? Dragons, as we said, don’t look anything like humans. What does a dragon find attractive, then? The size of their hoard? A princess would definitely have a huge hoard, unless her kingdom were in decline or at war or something in which case she’d be stone broke and probably unattractive. Perhaps the shine of their scales? Then our princess must have really shiny skin. Or are dragons beings of higher intelligence, only seeing the goodness in one’s heart? That must be a truly virtuous princess, which is usually the case. But aren’t dragons evil? Dungeons and Dragons teaches us that the chromatics are, at least. Why would they be attracted to goodness? Opposites attract? Then tell me why there isn’t a metallic blue dragon in existence. Maybe the princess is an evil conniving bitch and that’s what attracted the dragon.

Most fantasy authors lean liberal politically, and believe that love is love regardless. That’s okay. I’m a bit more conservative, but I believe that too for the most part. But think about it. If it is okay for a man to love another man, then is it also okay for a man to love…a lizard man? A horse man, or centaur? A bull man, or minotaur? The Dragon Age series takes this further and introduces us to Andraste, Bride of God. Deities fucking mortals isn’t anything new – Zeus has fucked so many mortals it’s a wonder Hera isn’t depicted with horns on her head. Is it okay, then, for the gods and goddesses of your pantheon to descend to Earth (or Midgard or what have you), find a handsome young boy and attempt A Second Coming?

Hopefully you get what I mean. I’m running out of words to fully explore this, and I just realised it’s Ramadhan and I shouldn’t be talking too dirty during the Holy Month (although, there is the whole immaculate conception thing…wait, that’s Christianity). I realise the whole thing reads like a post – nut ramble, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that considering how the various races in your world have sex can help your worldbuilding, and you don’t have to be writing a pornographic series to consider the sex aspect of the world. Again, you don’t have to consider sex if you don’t think any of it is relevant to your worldbuilding, but sex is a huge part of our lives (our adult lives, hopefully) so to simply ignore the sex aspect may gimp your worldbuilding somewhat. I hope you give it a try. Daring to experiment helps keep things fresh in the bedroom – I dare say it will help keep your worldbuilding fresh, as well.

Just remember the three general rules of sex – Safe, Sane, Consensual – and we’re all clear. That’s a whole other topic for another day, isn’t it…

Oh, and by the way:

Jesus is Always Watching You.

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