The Ten Normal Human Genders and the Seven Variants: An Exercise in Geek-Deep Worldbuilding

Human Gender Sliders
Human Gender Sliders

Back in 1991-1992, when I was building Arhel and writing Fire in the Mist, I worked out in detail the thirteen Hoos sexual preferences, and mentioned them as half a line in the Glossary at the back of the book.

Over the years, I received a lot of mail/email asking me about those thirteen sexual orientations.

Problem is, during a move, I lost all my Arhel worldbuilding, including my ton of notes on the Hoos and their ways of looking at sex.

Thing is, “What WERE the 13 Hoos sexual orientations?” still remains an interesting question—I think anything related to how and why people have sex is an interesting question—and because I was working on the Create A World Clinic, I decided to see if I could, using my World Clinic techniques, lay out my set of worldbuilding rules and then working through them, replicate what I’d done before…or at least come up with a solid replacement.

It worked out well. I roughed out the basics of what I’d built before.

However—because I’m better at this now—when I was done, I’d ended up with more than orientations. I’d come out with the expected three sexual phenotypes (a phenotype is the physical expression of any genetic combination for a specific trait): male, female, and hermaphrodite.

I am, by the way, aware that the term intersex has become preferred to hermaphrodisim in general usage when referring to humans. However, intersex refers to human individuals with any form of ambiguous genitalia or genital mosaicism.

Because I need a biological term that refers specifically to an individual with two sets of working sexual organs, one male and one female, I am dropping back to the specific term hermaphrodite, used to refer to species without differentiated sexes, to refer to individuals capable of viable reproduction with any human sexual phenotype as a third, though rare, biological norm, and one with extreme biological survival value to any generalist species.

Beyond my three phenotypes, I also ended up with ten normal and biologically necessary human genders to go with them.

And I also ended up with seven variations to describe sexual engagement and self-identification. In my Hoos backgrounding, I’d mixed sexual engagement and self-identification in with orientations. Back then, I was still ambivalent about whether gender identification and phenotype attraction were hard-wired or learned, so I used the vague, squishy term “orientations”.

I now think gender identification and phenotype attraction are hard-wired, and that sexual learning is what takes place when people with socially difficult wiring learn how to keep the difficult parts contained to avoid risk of ostracism or death. So I’ve gone with the stronger term “genders” to make my meaning clear.

For Prospective Worldbuilders

The first part of this exercise shows me setting up the logic—the WHY.

The second part shows me playing with the results—the HOW. If you’re looking for a lesson in worldbuilding, you need to read both parts, and you need to read them in order.

Here are the rules I set out:

1) Sex is life.

This is as simple, true, and inarguable as any worldbuilding rule can be. Without sex, complex species which rely on DNA recombination to create the necessary mutations for long-term survival die out in one generation.

2) The end goal of both the species and the individual is to survive.

All species, no matter how simple or how complex, reproduce themselves.

Specialist species—those species adapted to specific limited environment—can survive unchanged as long as they have access to unchanged environments (the alligator and shark are nice examples of species that have not needed to change.) Swamps and oceans are pretty much what they ever were.

Tough sons-a-bitches—species that can tough out any environmental disaster because they can live on next to nothing, breed thousands or tens of thousands of offspring at a time, and can withstand any environment without modification. The cockroach is a fine example of a tough son-of-a-bitch species. These species remain unchanged for eons because there are zillions of them, and no matter what hits, a few of them will survive in a crack in the rocks somewhere and come out and make more when the dust settles.

Generalist species—those species that are NOT tough, but that have to survive in the same variable and uncertain environments as tough sons-a-bitches. These species need steady mutations to provide offspring that can adapt to changing conditions.

3) Humans are a generalist species.

We are not tough. We have tender skins; poor hearing, eyesight, and sense of smell; we have only one built-in weapon (our terrific brains), we are neither swift of foot nor sharp of tooth. Nevertheless, because we have terrific brains, we have adapted to, or CAN adapt to, any environment this planet throws at us—and have proven we can adapt to environments off-planet. Better yet, we can improve our environments to meet our preferences and comfort.

Generalist species have to try all possible options in making new people all the time in order to have some version of ourselves ready to go when the shit goes down…no matter what kind of shit it might be.

The alternative is extinction. The objective of a species is to prevent its own extinction. The objective of the individual is to survive, and if possible, to keep the genes that keep him or her alive in circulation.

Generalist species—those species that have to survive in variable and uncertain environments—need steady mutations to provide offspring that can adapt to changing conditions.

Hybrid vigor occurs when members of the same species with differing genetic mutations interbreed, allowing the best mutations from different groups to spread into a wider circle. Generalist species need better mutations, so crossbreeding between recognizable race and other groups is beneficial to the species as a whole.

4) To be considered a normal human gender, the variation must do no harm to the species or the individual. 

This qualification rules out rape, pedophilia, incest, and bestiality as normal variations, moving them into the realm of biological aberrations and/or experience-induced deviance.

Rape (any nonconsensual sex) and pedophilia (any sex with pre-pubescent individuals)  both do physical and psychological damage to the individual and can cause physical trauma that removes the victim from the genetic pool (even if not causing death).

Incest can cause the same damages as rape or pedophilia and also in cases where pregnancy occurs, can double lethal mutations into genetic lineages and introduce them into the larger gene pool over time.

Bestiality creates opportunities for persistent and potentially lethal zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases to get a firm foothold in human populations.

5) Sliders work better than on-off switches if you want helpful mutations.

If the only two answers you can ever get to any question are YES and NO, you have no room for upgrades, sidegrades, or ways of improving or saving a species WTSGD (when the shit goes down).

But if the only two answers you can ever get are YES or NO, you have a specialist species, not a generalist species.

Here’s an example of a basic survival rule:
Fruit of the thurka tree is food.

And here’s the question that rule generates:
MUST the species in question eat the fruit of the thurka tree to survive?

If the species has a YES/NO switch for thurka fruit, then as long as the thurka tree survives, the animal can survive—but if thurka trees die out, then the species, unable to survive without the thurka tree, will die out, too.

If the species has a slider for thurka fruit, the answer will vary by individual—some individuals may be genetically wired to require the the fruit of the thurka tree to survive, while others others are genetically wired to be able to eat foods other than the thurka tree, and in some cases, individuals of the same species adapted for ranges that only border thurka tree growing zones may not even find the thurka fruit particularly digestible.

The human example for this would be:

  • Folks who can easily eat extra-species milk products: cheeses, drinks and baked goods made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, yaks, horses, etc., without suffering any physical harm from doing so;
  • Folks who can marginally eat extra-species milk products, though these are  not an optimal food for them, causing in them clogging of arteries, elevated cholesterol, unhealthy weight gain, and so on;
  • Folks who cannot eat extra-species milk products: they are lactose-intolerant and suffer severe repercussions for eating products made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, yaks, horses, or whatever happens to be available.

Here’s an example of a basic reproductive rule:
Members of the species mate for life.

And here are the questions that rule generates:
If one member of the pair bond dies, can the other member take a new mate?

If this rule and question are on YES/NO switches, when the answer is NO, the species loses an enormous number of possible beneficial mutations by wasting the reproductive viability of young widows/widowers. (I’m using the human term here, but we could be talking about Canada geese or any other species with a one-and-done mating switch as our example).

If this rule is on a slider, as it is with humans, then reproductively viable widows/widowers can find new mates with which to reproduce, keeping their genes in the gene pool.

If most of the members of one gender are wiped out, can the survivors take multiple mates?

When the answer to this question is on a YES/NO switch, then any disease or catastrophe that targets the members of one gender exclusively (war, disease, or other “when the shit goes down” scenarios) could cause the extinction of the species, even if there were enough survivors of the targeted gender to allow for harem rallying.

If the answer is on a slider, then some members of the species will not reproduce, and their lines will die out. But with harem rallying—where few viable males gather groups of many viable females together and reproduce with them, the species can gain ground and replenish itself, including bringing back through useful mutation variants of the species that pair bond for life.

Once I had my rules in place, I had to figure out the questions for phenotype.

Phenotype (as I noted earlier) is the physical expression of a genetic combination for a specific trait. Here’s a simple example: If your genotype for eye color is “recessive/recessive,” your phenotype will be “blue eyes.”

  1. How does humanity maximize beneficial mutations?
  2. How do the expressions of our generalist species’ need for diverse helpful mutations (upgrades) present itself in the human sex drive?


Let’s move on to humans, who are generalists as a species, and whose genotype and phenotype therefore operate to survive beyond WTSGD (“when the shit goes down”, hereafter exclusively abbreviated as WTSGD).

Back to rule one. Sex is life.

To make sure a species which reproduces by choice, rather than by having a cyclical mating season, DOES reproduce, sex needs to be two things:  

  • Obsessively compelling.
  • And fun.

To make sure people will keep reproducing offspring that can themselves reproduce under all possible environmental changes, it needs to be a third thing as well:

  • Variable.

And those variations need to be innate, not learned—meaning that individual people need to be born with their sexual sliders set to different variations (which can be overridden by choice) just to make sure the species keeps all its survival options open.

So with all of that in mind, here are the ten normal human genders I came up with, along with seven non-hardwired variations.

I posit my ten normal variations as phenotypical expressions of genotypical hard-wiring.

Meaning that people are born with their basic sexual desires set, so that when puberty kicks off the full-blown sex drive, individuals are pre-set to desire the gender or genders they desire, and would desire the gender or genders they do with or without societal pressures.

I posit that desires are pre-set.

I posit that genders exist independent of phenotype.

I note that acting on gender is a matter of choice, and that the ability to do so has very high survival value.

GENDER ONE (G1): Asexual—No sexual interest or activity.

It might seem odd to have non-reproduction be the first variable, but the human generalist genotype operates on sliders, not switches. Therefore, the first normal biological answer to reproduction is NO. No way, no how, not interested, leave me alone.

(We could start at YES, but where humanity is concerned, YES is not the opposite of NO, and you and I have to walk through a lot of variations to get there.)

GENDER TWO (G2): Monosexual—Sex with or sexual interest in only the self.

This is a second normal, essentially non-reproductive, answer on the sliding scale. This variant in bi-functionally hermaphroditic individuals, who have working male and female reproductive sex organs, would result in cloning—in anyone else, it is sexual interest without offspring. But the drives that would allow for reproduction by individuals alone exists in the genotype AND phenotype as an option, if a rare one. In the case of WTSGD, monosex with fertility could preserve the species long enough for individuals to meet each other and engage in sex with other individuals that would allow for the return of natural DNA recombination.

GENDER THREE (G3): Unisexual A—Sex with or sexual interest in only one person of one’s own gender.

Basic phenotype bonding: male/male, female/female, or hermaphrodite/hermaphrodite, but with just that pair bond only, ever. Again, Unisexual A and its most closely related variant Polysexual A appear as non-reproductive options for any but reproductive-capable hermaphrodites, but are necessary wiring variations in a generalist species. Neither is Unisexual A an exclusively human option. (link opens in new window)

If the pair bond is consummated, the Unisexual A individual will not search for an alternative if his/her mate is lost.

GENDER FOUR (G4): Unisexual B—Sex with or sexual interest in only with one person of one other gender.

Basic male/female, male/hermaphrodite, female/hermaphrodite pairing, but with just that pair bond only, ever. If the pair bond is consummated, the Unisexual B individual will not search for an alternative if his/her mate is lost.

GENDER FIVE (G5): Polysexual A—Sex with or sexual interest in more than one person of one’s own gender.  

Male/male, female/female, hermaphrodite/hermaphrodite. This covers both serial and simultaneous pairings. This is the last of the simple genders.

Polysexual A individuals may attempt to replace lost mates.

GENDER SIX (G6): Polysexual B—Sex with or sexual interest in more than one person of one preferred other gender.

Mostly male/female, and covering both serial and simultaneous pairings; however, is the first of the complex genders, since the individual’s preferred gender could be one of the Unis, either of the other two Polys, or one of the three Pans.

This will not work out well for Unis or Poly As, but it is a broadly effective reproductive strategy for both male and female Poly Bs.

Polysexual B individuals may attempt to replace lost mates.

GENDER SEVEN (G7): Polysexual C—Sex with or sexual interest in multiple partners of multiple other genders.

The Venn diagram of potential partners for an individual Poly C is messy beyond belief, because along with the possibility of, for example, one woman wanting both one other woman and one other man, she could also want one woman alone AND more than one woman together, one man alone and more than one man together, only multiple women at the same time, only multiple hermaphrodites at the same time, only multiple men at the same time, both men and women at the same time, both men and hermaphrodites at the same time, only single serial relationships, but with either men, or hermaphrodites, or women…

Polysexual C individuals can choose from Unis of either gender, Polys of all three genders, and Pans of all three genders.

While a Uni/Poly C relationship would be devastating for the Uni, and a Poly A/Poly C relationship would be deeply unwelcome for a Poly A, they happen a lot.

Poly Cs are wired to look for variety across the board (a reproductive strategy that makes a lot of sense biologically). Those who do are unlikely to interact only with other Poly Cs simply because there are so many other alternatives, and chance brings folks together who may be both deeply compelled to pursue each other while being wildly incompatible.

GENDER EIGHT (G8): Pansexual A—Sex with or sexual interest in ALL genders.

This is YES, version one. 

ALL possibilities may be equally enchanting, from pursuing and trying to “convert” asexuals to desiring all variants of multiple partnerings, serially or simultaneously or both.

Pansexual A is as interested and drawn toward appealing to individuals who have no interest in his/her gender as he/she is to those who do.

Any individual Pansexual A may prefer serial pairings to simultaneous separate relationships or group encounters, but Pansexual A is equally attracted to all both sexual phenotypes (male and female) and to all genders.

GENDER NINE (G9): Pansexual B—Sex with or sexual interest in ALL genders, but with the added compelling drive to act in other or all phenotype roles.

All things true for Pansexual As are true for Pansexual Bs. Additionally, however, Pansexual Bs may or may not have the necessary phenotype of two working sets of sex organs, but they do have the desire to act in both male and female roles. This wiring is reproductively irrelevant in non-hermaphrodites, but does make possible the slider that would allow Pansexual B hermaphrodites to rebreed a nearly extinct species WTSGD.

For generalists, all potential variables MUST be in place and in production “Before the shit goes down,” because not even punctuated evolution, a.k.a. punctuated equilibrium can save a species from extinction if the basic mutations and the mechanisms for creating more are not in place beforehand.

GENDER TEN (G10): Pansexual C—Sex with or sexual interest in ALL genders, but with the added compelling drive to act in only phenotype roles other than ones own.

All things true for Pansexual As are true for Pansexual Cs. However, the Pansexual C individual ONLY wants to act out the phenotypical role for the gender or genders to which he/she does not belong.

This gender seems to me like a cruel trick on any of the three sexual phenotypes, but because I posited both A and B, I have to posit C as a normal variation. Under the rules for Generalist Survival, all possible variations will be tried, and all variations that do not cause harm either to the species or individuals will be normal.

The Seven Variations

These are short and don’t require much explanation. They are variations because they are ADD-ONS to the ten genders, coexisting with them but completely separate.

Variations of Self-Identification

Homopsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of his or her own sexual phenotype.

Heteropsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of a sexual phenotype not his or her own.

Ambipsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of both male and female sexual phenotypes.

Ochipsychogenous: Individual does not identify mentally as a member of any sexual phenotype.

Variations of Sexual Engagement

Genosexual: Engages in sexual acts solely as a means of reproduction.

Simposexual: Engages in sexual acts exclusively as a means of personal satisfaction. (Personal satisfaction can—but does not necessarily—include concern for the satisfaction of any partner or partners, since making sure partners are satisfied is in itself a form of personal satisfaction.

Ambisexual: Engages in sexual acts both as a means of reproduction and as a means of satisfaction.

Finally, the outcome of the exercise.

First, I liked the details I obtained by working through this worldbuilding exercise enough that I’ll be using it in my Settled Space universe. It fits nicely with a lot of the genetic and nanoviral engineering I’ve set up in the Cadence Drake novels. It also adds depth and logic to social worldbuilding I’ve done for both my Cadence Drake novels and upcoming Longview stories.

Second, I think what I came up with is a valid representation of real-world human sexuality. I may be missing some variants, I may have overlooked some options…but I think I’m on the right track here.

This is an example of Geek-Deep Worldbuilding, which takes up only about the last 25% of Create A World Clinic.

While the first three quarters of this particular book are designed help anyone who writes ANY sort of fiction, the last part will be of deepest interest to SF and fantasy writers…though I used this particular example to demonstrate how the process can give you material applicable to stories set in the here and now as well.

FINAL-CAWC-cover-art-FLAT-210x300Create A World Clinic is available now.

Questions and comments are welcome below.

image_pdfDownload as PDFimage_printPrint Page







63 responses to “The Ten Normal Human Genders and the Seven Variants: An Exercise in Geek-Deep Worldbuilding”

  1. Rez Avatar

    When these supposedly one-and-done species have been observed more closely, they have all (so far) proved to be serial monogamists. One-at-a-time, lose a mate, mope for a while, find a new mate, rinse and repeat as needed.

    Also, whether incest is biologically “bad” is directly proportional to the number of lethal recessives in a species. There had always been a human-imposed notion that wild animals have incest-preventive behaviors, but when their DNA was examined, this notion was found to be exactly wrong; the coefficient of inbreeding averaged around 0.25, which is about ten times the average in domestic species (even highly-inbred domestic species don’t approach that level). The reason they don’t suffer ill effects is because natural selection is allowed to do its job, and any defectives get eaten and summarily jerked out of the gene pool. In a genetically-stable species, negative mutations are not common, and will be rare in an inbred group unless introduced by “outside blood”.

    Back a few decades a very large (15,000 individuals) canine research colony examined this as well. Turns out once the immediately-exposed defectives had been knocked on the head (thus did not reproduce), the inbred colony became on average healthier and longer lived than the outcrossed colony. (Which, speaking as a livestock producer myself, is exactly my own observation and experience.)

    The big differences are that as a relatively young species, human genes are unstable and still produce a lot of negative mutations, and further, we don’t knock defective humans on the head; indeed, modern medical science encourages preservation and reproduction of genes that would kill us in the wild. This may be beneficial in the short-term under “civilized” conditions (we preserve individuals like Stephen Hawking), but may not be so good for the ultimate long term.

  2. Kathleen Roberts Avatar
    Kathleen Roberts

    The world I am building, which I hope the world clinic can help me solidify is dominated by females who make Hitler look nice.

    Men are sex toys only for procreation, they deny in my magic system men have more than one element, Earth elements are prized for virility and fertility not the same thing despite some things I’ve read in fiction.
    I’m not sure if the element ties into the sexuality but I do know there is one man who is not of Faedrem, they just took him to try to get strong lines back, who was both Earth and Fire and his son is true Spirit, no one sees this kid because the Faerie King, who will wake soon, does not wish him enslaved.. Not sure, like I said if the sexuality fits there other than that the men are geno-sexual or not. Ay thoughts from the rest of the world builders? Could it be connected?
    I mean does forced sex with many partners a day seomtimes count as pan-sexual if its not willing?

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      Wow. Just found this. The answer is No.

      Anything done to an individual without the individual’s consent does not reflect on the individual, but on the people using force.

      The use of force without consent against an unwilling individual is a definition of crime.

      1. Kate Avatar

        Thank you. I had someone tell me it was and that sort of abuse is fine if that was the culture. I started a new idea though, so have not used it in awhile. I had better ideas.

  3. Clara Meralke Avatar
    Clara Meralke

    Also, in “words that already exist for these terms”:

    Homopsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of his or her own sexual phenotype.

    Heteropsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of a sexual phenotype not his or her own.

    Ambipsychogenous: Individual identifies himself/herself mentally as a member of both male and female sexual phenotypes.

    Ochipsychogenous: Individual dose not identify mentally as a member of any sexual phenotype.

    1. Holly Avatar

      The existing words are fine, except that they don’t work well in my future universe. 😀

  4. Kathleen Roberts Avatar
    Kathleen Roberts

    I have learned a lot form your courses, and I am eagerly awaiting this one. I have been saving money for a year and six months for it.

    1. Holly Avatar

      You’ve probably saved more than you need, then. 😀

      The course itself is going to be $9.95. The Video Expansion will probably run around $30.

      1. Kathleen Roberts Avatar
        Kathleen Roberts

        Its more that most of my money goes to my family, but I’ve been holding the money for this course for that long which is not always easy.

        1. Holly Avatar

          I hear that.

          I added over 4000 words to the course yesterday. Today I’m only 400 words in, but I am on the last section of the last chapter. I could have the draft finished today.

          It still has to go through editing and formatting, but I’m close enough to smell sunshine.

          1. Kathleen Roberts Avatar
            Kathleen Roberts

            Thank you. I’d say YAY! but that sounds immature. Eh, why not.

  5. Zoe Brain Avatar

    You missed out those humans who are dichogamous. Born looking like one sex, changing to look like the other.

    Only the male form can reproduce (in general.. I know of exactly two exceptions worldwide). Most are sterile.

    See for example

    A number of unusual genetic sequences can cause this, both inheritable (so widespread in genetically similar societies), and cropping up randomly, so rare but everywhere. The best understood syndromes are 5ARD and 17BHSD, but others like 3BHSD exist.

    One problem is that gender/sex identity appears fixed due to hormonal environment in the womb. So the change can either cause or cure Gender Dysphoria – effective transsexuality. However, Gender Identity is non-binary, so to some (about 1 in 3) it’s just an interesting life experience.

    I have 3BHSD BTW. My life turned upside-down (in a good way) in 2005.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Hi, Zoe,

      I’m glad your instance turned workable for you, rather than turning your internal and external genders against each other. I’d read about this syndrome both in nursing school (over thirty years ago) and in some damn non-relocatable book (I have no clue when), and had considered adding this as a variant.

      I didn’t for add it for three reasons. First, I couldn’t remember the name of the syndrome. Second, I couldn’t find references to link to to even prove that it existed. So thank you very much for the link. I would have hunted down references until something finally showed up, thought, except for my third reason.

      The third reason, after a considerable amount of thought, is the one that trumped the other two.

      Dichogamy does not add an additional reproductive/sexual option to the table. Reproductive phenotypes are still only either female (initially) or male (eventually) [or vice-versa]. The dichogamous individual still fits within any of the ten normal human genders, and still appends any of the seven applicable variants.

      The ONLY difference between the dichogamous individual and any other normal human being is that when puberty hits, that individual’s genes scream “RULE CHANGE”—and change that person’s phenotype. This will either come as one hell of a nasty shock, or as a blessed relief.

      But it doesn’t add anything new to the overall game of being human.

      1. Zoe Brain Avatar

        Minor correction – while 5ARD and 17BHSD cause FtoM changes, the 3BHSD form of CAH can go either way (usually before birth rather than later), and 45,X/46,XY MGD goes MtoF. Josef Kirchner is the best known case there.

        I went from infertile, asexual/situationally lesbian mostly unpubertised male to mostly pubertised straight sterile female – at age 47. Perhaps had I not had “anomalous tissue” removed from my abdomen without my knowledge or consent at age 20 (mustn’t upset the patient was the attitude 40 years ago), I might not have been completely sterile after the change, but I think that highly unlikely. Only one case I know of like that, the other involved PMDS – hermaphroditism (and auto fertilisation due to botched surgery). The male reproductive system can be mostly wrong and still have some capability, with the female one everything has to be exactly right.

        The point is, your insight that we are a generalist species is exactly correct. Our genome pool has enough variety that *some* are likely to survive even really bad stuff.

        In world-building with isolated groups, there’s scope for considerable variation. We already have the guevedoces in the Dominican Republic, the kwolu-aatmwol in New Guinea (both 5ARD), the transferers in Jubayah, Gaza, (17BHSD) and smaller pockets in Yemen, Melanesia and elsewhere.


        As for me – psychologically as far as I can tell I’m indistinguishable from any other woman with CAH.

        I have to say though that changing sex naturally is not catered for very well by either social or legal systems in the west. Or anywhere else.

        I couldn’t find references to link to to even prove that it existed. – Exactly.

      2. Zoe Brain Avatar

        The ONLY difference between the dichogamous individual and any other normal human being is that when puberty hits, that individual’s genes scream “RULE CHANGE”—and change that person’s phenotype. This will either come as one hell of a nasty shock, or as a blessed relief.

        May I quote you? That’s the best description I know of (though for 1 in 3 it’s more “how interesting” – some are bigendered)

        For an example of “nasty shock” see this case:

        For a discussion on bigender (that made “best of the web” monthly lists in neuroscience and medicine) see

        1. Holly Avatar

          Of course you can quote me. 😀

  6. Kathleen Roberts Avatar
    Kathleen Roberts

    The variants helped me with an idea for a novel I’m working on called Faerie King, at the beginning the males, who are needed to continue magic lines, basically used as stud horses only engage in intercourse for procreation, that’s Genosexual I think, the women are for all of it, pleasure and all, at least until the Faerie King wakes, anyhow/

    1. Holly Avatar

      Cool. 😀 I’m glad it proved useful for someone besides me.

  7. Texanne Avatar

    As an example of geeky world building, this rocks. It makes me wonder how to use it. In my own work, which is romance and mystery, some of those types just won’t fly. Genders 1, 3, and 4 would work just fine in my genres. After that, we are getting into the realm of characters who are only useful as minor characters. How do you write a character who pretty much desires everybody? Kind of the inverse of Anita Blake. That character would tire me out and bore me after a short while. And if you desire everybody, then what is it you are really, truly looking for? And when do you have time to do anything else?

    The variations look quite interesting as I can see how they would impel the actions of characters. Lots of motives in those variations. Lots of opportunity for the shading of characterization. I like that, and it’s something I hadn’t thought about in such depth and richness.

    I’m glad to hear that the SFF-only part of the course is 25%, because that means there’s 75% for the likes of me. Your other courses are extremely useful and enlightening. I expect this one will be, too.

    1. Holly Avatar

      😀 The geeky part will still work for you.
      The questions you ask will give you the answers you actually NEED.

      The section on Geek-Deep worldbuilding simply teaches you how to ask the right questions…and how to know when you have your answers and it’s time to stop building.

  8. Autumn Kalquist Avatar

    Wow, Holly!
    And I thought my 30k doc about class divisions and tech was in depth… ha ha
    I can not wait to read Create a World Clinic. 😉

  9. Debra Avatar

    It strikes me that partner combinations could include
    0:none other, 1:pair with one other, 2:set with two others, 3:poly with multiples, and All:pan with any. That is, I can envision alien combos that would require a specific set, such as one male + one female + one hermaphrodite or ambiguous. Not needed for human world building but useful, and I think used before in sci-fi, with aliens.

    1. Holly Avatar

      Those seem pretty workable to me.

      Something to consider…how many sexual phenotypes does your alien species have? If you’re building aliens, you can posit the need for one, two, three, or more essentials. Because sperm and egg are not the only way to make critters, even on this planet.

      You could, for example, require an egg-carrier who adds one fourth of whatever passes for the genotype, a transmitter who acquires and stores various genomes through serial sexual encounters, and three genotypical randoms of types A, B, and C, who are born with partial genotypes and varying phenotypes and who must engage in group encounters with the transmitter simultaneously in A,B,C combinations.

      Make these folks sapient tool users, and you have both a very fine new game to play, and a whole lot of culture, language, and worldbuilding to put together for when they run into humans. 😀

      Yes. I really do think about sex a lot.

  10. wyldkat Avatar

    And here I was content with the simple male/female/hermaphrodite/neuter format and pairings based on that.

    This is just .. brain melting. I will need to re-read it when I’m not on my lunch break.

  11. Katharina Gerlach Avatar

    Hah! I knew most of that already since it’s so similar to biological reasoning. And I did something related in my next series. I used Photosynthesis and merged it with magic. Interesting results… and definitely geeky world-building. 😉

    1. Holly Avatar

      Photosynthetic magic. NICE. 😀

  12. Shawna Avatar


    Not much to say after that, brain way too busy spinning.

  13. Jen Avatar

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to reach the geek level of worldbuilding. It`s my favorite part of writing. This is really interesting. It not only makes me think about sex in a different way, it also has given me the idea to break down other things in this manner too. I think you just created a worldbuilding monster. 😉

  14. layren Avatar

    I think you just blew the lightbulb out in my brain, Holly, LOL. Wow what a post. I never really thought about sex quite in those terms before.

    Hard to say if it was the post or the wind chill from outside, though. 😉

  15. Kristen Avatar

    This was an interesting thought-exercise. I see that you simplified human sexuality a little bit by taking as an assumption that (at least some) humans are biologically monogamous (want to stay with one partner exclusively). I’m more convinced by the studies that show otherwise, but that makes things messy to factor in. Of course, if anything’s messy, it’s human sexuality and the social constructs that we build around it.

    I do think that like you, I must be high up on the slider for “thinking about human sexuality” (and gender, etc.). I do a lot of research into this area and talk about it a lot. Your post gave me a few new ideas to think about.

    I don’t know if I could ever work out a completely categorized and logical system like this for human sexuality in my world building–again, I think it’s very messy, and we are constantly learning new things about it. (The concept of sexual orientation wasn’t even thought of until relatively recently, and was previously rolled up into the idea of gender–which is where a lot of our current inaccurate stereotypes come from.) But laying things out does give you a starting point to think about the possible permutations and variations. In the real world, I think as long as you accept that it’s a working model (open to adjustment) and there might still be people who can’t be perfectly categorized, then it’s okay.

    And of course, in a fictional world, you can make it any way you like so that things fit better. But I think it’s still an interesting story possibility to write about the people who “fall through the cracks” and don’t fit. Why don’t they fit? What’s the options for them? I think my brain always looks for exceptions.

    1. Holly Avatar

      “I see that you simplified human sexuality a little bit by taking as an assumption that (at least some) humans are biologically monogamous (want to stay with one partner exclusively).”

      How in the WORLD did you come to that conclusion? Because I think chromosomal hard-wiring accounts for the majority of sexual desire and gender preference as well as which genitals people end up with, I diagram out monogamy as the sexual preference and action choice of a small percentage of the human population.

      Mathematically, base on the model I created for myself, the same percentage would be asexual. Or Pan C.

      But mine is, I’ll note again, a STORYTELLING model. That’s what worldbuilding is—a way to define the parameters of the world in which your characters live, and to give yourself a way of writing stories with internal consistency.

      Because I built the model based on what I know to be true, filled in with logical extrapolations which I carefully defined above, I think my model has some real-world use.

      But it is still just a worldbuilding model.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      Well, yeah, some. I mean, however small the percentage, if there are human beings born hard-line asexual, why wouldn’t there be a few born hardwired to hard-line monogamy.

      I think if you really delved into it, you could probably label hundreds of genders based on every combination of nuance of hard-wired preference and physicality. But I doubt any human society would see the need to make such fine grained distinctions, outside of a particular class of people (doctors, physchologists) who would find that sort of thing interesting and worth their time.

    3. Zoe Avatar

      *raises hand* I’m pretty sure I’m hard-wired for monogamy. I may be an exception, but some of us do exist.

      But then, I’m also asexual*, so I’m an exception twice over.

      * And yes, you can be asexual and still have/want a partner – something Holly’s gender system doesn’t allow for, but understandably so, because allowing for all the different possible combinations of sexual and romantic orientation would make it mind-bogglingly complicated. (It may also be beyond the scope of the system. Do romantic orientations have any effect on the survival of the species?)

  16. meham Avatar

    Great to have someone else taking up the “slider” as driven by species survival. I added an underlying survival goal of population control as well. Now, you’ve got me thinking about cross-species adoptions as part of WTSGD. Cool beans.

    1. Holly Avatar

      In my first draft, I developed fields for non-terrestrial sapients, but decided that A) those don’t exist in the Cadence Drake universe (at least not yet), and B) they don’t fit with real-world now.

      I wanted to keep this particular bit of worldbuilding grounded in, and usable for, the here and now.

  17. Jass Avatar

    Wow Holly. Is it wrong to say my brain is a little bent after that. The level of detail you reach is amazing. I would love my brain to work that way, but it just doesn’t

  18. Johnny Avatar

    … You use the word gender when you mean sexual orientation. In fact, nowhere do you factor gender into your model. You have male female and hermaphrodite sexes (and UGH that word, if you are going to discuss human sexuality at any point, using the word hermaphrodite is just gross) and you discuss mating and attraction. Gender isn’t accounted for anywhere. Perhaps if you’re going to discuss things which are much more than an intellectual exercise for many people, you should stick to aliens. World build all you like, but you’re not even using the right terms to explain the complexity of human sex, gender, and sexuality.

    1. Holly Avatar

      … You use the word gender when you mean sexual orientation. In fact, nowhere do you factor gender into your model.

      No. I use the word gender to mean the combination of a human being’s sex organs, internal drives, and any genetic coding that varies from the phenotypic expression of “penis,” “vagina,” or “both”. I think that internal drives and attractions are hard-coded in individual genes, and that the hard-wiring may not run parallel with the sex organs the individual was born with.

      I further think that to understand human beings, each individual must be looked at beyond whatever sex organs he or she was born with, and considered as a whole person.

      You are using the word gender to mean just the individual’s sex organs, or sexual phenotype—the sexual characteristics of the individual that are externally expressed.

      You’ll have a better comment to offer if you actually read what I wrote.

      1. Louise McMillan Avatar
        Louise McMillan

        I think what is confusing is that you write about gender being comprised of many aspects (hormones, physical genitalia, sexual preferences etc.) which I agree with, but you have then only used 1 of those — sexual preferences — in your definition of the 10 genders.

        By my reckoning, the set of possible “genders” should be a spectrum in multiple dimensions, where the two dimension with most differentiation are physical genitalia (i.e. thus including intersex or hermaphrodite humans) and sexual preference.

        That makes for many more “genders” than the 10 you provide, since you have to combine each of those 10 with each possible set of physical genitalia, plus each possible set of hormonal responses, etc.

        If your definitions of the 10 genders had actually incorporated the other components of gender as part of their definitions then it wouldn’t seem like you were just working based on sexual preference.

        1. Holly Avatar

          First, when you worldbuild, you need both the conceptual structure and how it expresses itself in character actions.
          Sexual preference and consequential actions ARE the “character actions” part of worldbuilding.
          I used the concept of the slider to allow for infinite midpoints, but what I needed, and what I built, was a storytelling construct that allowed me to think about human sexuality differently than the majority of people currently think about it, and which allowed me to define a much broader scale of sexual variation as normal from a biological perspective.
          This was what I wanted—and gave myself—for the stories I’m writing.
          My objective was not to develop a complete working model of human sexuality. It was to create the infrastructure that would allow me to tell better stories about people and their relationships with each other, which is the point of worldbuilding.
          And while I find your approach intriguing from your comments, to actually understand what you’re suggesting, and to see how it could work from a worldbuilding/storytelling perspective, I’m going to need examples.
          Can you provide them?

          1. Louise McMillan Avatar
            Louise McMillan

            What I was suggesting is that you don’t just need a slider in one dimension, you need sliders in multiple dimensions.
            For example, an asexual person with entirely male genitalia and an asexual person with entirely female genitalia would both have their sexual preference slider set firmly to No, but they would be at separate points on the physical features slider. If it helps, think of the preferences slider as being the x-axis and the physical slider as being the y-axis of a graph.

            Even just considering chromosomes and hormonal response, humans already have at least 16 different genders — e.g. XY with typical hormonal response, XY with immunity to testosterone, XX with immunity to oestrogen etc. and also XXY and XXX. If you add in physical features then you have even more than 16, though some of the points are missing, because an XY with immunity to testosterone is never going to have entirely male genitalia.

            But even just adding physical features to sexual preferences, you can have many points on the grid e.g. a person with external female genitalia, undescended and thus hidden testes, and an attraction solely to those of the opposite sex to their external one.

            Or did you mean that on your slider, the “No” end isn’t just a single point, but a cluster of points, all with asexuality but with different chromosomal, hormonal and physical features? And that each of the remaining 9 options is similarly a section of the slider? If so, then that wasn’t entirely clear from your description.
            It would also have a slight side effect, which is that you’d have to order the points within the “No” zone in some way (e.g. from physical male to physical female, with all chromosomal options within each physical subsection) and that would implicitly put some combinations nearer to the next section on the slider than others. That is, some combinations would end up far away from the Uni A zone of the slider, while others would end up right next to the start of the Uni A zone.
            Using sliders in multiple dimensions removes any need for ordering individuals within a single sexual preference.

            But as you say, if you’re going for worldbuilding constructs rather than a full description then all this probably isn’t necessary.

            1. Zoe Brain Avatar

              Well said. It’s multidimensional and continuous – for humans anyway.

            2. Holly Avatar

              You’re doing science.

              Science is spectacular, but if you try to do science for your worldbulding, you will never write your stories.

              The FIRST rule of worldbuilding is “Build only what you need.”
              The SECOND rule of worldbuilding is “Build it as you need it, and not before.”

              When you’re worldbulding for characters, you need to know exactly three things:

              1) How does what you’re building affect what the character thinks?

              2) How does what you’re building affect what the character says?

              3) How does what you’re building affect what the character does?

              Chromosomal variants DO affect what characters think, say, and do—but they do not do so in any ways that I have not covered above. They do not add anything NEW to the equation, so they are unnecessary from a worldbuilding perspective.

              As for the issue of anomalous genitalia, I had an aunt (my mother’s sister, and one of my favorite relatives ever) who was intersex. She had kind of manly features, and her sexual interest was in women, but from a phenotype standpoint (breasts, lack of facial hair), she was primarily female. Under my system, she would have fit the Poly B gender: She’d been married once (briefly) to a man, but after her divorce had serial single long-term relationships with women.

              1. Louise McMillan Avatar
                Louise McMillan

                Fine, but what you’re building still hasn’t been explained fully.
                How do you incorporate the physical aspect of gender with your gender, which currently only mentions sexual preference?
                Are there 4 points on the No end of the scale, which correspond to the asexuals who are primarily female, male, intersex and hemaphrodite?
                The physical aspect does affect the story, because in almost every species different sexes are treated differently.
                But I’m still not sure how its incorporated into your genders system.

              2. Stephanie Avatar

                This is in response to Louise’s post Jan 8 2:33 pm, because it’s not letting me reply directly for some reason.

                Here’s my two cents: Holly I think your wording might be a little off. You label each gender as Gender 1, Gender 2 etc. And then you go on to include the word gender in several of the descriptions, i.e. Gender 3, sexual interest in one person of one’s own gender. Based on the wording that seems to mean that Gender 3’s are interested only in sex with other Gender 3’s, because that’s the initial use of the word gender.

                I think when you included gender in the description, what you meant was phenotype. So Gender 3 would be sexual interest in one person of one’s own phenotype. Strike me down if I’m wrong Holly 🙂 and if so, disregard the rest of this as well.

                But assuming I’m right, Louise, I think phenotype is what your looking for, the physical expression of one’s genes. It also factors into the first set of variants Holly listed, where an individual identifies with their phenotype, against it, with two or more phenotypes or with none.

              3. Holly Avatar

                How do you incorporate the physical aspect of gender with your gender, which currently only mentions sexual preference?

                You’re working on the misconception that writers world build to explain, or that worldbuilding must contain complete explanations for the writer to work from.

                Seriously, writers starting from that point MASSIVELY overbuild their worlds (as I used to do), screw up their productivity, and hurt their income.

                The point of worldbuilding is to give yourself a structure that allows you to ask good questions in three areas: Character, Plot, and Conflict.

                Story questions in the CONFLICT area would be:

                1) How does having a female phenotype change the way any of the genders are treated?

                2) How does having a male phenotype change the way any of the genders are treated?

                But it isn’t necessary to answer these questions IN THE WORLDBUILDING.

                You ask and answer them IN THE STORY.

              4. Zoe Brain Avatar

                Story questions in the CONFLICT area would be:

                1) How does having a female phenotype change the way any of the genders are treated?

                2) How does having a male phenotype change the way any of the genders are treated?

                But it isn’t necessary to answer these questions IN THE WORLDBUILDING.

                You ask and answer them IN THE STORY.

                *Chuckle* I don’t know about fiction but there’s plenty of scope for character development and conflict in this world when gender and phenotype don’t match – or even formerly didn’t match.

                Just remember – about 40% of those attempt suicide here. While apparently most of that can be accounted for by societal persecution, the fact is that it’s a very, very horrid situation to be in, the mismatch of hormones causes physiological misery. Anti-depressants won’t touch it, it’s a different etiology from the usual, nothing to do with serotonin.

                You get some very interesting results. Darwinian selection of the most brutal kind. But even the heroes and heroines who have overcome impossible odds have scars, some wounds never heal. Others become bitter and twisted.

      2. Johnny Avatar

        Yeah, no. I’m meaning gender as the internal sense of self which relates to what one considers their gender to be. You don’t even need genitalia for that. To use a cute phrase, sexuality is who you go to bed with, gender is who you go to bed as.

        1. Holly Lisle Avatar
          Holly Lisle

          Which is fine…but what does it have to do with worldbuilding, storytelling, and writing?

          How do you apply that to fiction?

          1. Johnny Avatar

            Well either you make rules for aliens or another fully fictional society, or you accept that human gender and sexuality are far beyond rules. It’s a pity we don’t see more books with gender variant characters in them.

            1. Holly Avatar

              This does not in any way answer the question I asked you.

            2. Stephanie Avatar

              Johnny, it seems to me what your saying is that because sexuality is a deeply felt personal matter to you, you are offended by Holly discussing it in a way that does not fit with your understanding of it. As such, you feel that she should not discuss it at all, unless she can do so in a way that does not offend you.

              I understand being offended, and the best solution to that is to avoid that which offends you. It would be as if Holly posted something like The 5 different religions Christianity will morph into in the future, as part of her Cadence Drake series (just an example Holly) and a deeply devote Christian found the descriptions offensive. That person might insist that Holly only discuss entirely fictional religions.

        2. wyldkat Avatar

          “sexuality is who you go to bed with, gender is who you go to bed as.”

          If someone was born with female sexual organs, all the wishing and surgery in the world isn’t going to grant them the ability to produce sperm and impregnate another female of the species.

          Gender according to Webster’s : the state of being male or female.

          Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 says sex is “a distinctive character of most animals and plants, based on the type of gametes produced by the gonads.”

          What you want to call it for your story is your business, but for the purposes of this exercise, Holly is correct. Modern, Politically Correct, language is irrelevant.

          Seriously, I can think I’m a cat as much as I want, but nothing is ever going to give me the abilities of a cat.

          1. Johnny Avatar



            BLOG RULES

            Holly Lisle

            1. Zoe Brain Avatar

              Correct. Then there are cases like these:

              “A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.”

              J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9

              The transphobic simplistic view doesn’t work. It’s at best a good approximation for most cases, like saying all humans have black hair and are right handed.

        3. Michelle Avatar

          Johnny, I think you might have misunderstood what Holly intended with this post. This is solely about world-building; creating an aspect of a fictional world. She’s not attempting to create some end all, be all treatise on sexuality in the modern day. Just a way of defining characters and their relationships with other characters. At least that’s what I got out of it.

          1. Holly Avatar

            You got exactly what I’m doing. More on that in the response to a different post.

  19. Kit Daven Avatar
    Kit Daven

    I will always be grateful for finding your website Holly. While I have thought similarly regarding orientation and gender, I just didn’t think about it in THAT MUCH DETAIL. My current novel touches on the idea of “all sexual orientation” vs. “none at all” but I do so only as a way to differentiate between two characters’s perception of the same observed phenomenon. After reading this, I realize there are different depths at which to develop stories, and I don’t think I’m a Geek after all. 🙂

    1. Holly Avatar

      I think I may be on the high end of whatever genetic slider codes for “thinking about sex.” 😀

  20. Ruth Avatar

    Holly, much as I want the clinic to be finished and go ‘live’ . . .

    . . . the imp in me is waiting for you to hit the 100k word count 🙂

    1. Holly Avatar

      That is both actively evil, and painfully within the realm of possibility.

      1. Ruth Avatar

        *looks smug* 🙂

  21. Gabriel Avatar

    That was an excellent demonstration. Really looking forward to the release of your World-Building course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x