Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Image: Dainis Graveris

There’s a lot of sex in the Passionate Pantheon novels, and we mean a lot. The residents of the City see pleasure as good and sex as entertainment, worship, and connection, so there is quite a lot of shagging going on:

They walked for a time, following the meandering path through a series of small parks. At one point, they passed three people sitting on top of a large marble cube in the corner of a tiny triangular cluster of trees. A woman sat nude on one of her lover’s laps, impaled on his erection. The other figure kissed the back of her neck while he caressed her breast with one hand.

She waved languidly to them as they walked passed. “Hi! Would you like to join us?”

Terlyn looked at Donvin. He shrugged.

“No thanks,” Terlyn said. “Maybe next time.”

“Okay…oh!” the woman said. She moaned, her face buried in her lover’s neck. Ice crystals glittered in her hair.

—from Book 1, The Brazen Altar

With sex such a common part of society, integrated into almost every aspect of social life, one might be forgiven for thinking that everyone is shagging everyone else all the time.

But that isn’t necessarily true.

With these books, we wanted to explore the sexual and social mores of a culture that’s vastly different from our own. How would radical longevity and lack of scarcity change social mores? What would a society deliberately built on the bonding effects of sexual interactions look like? How might an absolute rock-solid safety that comes from knowing from earliest childhood that benevolent, superintelligent entities are always looking out for you change what you’re willing to do? We could write for days about that (and we will!), but one of the many things we wanted to explore is the difference between religious sex and personal sex, and what that means to people who are monogamously, monoromantically or monosexually inclined.

Characters in the City see a distinction between sex for worship, which is a big part of most of the religions, and sex in their private lives. This is possible in part because advanced biomedical technology means people have a great deal of control over their state of arousal; for example, a drug called the Blessing of Fire, consumed as part of many religious ceremonies (and sometimes just for fun!), creates a powerful, almost overwhelming sexual arousal. 

But even with the ability to control when you feel aroused and how aroused you feel at will, not everyone necessarily wants to shag all the time. Or have sex with just anyone. And not everyone, even in erotic fiction, is necessarily into casual sex at the drop of a hat, either. Plus, even in a far-future post-scarcity society where sex is freely available, some folks just might not want to have sex, or might not want to have sex with more than one person, right? I mean, different people have different tastes, after all. Even in a fictional world of kinky sex. Or maybe especially in a fictional world of kinky sex?

We wanted to explore a world where the sexual norms were different from those in our world, where sex and sexuality served many roles in society…but where those norms weren’t coercive. The gods are worshipped through sex…but you don’t have to worship that way if you don’t want to. Sex is easily available…but you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. (Fun fact: two characters in the second novel, Divine Burdens, are canonically asexual…and one of them has risen to the very top of one of the major religions. See if you can figure out who they are, once the book is out—answers on a postcard!) Sex serves many roles…but it’s not the only way to connect or worship, and you don’t have to engage in it if you don’t want to.

The characters in the Passionate Pantheon novels often draw distinctions between religious sex and personal sex. A character in the third novel, for example, serves a god called the Blesser, and as part of her service, she has a wide variety of lovers…but in her private life, she prefers a much narrower range of lovers. For her, the people she has sex with during an act of worship aren’t sexual partners; they’re a conduit for her expression of service to her chosen god. Just as she is for them.

This distinction is common, but it isn’t mandatory. People can choose religious roles where they might have sex with partners they wouldn’t otherwise have sex with (and the various Blessings that give them control over their own libido can help), but they don’t have to.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: even in a world steeped in sex, not everyone is having sex all the time, and there’s plenty of room for people who only want sex with one other person (we have a character like this in the fourth novel!), or only solo, or who don’t want to have sex at all.

In the quote unquote ‘real world,’ we’re accustomed to living in a society with coercive ideas about sex. “Don’t have sex outside of marriage.” “Have sex for procreation; making babies is your duty.” “Don’t shag people of the same sex.” “Group sex is bad.” Society has strong rules about when sex is forbidden and when sex is compulsory. Plus these rules keep changing over time, and vary between cultures. It’s practically impossible to perfectly keep to all the rules, all the time. That’s what they’re there for, of course. Shame is a mighty powerful tool of control.

When we envisioned the Passionate Pantheon, we didn’t want to create yet another fictional society that was just as coercive about sex but in the opposite way (“you have to have sex all the time,” “you must worship the gods through sex”) Instead, we wanted to create a society that integrates sex into nearly every aspect of public and religious life but doesn’t tell people they have to do it to be a part of a community.

That’s a lot more interesting, we think. What if sex is open, freely available, and a normal part of civic structure, but it isn’t compulsory at all? What if it leaves people absolutely free to have, or not have, sex in whatever combinations they might choose, without expectation?

Most people like sex, so we think most people in such a society would probably have rather a lot of it—vigorously and in a wide range of ways, and probably with rather a lot of people. But not everyone would, and that’s okay.

Because a society that makes it safe for adults to have sex in whatever ways they want, also needs to make it safe for people not to have sex if they don’t.

But how to encourage and enable free sexual expression, without enforcing it? What would that even look like?

In the Passionate Pantheon novels, people are encouraged to worship the gods, but it’s not required. Children (meaning those who haven’t yet taken their adult name, a process that usually happens somewhere between the ages of 30 and 50 years old) don’t participate in worship and aren’t inculcated into any particular religion. Young adults, as they move into adulthood, are encouraged to experiment. They’re expected to explore different religions from the ones their parents belong to, at least as their first; it’s quite normal for people to move from one religion to another throughout their lives. While most religions have rituals of sex as worship, the rituals look very different, and are ideal for different personality types: introverts might, for example, be drawn to the quiet worship of the god called the Quickener, while extroverts might find the public worship of the Fiery One in the courtyard at the center of town more fitting. 

And, of course, someone might choose to engage in a form of sexual worship that isn’t their personal preference as a dedication and offering to the deity they support. Substances  such as the Blessing of Fire allow complete voluntary control over libido, so people can participate even if they aren’t aroused (or at least, not aroused yet!).

But even in these erotic novels where sex is the main thrust (pun absolutely intended) of the story, there’s room for people who don’t want their sex to be a matter of public participation…or just plain aren’t interested in sex at all. 

The Blessing of Fire and similar libido enhancers can be part of religious worship, for those who wish to use them. (For volunteers who choose to be Sacrifice to their chosen god, use of these Blessings is part of the process; being Sacrifice is optional and voluntary, and sometimes even highly sought after.)

If you have no interest in sex and you’re fine that way, the society around you is not going to pressure you into it, for religious or personal reasons. Your choices are your own and not to be externally forced. A core part of the culture of the Passionate Pantheon novels is you can always say no if you like. Yes means nothing if no isn’t an option, after all. This is a society where your yes means something.

We wanted to show a range of different approaches to sex amongst the characters of the Passionate Pantheon. While we never use words like “asexual” or “monogamous” (and they wouldn’t actually have the same meaning to people from the culture of the books anyway), you’ll meet characters in the Passionate Pantheon books who are part of a religion but don’t have sex. You’ll meet characters who have sex for religious purposes with many partners, but in their private lives have only one close, intimate relationship. You’ll meet characters who span a wide range of chosen behaviors—some who see sex as recreation and don’t care about emotional intimacy, some who choose ony one emotionally intimate relationship, some who choose many.

We won’t explicitly tell you, “Hey, so-and-so is polysexual but monoamorous.” We trust our readers not to need everything spelled out for them.

So, we show characters going about their lives, and leave you to figure it out. Let’s call it a challenge to our readers—one we hope you enjoy as much as we enjoyed exploring those characters in a genre that’s ‘supposed’ to be all about the sex. But who wants to be predictable, right?

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