The Middlelander culture was highly successful in spreading its presence and values across The Continent in part due to their high-volume mating strategy and their tendency to produce multiples (twins, triplets, etc), which allows for explosive surges in population wherever they settle.
While Middlelander women are at peak fertility four times per year (in accordance with the cycle of the yaw harvest and its level of supply), most Middlelanders have sex frequently–typically with friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. This offers ample opportunity for the conception of children, even without the deliberate intention to conceive.
Though female Middlelanders form lifetime pair bonds through marriage, these marriages don’t necessarily involve any mating activity, and are normally free of any romantic passion as well. Instead, Middlelander society encourages married individuals to seek partners outside of the house.
While some Middlelanders seek out random strangers for such activities (especially if their job compels them to travel), the average Middlelander will keep a handful of regular partners with whom they prefer to mate. Generally, sex partners are not viewed as inherently special compared to other types of friends.
Most Middlelanders do not maintain “lovers” and will avoid openly admitting that any of their relationships are romantic–though of course, romances can and do happen in secret.
Social Norms Surrounding Sex in the Middleland
In the Middleland, sex is used to form and maintain friendships, to close business deals, to return a favor, or simply as a recreational activity. Most mating takes place during the Waking Hour (or “midnight” to the Middlelanders, which is roughly two to three hours before sunrise), a time when people awaken from their first stretch of sleep and may wander the streets or go to bathhouses to socialize.
While sex often occurs in public locations, it is the social norm to seek semi-private corners within that location, so places with dark, maze-like layouts are preferred. This is more for the purpose of “focus”–as one does during a private conversation–than out of any sense of shame. Sometimes people also choose such locations in order to be discreet about a pairing that others may not approve of, as being among strangers provides a sense of anonymity.
Middlelanders will rarely engage in actual group sex, though there is no social taboo against it. Public sex during the day is deeply frowned upon, but not illegal. (However, engaging in this activity too close to a temple can result in soldiers fining the perpetrator for “endeavoring to distract the clergy from meditation.”)
Middlelanders may also welcome neighbors into their houses during the Waking Hour, both for mating purposes and simply to talk or drink tea. It is typical for a Middlelander who is open to visitation to leave their front door unlocked or slightly ajar during this hour. Neighbors and strangers who are wandering outside will use this as a signal that they may let themselves in, so those who wish to be left alone during the Waking Hour will bar the entrance to their house to avoid random people appearing in their kitchens or bedrooms.
If a Middlelander wanders into an open house during the Waking Hour and the owner appears to be asleep, it’s not unusual for them to help themselves to food or refreshments before leaving. Unaware of this, some foreigners who immigrate to the Middleland are in for a shock when they don’t take care to lock their doors at night, and may mistake a friendly (or amorous…or hungry) visitor for an intruder.
The Effect of Sex Ratio on Mating Customs
Though the vast majority of Middlelanders are pansexual, the sex ratio of the population can affect mate choice in practice.
Since females greatly outnumber males, male bodies are highly valued for mating purposes, and favors may be exchanged between families for access to attractive young men. There also exists a black market where men will offer such midnight services in exchange for money, though this is illegal. Most women strongly prefer men who are submissive, with soft, “feminine” features, so wealthy individuals will pay a premium for these traits especially.
A grown man will rely on his mothers’ gate-keeping his partners well into his 30’s, especially if they enter the family home to visit him. This is in part to guard against his associating with women of too low of a status, and in part to avoid situations where a woman may grow attached and attempt to take him away.
It is considered disrespectful for a woman to openly bypass the approval of a man’s mother, as this can lower his perceived value and make it harder to secure resources in exchange for his company. Since a man’s economic prospects are directly tied to winning the favor of high-status women and extracting gifts from them, he is encouraged to court the image that he is choosy and hard to attain (in other words, that he is socially “expensive”).
However, sneaking around is common in practice. Most Middlelander men–like most women–have a strong sex urge and may be attracted to partners of any social status. Middlelander women who have sons are well aware of this and turn a blind eye to discreet shenanigans with low-status women as long as their sons guard the family reputation well enough. The issue lies more in the perception by others that a man is easy to get “for free” than in the reality of it.
On the other hand, mothers will tend to altogether ignore any male partners that their sons have. As long as the relationship does not appear to be an obsessive romance or threaten the stability of the family, it is considered unimportant and no different from a standard friendship.
Middlelanders in general view male-male relationships as non-threatening and most women do not take them too seriously. Romances between men are the subject of jokes more than anything. (This is in contrast to an open romance between a man and a woman–and to a lesser extent, between two women–which is taken with much more gravity and considered to be improper.)
Similarly, sex between women is mostly free from restriction and serves many diverse social functions. Sex between female partners of differing social status or ethnicity is also acceptable, though free people will usually avoid sleeping with slaves due to religious norms.
Though religious taboos abound in the Middleland, few taboos exist regarding sex. Even priestesses may engage in sex (though only with other priestesses). To Middlelanders, sexual activity is not viewed as particularly sacred or much different from other activities.
However, there exist two main “taboos” in the Middleland regarding this subject:
- Middlelanders will not sleep with anyone who has ever shared their family household, either currently or while they grew up. (Mothers, brothers, sisters, and so on–even though they are not always blood-related, as is often the case in Middlelander families.)
- In general, robust women are discouraged from sleeping with men whom they personally know, especially if the man is the relative of a close friend, but it is still permissible if done discreetly. It also matters less if the man is of very low status or if the woman is of unusually high status. However, it is absolutely taboo for a robust woman and a man to be exclusive partners. If a robust woman of any status takes a man as an exclusive lover–such as by mate-guarding him from other women, exhibiting jealousy, or otherwise discouraging him from having other partners–this is viewed as highly inappropriate and a cause for intervention from the man’s parents.
To a milder extent, Middlelander women are expected to avoid sleeping with their own wives. It is not considered taboo so much as embarrassingly “low class,” so married couples who do have sex will not openly talk about it. In spite of this, it is not illegal, merely frowned upon.
The practice of sleeping with one’s wife was once common in the Northern Middleland during ancient times, and Southern Middlelanders especially distance themselves from this notion in order not to appear as mountain-dwelling peasants. More generally, the relationship between a woman and her wife is considered highly private; keeping things mysterious and not discussing its inner workings–even with close friends–is typical.
As with any taboos, none of these social restrictions would exist unless some people broke them in practice. In particular, men will often seek out robust women in secret (especially to engage with…certain anatomical features), and some women will choose attractive wives for the “bonus” of discreetly having sex with someone who conveniently lives in the same house.
Sexual Orientation and Preference
Most sex in the Middleland occurs between women (since most Middlelanders are women), but the vast majority of women are also attracted to men. Male Middlelanders are similarly pansexual, with male-male activity occurring frequently in gender-segregated spaces, outside of the direct sight of women. (Men who are too affectionate with other men in public may be viewed as attempting to arouse nearby women, which is considered rude or improper.)
It is not typical to show a strong gender preference, nor do Middlelanders usually assign special meaning to penetrative sex over non-penetrative sex. Roles such as “active” and “receptive” as an identity are largely unheard of. Sexual orientation is also not a concept that exists in their culture and sexual tastes have little to no connection to a person’s identity, either.
This contrasts sharply with the Upperlander social norm of viewing penetration as an act of domination and the Outerlander social norm of associating receptiveness with emotional vulnerability. Such cultural differences led to vastly different taboos, which can brew drama in bordering territories, especially since Middlelanders have only a thin concept of monogamy.
When it comes to seeking partners, Middlelanders are rather direct and shameless. “Courting” a new partner may take as little as a few minutes, and the process mostly involves gauging the prospect’s interest. Play-fighting, provoking a woman’s aggression, or starting a silly argument are also common ways to break the ice, especially between robust women.
In the Middleland, it is typical to pretend that romantic love is something that only happens to other people besides oneself. Such passions are considered foolish and childish–even a type of sickness–and are a threat to the social order. As a result, a Middlelander will never admit that they have fallen in love with anyone, especially if that person is their spouse. To confess one’s love to another is considered both embarrassing and an invitation to be emotionally manipulated by that person.
Furthermore, focusing ones attention on a lover (especially a male lover) is viewed as a direct affront to ones familial duties. An old saying goes: “Every morsel of affection I give away to a stranger is a morsel of food I withhold from my daughters,” and, “As the heart grows fat with passion, the children grow lean with neglect.”
On the other hand, gossiping about the supposed romantic passions of others is commonplace and most Middlelanders take great pleasure in hearing about such scandals.
Romantic literature also sells very well in the Middleland. It outperforms most other genres, to the point that the government will sometimes produce propaganda in this format to ensure that it is widely circulated. Many Middlelanders keep romance novels hidden under their beds to read during the Waking Hour.