(pun in title intended)

There is a question posted about intimate relationship between members of different species: What would be the most comfortable position for mermaids and humans to engage in sexual relationships?

It was closed and also had comments about appropriateness:

I'm not sure if Worldbuilding should take the place of a Kamasutra SE

I’m voting to close this question because questions about sex positions, even fantastic ones, seems to be above the nominal PG13 rating of a stack exchange site

I’m voting to close this question because - while clearly posted in good faith - I worry this skirts too close to the AUP: stackoverflow.com/legal/acceptable-use-policy

This is a bit disturbing to me.Looking at the tag we have had well received questions that ask broadly the same thing:

How would interspecies lovers with alien body plans safely engage in physical intimacy? score of +14/-3; no close votes.

How would dragons mate, according to science? score +13/-1; no close votes; was a Hot Network Question

This is here only to show that some questions that are on the same general topic are accepted. This one wasn't. I can guess at the reason - the close question was worded slightly more explicitly than the others. I can see how that can make a difference but also it doesn't make sense that it does.

However, while looking at the tag, I started to see a slightly deeper problem:

Open questions: 68
Closed questions: 31

Nearly a third of the questions are closed. Some of them are closed for reasons that would not have changed if the tag wasn't there. For example open ended questions which are acceptably worded but just cannot be answered correctly. However, there are questions that thread a line and that seems to have contributed to their closure.

We have discussed some questions that lead to questionable content before:

Why do we [torture] ourselves with this tag?
A proposal to establish policy regarding the torture and execution tags
We cannot host gruesome depictions of violence, the [torture] tag has it and needs cleaning up
Should the [tag:execution] tag be removed?

It doesn't seem like has had too objectionable a content so far but I fear sooner or later it might. Maybe it's time to discuss what is acceptable for that tag and how to keep content in check so we can agree on what shouldn't get closed and how to keep questions from being closed that otherwise seem to have an acceptable core concept in them. I'm picturing the intimate relation questions here but I suspect there would be other cases where we have accepted a post in the past but rejected a newer one mostly based on wording rather than what the query is about.

To sum it up: should we think long and hard about what we consent in ?

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    $\begingroup$ The underlying issue with the question in, uh, question, seemed to be that enough people looked at it and decided that it was inappropriate because it was about sex, and so it got closed. It wasn't particularly graphic or unpleasant, but there's apparently an underlying current of "sex = bad" on this site. Combined with the general difficulty of stack exchange of reopening questions, I'd say that it isn't obvious that a policy change could save sex even if people wanted it to. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Well, all goals are reached small step by small step, the first one being opening up a discussion ^^. So it's a nice move if you wish to avoid taboo(iiing!!) the sex thematic. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime I agree that it doesn't look bad. But that's me, not the (now) eight people who voted against that question. . I don't see a huge difference with the other two questions other than the other two are not as direct in their wording. Nobody has even tried to make the question more acceptable, either. It occurs to me that it's hard to petition for reopen or attempt to improve the question without having some consensus what is bad about these questions as a whole and what the goal we strive for is. That starts with talking about it. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ thinking about it, it just seems like a problematic tag, probably because many people have many different opinions on what is acceptable. so person a might think "this is fine" and person b might say "this is so inappropriate" $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I'd much rather normalize love (sex) than hatr (torture). $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ My 2c - nothing in that mermaid-position post was more explicit than the sex ed I got as a 12 year old, so it was clearly PG13. I disagree with anyone who voted it to be closed because it was too sexualised. It seems on topic. I answered it. I upvoted it, and I've voted for it to be reopened. If anyone out there is uncomfortable with the tag sex (eg on a work computer) then you can use the settings to filter it out for you. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ That's the wrong description. sex : "2. either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions." not "1. (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse." ... You can't use gender to mean sex any more, so you shouldn't use sex when you mean sexual intercourse. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura What is this in reference to? Because biological sex is most definitely applicable and a separate concept to gender. The premise that "sex" shouldn't never be used is not fully correct to begin with. The "you shouldn't use sex when you mean sexual intercourse" is also severely flawed. Fist it's a non-sequitur, second it's incorrect. I am not sure why this comment was made. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Neither biological sex nor sexual intercourse are tags, there's only sex "For questions relating to sexual reproduction and the physical acts of mating that sexual beings engage in." - It's just my opinion that sex should be reserved for those "divided on the basis of their reproductive functions" and not the short from for sexual intercourse on a site known for its pedantry. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 13:08

7 Answers 7


Same Answer, Different Tag
My answer for this tag is basically the same as for the other tag: sex is simply part life and part of culture (even more so than torture). Every life form that reproduces sexually is oriented towards engaging in the activity with the end goal of making more of its kind. Rational beings also infuse sex with large amounts of additional cultural norms, customs, rituals, and attitudes.

This being a forum where questions about matters of how a fictional world functions, which naturally include physiological, cultural, religious, moral and many other facets, questions of sex, like questions of violence in justice, are what we deal with.

As with the torture tag, I'd recommend the same two-fold approach to the sex tag (or any untagged query involving sex):

  1. Self restraint: Querents & respondents alike should keep the physiological descriptions clinical and the narratives clean;
  2. Community Policing: Community has the right, and duty, to question questionable questions. We should feel free to edit out unnecessarily graphic or objectionable content. We should also feel free to request in comments that the OP alter the wording to better conform to community norms re point 1. We should also feel free to VTC any sex question that is story based or clearly does not propose an actual worldbuilding problem.

Essentially, we treat questions of sex the same as we do any other question type.

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    $\begingroup$ A point for no story questions : they're less likely to have gross details, too... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 18:05

As the person who asked the question I thought it might be worth putting in my two cents on the whole issue.

In general, I tried to keep the question as clinical as possible and about as erotic as a middle school sex ed. presentation, and avoid explicit language whenever possible. I.e., a strictly "just the facts, ma'am" approach. I actually looked at previous questions like the ones cited by OP as a guide to how explicit I should be, and the one on aliens was what made me think it was okay to post this. At least in the U.S., general sex ed. is taught between fifth and seventh grade, which would be between the ages of 11 and 13, so that would be within the < 13 year old window for Stack Exchange policy. By that age people basically know what genitalia are and that one has to be stuck into the other to make a baby. I agree that going into detail would be inappropriate for SE and it wouldn't be necessary to answer the question.

The broader question is not just about positioning but affects how the relationship should be framed and written about in the first place. Even if no intercourse is actually shown and the author fades to black before anything steamy shows up, how the couple actually go about doing things is going to have a huge effect on physical intimacy (i.e., cuddling and other non-sexual romantic gestures), as well as where they would do it. I.e., does the human carry the mermaid to a bed or do they need a special poo? Whether or not the couple can engage in physical intimacy is also a huge factor in determining whether such a relationship could even work in the first place, given that IRL relationships can often live or die based on whether the couple are able to feel emotional connections via physical intimacy.

Some of the question on this site have also been much, much more explicit as far as sex is concerned. Of the two similar questions mentioned by OP, one currently has a photograph of a 4m long whale penis in the top-most voted answer, and the other has an answer that discusses alien sex toys and the question was originally posted with a picture of a human female and a non-humanoid hexapedal alien (a fan reimagining of a Klingon as a nonhumanoid life form) that made me want to grab the eye bleach to erase these mind images immediately. I have also seen pretty explicit questions and answers about sex on this site. Not to mention all the questions/answers involving body horror, torture, rape, and genocide, in which by comparison a moment of mutual affection involving physical intimacy between two consenting adults who love each other comes off as tame by comparison.

The Mermaid Problem (link is from Tv Tropes and is SFW) is also a very well-known and common trope in fiction and shows up in many, many works that are not pornographic in nature, such as L. Sprague de Camp's Nothing In the Rules (also SFW). It's one of the most common tropes when it comes to mermaids, and my thought was if it helps write better mermaid romance stories...

Mass Effect 2 famously had an entire scene which was nothing but discussing inter-species compatibility and the difficulties in making sure both parties were comfortable in an interspecies relationship, but I'm not sure if that would be too mature.

It's worth noting that none of the people who voted to close gave any suggestions as to how to make the question more appropriate for the site, just that the question was bad as a whole.

Really, there doesn't seem to be a clear definition for what is and isn't appropriate with regards to this tag. It feels like a case of "rules for thee but not for me", especially given that I've had at least two previous questions on this site closed despite the fact that both were well within the bounds of what other questions were considered acceptable on this site. The broader issue is even if a question is 100% on topic for Worldbuilding SE, there is nothing to stop five random users from closing the question. Once one user votes to close it's put in the close queue which brings others in like sharks, but once closed questions are rarely, if ever, reopened even if the author makes sweeping improvements to them.

As an analogy, if this were Writing SE and somebody asked about how to write a romance scene for a character who was paraplegic, would that be inappropriate for this venue?

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    $\begingroup$ We are not Writing.SE, we cannot answer for them $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with you up to (and largely after) the bit about how the relationship should be framed and written about. I didn't VTC your question, but if your question is about character thought, emotions, motivations & actions, such as the relationships they maintain, then your query would be clearly story based and even I'd vote to close it on that account. You were right at first: just the facts ma'am! You can certainly keep your story, plot & motivation thoughts to yourself while asking a purely worldbuilding question here. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas It's not necessarily that, it's how the physical aspects of a character affect plot, which would be worldbuilding. I.e., a question along the lines of "how would a character with angel wings sit or put on clothes" or "how would a character with non-retractable claws use a touchscreen" (which is a question here), which I would argue is perfectly on-topic. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 -- Right: we agree thát part of it is worldbuilding, because it involves physical & physiological properties. (And I can tell you, I've thought about how a winged person sits & puts on clothes and great many other things for many years!) My target of disagreement was specifically how the relationship should be framed and written about in the first place, because setting up and writing the relationships, I hold, is on you as the writer. That kind of question might fit well at Writing.SE or (perhaps better) in a long form fantasy writers forum like Mythic Scribes. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 0:33

One thing I want to emphasize is that affection need not be within the purview of anything sexual in the first place. While the matter of 'compatibility' and the depths & nuances of inter-species relationships is very interesting, I cannot help but feel there is an overemphasis on sexual displays thereof.

Forming and maintaining bonds, providing comfort, showing your feelings and communicating them is itself worth exposition, and if your work features aliens that are not near human this becomes interesting in its own right. Aliens that are arthropods, tentacled, or simply much larger or smaller than you, for instance - besides communication, how does that color things? Touch is a big part of communication and relationships.

What about when communication itself is vastly different? Deaf aliens that use sign language, for instance, can't call out to each other, but sign, touch, and perhaps pheromones. Proper communication would require having a device to detect and emit the pheromones as much as learning how to sign with your arms, where to touch one that is looking away from you, and what to expect in terms of one touching you.

That said, deep relationships are worth exploring, even if they might regrettably get close to "erotic reading material" to xenophilic readers. Things as innocuous as hugs or hand holding can be perceived very differently across contemporary human cultures; doing the same with near human or very not near human aliens could certainly stimulate xenophiles, whatever the writer's intent is.

The novel I'm writing of the same name as my profile explores cultures meeting as much as individuals of different species, some near human, and others very much not. One thing I want to celebrate is connection, without being vulgar.

I feel like this might warrant another tag entirely, with emphasis on inter-species relations of all forms. Figuring out different gestures, body language, bonding, faux pas, bridging divides, first contact, or making up for one lacking the senses of another have at least as much of a place in world building as the mechanical realities of sexual bonding.


Persons asking and answering questions in that tag should be careful to keep their content as SFW as it is possible to be, but I strongly disagree with any sort of blanket ban guided by petty morality. The suppression of discourse about anything vaguely sexual continues to be one of the most terrible cruelties than humans have ever imposed upon ourselves, and this site shouldn't be party to perpetuating that.

The question in question is well-written, completely topical, and careful to limit its scope to avoid being closed, yet still ended up in that state. If its content is offensive to certain parties, I would suggest that's a problem for them to deal with on their own terms, i.e. not via knee-jerk close votes. We don't want or need thought police here.


Is there any way to add a warning of some sort if a querent tags their question with [sex]? As in, when you enter the tag into the bar, a check box appears that prevents the querent from publishing their question before ticking the box. Next to the check box is a detailed list of what is and isn't allowed on Worldbuilding SE regarding naughty bits. This would at least lower the number of explicit questions asked by naïve querents, or at least if they do post something beyond the scope of WBSE, we warned them beforehand.

There could also be a [sex] queue, or generally a 'risky tag' queue, whereby a given number of WBSE members need to approve the post before it gets posted, or suggest modifications to the querent. However, this would put the burden on the members of WBSE and not on the querent, so perhaps this is not the best solution.

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    $\begingroup$ Such a moderation feature is not supported by Stack Exchange, and there is zero chance that they would implement it for us. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ A sex queue sounds like something kinky. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 2:18
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    $\begingroup$ @forest I agree that implementing it just for us would be quite the exception, but there is a fairly high probability (correct me if I'm wrong) that other SE forums would find an "additional information about this tag before submitting a question" feature useful. $\endgroup$
    – Whitehot
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw They call them trains $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Whitehot That would indeed be a helpful feature on many other subsites. $\endgroup$
    – bta
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 22:41

My two cents: talking about sex, anatomy, and reproduction is fine, but going into pornographic detail is not. The words "penis", "vagina", and "penetration" are fine, but describing a sexual position in detail would not be. Making reference to sex and sexual needs would be fine, but describing the mechanics of alien sex would not be ok. Exploring the possible slang of a world and its euphemisms for sex is one thing (e.g. "blowjobs" for oral sex IRL), but going into detail about that world's fetishes and kinks might be a bit much. I'd even say that making passing reference to characters "having wildly intimate and creative sex" is fine as long as you don't explicitly describe the sequence of events that makes it so wild and intimate and creative. Tell, don't show.

We as a society are generally ok with teaching teenagers sex ed. Sex is a part of life and is nothing to be ashamed of. But above all else, this is not a smut site here to get people aroused when people are looking to (ahem) "take care of business".

As for an action item, I would suggest emphasizing the fact that things should be kept clinical and not go into explicit detail in the tag description.

Currently, it says

For questions relating to sexual reproduction and the physical acts of mating that sexual beings engage in.

I would add to it so it says

For questions relating to sexual reproduction and the physical acts of mating that sexual beings engage in. Please keep questions and answers clinical and avoid going into explicit detail.

Or something similar that is less wordy.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, and I suggest "For questions relating to sexual reproduction and the physical acts of mating that sexual beings engage in. Please keep questions and answers clinical and avoid asking about erotic details." $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 14:26

Some problems I have with questions I've seen in the tag:

  • One can basically just go through a list of how humans engage in sex and consider which of those would work. This would firstly be quite explicit and secondly mean the question didn't involve a reasonable amount of research. Yes, this is very much about the question about aliens safely engaging in physical intimacy, but frankly it could also be about the mermaid question.

  • Or maybe one can just draw an equivalence from your fictional creature to a real-world animal and then it's just a question of standard biology that doesn't belong here.

  • It discusses or requests details that involve describing or visualising sex in a lot of detail (like discussing positions or anatomies for reproduction, which can be much more explicit if it involves humans or humanoids).

  • It carries a very high risk of just being trolling. This may not be such a big concern on this site, as essentially all the question here are about made up situations anyway, but crossing the line from "I think this is interesting" to "I'm just posting it for the lolz" is still bad in my opinion and makes the site less about seriously discussing fictional ideas and more just ridiculous.

  • As with all questions on this site, none of these questions are actually about solving real-world problems (except maybe for less serious problems around writing or game design or whatever). This is not a problem in itself, but it means we can be a bit more strict when it comes to certain content without really leaving anyone to figure out their serious problem by themselves (unlike what would happen if you do the same on the Workplace site, for example).

A lot of people could argue that such content is totally fine for 13+-year-olds, but the simple fact is that many people also don't believe it is fine for them, especially if we consider other cultures. It may also be considered NSFW, or just objectionable in general, which may risk broader restricting, banning or abandoning of Worldbuilding or even Stack Exchange as a whole. Maybe those aren't risks we need to worry or care too much about, but these additional factors certainly aren't helping to convince me that we should allow these questions.

This is not to say I'm proposing a sweeping ban on any question about sex, but... okay, I guess that might be what I'm proposing, but only until someone can convince me there are certain types of questions about sex where the upside of their existence outweighs downside.

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    $\begingroup$ Your answer is along the exact same lines as "well if you can find it on your own it shouldn't be asked here". There's a reason Worldbuilding SE doesn't consider "just Google it" an acceptable answer. And more broadly, an answer isn't going to exist in IRL terms of human sex positions or animal mating behavior because humans don't have gills and a humanoid and aquatic organism don't normally mate. I looked things like this up before asking the question and they pretty much don't exist. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 Doing prior research isn't just "Google it". For the mermaid question, it would be some degree of looking up positions involving water and some degree of just considering different ways you can position 2 people in or around water to satisfy the criteria (I can't imagine there are that many ways given the restrictions you're working with). Telling someone to Google something may not be a valid answer, but it wouldn't be a new thing to require that or some reasoning or prior knowledge to be able to ask a question. But, either way, that's just one of a number of points I raised. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 It was a bit harsh of me to call the question "lazy". I realise this may be quite a high bar to put on the amount of research required, which may be easier or more difficult for different people to meet, but I feel that's in line with what Stack Exchange as a whole is trying to do. But that topic, and the degree to which it applies to Worldbuilding (and the degree to which it should), is probably a whole other discussion. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ What's considered "an easy amount of research" varies massively from person to person. For example, I contacted a researcher on dolphin reproduction for this question, but I was only able to do so as an academic who had access to paywalled literature and contacts in marine mammalogy. If I asked a physics/chemistry question I wouldn't even know where to start. Your proposed boundaries would result in the vast, vast majority of the questions on this site being considered invalid if applied across the stack, and generally goes against the policies in Worldbuilding SE's help center. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 I would generally expect just a few Google searches (but it may also be a lot more than that when a lack of underlying knowledge demonstrated in the question would make the answers too long, i.e. the question is too broad). Although what may be difficult is figuring out what you should Google to actually get useful results and taking information or knowledge that isn't directly answering your question and reasoning about that to come up with a direct answer to your question. 1/2 $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 And yes, that is still quite a high bar, but I'm thinking in terms of building a Q&A repository (which is the stated goal written in the help center / tour page of basically every SE site, including WB). If you don't require some research, individual questions aren't going to be all that refined, which means answers don't generalise that well, you get a lot of similar, but not quite duplicate, questions and visitors have a hard time applying answers to their similar question. That's fine for somewhere like Reddit, but it's hugely damaging to the idea of building a repository. 2/2 $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 1:50

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