How has this issue addressed? How was reproduction capable between the 3 or more genders?

What are the first instances where a race with more than 2 genders occurred?

I know of instances when there was 1 gender. A neuter race in Star Trek where the species chose to remove the sexuality from themselves.

I haven't however, seen any times when they try to introduce the concept of more than 2.

  • Comments on the close votes are welcome and encouraged... – OghmaOsiris Sep 20 '11 at 17:48
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    I just got here, but I suspect the close votes are because you're basically asking for a list, not a single specific answer. – John C Sep 20 '11 at 17:51
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    I'm not asking for a list. I'm just asking how it's been addressed if it has been. 1 correct answer will answer my question. – OghmaOsiris Sep 20 '11 at 17:52
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    The is a degree to which "Has it been done" for a case like this suggest you haven't done much research (so far we have books back to the 50s, and a couple of different TV shows). I'm still trying to place the passing reference I recall to a five-gendered race (though this may have been a joke). As a side note, it is pretty trivial for a author to say "you know the whosists? They have <N> genders.", without have thought through the biology or the sociology. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 20 '11 at 18:12
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    Even if you don't ask for a list, that's what this question will generate, since it's so open-ended. (Also see this section of the the FAQ.) Perhaps asking about the history of the concept would yield better answers? Right now, it's generating answers that are pretty random. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Sep 20 '11 at 18:14

The concept of a third sex is as old as writing. In Greek myth there's the figure of Hermaphroditus. In the Sumerian creation myth, the goddess Ninmah creates an intersex human from clay:

Sixth, she fashioned one with neither penis nor vagina on its body. Enki looked at the one with neither penis nor vagina on its body and gave it the name Nibru [perhaps = eunuch], and decreed as its fate to stand before the king.

The idea recurs in other ancient cultures; see Wikipedia's third gender article for many more examples.

A few notable early examples in science fiction:

In A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay (1920) some of the characters belong to a third sex:

Nowadays there are men and women, but in the olden times the world was peopled by phaens. I think I am the only survivor of all those beings who were then passing through Faceny's mind.

The Last Men in Olaf Stapledon's novel Last and First Men (1930) have many sexes, though these are apparently organized into "male" and "female" sexes:

The traveller would recognize among us unmistakable sexual features, both of general proportions and special organs. But it would take him long to discover that some of the most striking bodily and facial differences were due to differentiation of the two ancient sexes into many sub-sexes. Full sexual experience involves for us a complicated relationship between individuals of all these types. Of the extremely important sexual groups I shall speak again.

In That Hideous Strength (1945) by C. S. Lewis there's a cryptic reference to the "Seven Genders":

The three gods who had already met in the Blue Room were less unlike humanity than the two whom they still awaited. In Viritrilbia and Venus and Malacandra were represented those two of the Seven Genders which bear a certain analogy to the biological sexes and can therefore be in some measure understood by men. It would not be so with those who were now preparing to descend. These also doubtless had their genders, but we have no clue to them. These would be mightier energies: ancient eldils, steersmen of giant worlds which have never from the beginning been subdued into the sweet humilations of organic life.

Lewis didn't expand upon this, perhaps because he believed that it would be impossible to convincingly imagine a new sex. In a 1943 letter he wrote, "Try to imagine a new primary color, a third sex, a fourth dimension, or even a monster that does not consist of existing animals stuck together. Nothing happens." (This now seems rather defeatist. Maybe he should have tried harder.)


The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Cogenitor" introduces a race called the Vissians who have 3 genders: male, female, and cogenitor:

The cogenitor does not pass on genetic material to the offspring they help create; Dr. Phlox suggested that they may supply an enzyme during the sex act which facilitates conception.


Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves has a three-gendered race.

Raphael Carter's short story "Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation" concerns the revelation of a number of different human genders.

A theatre troupe including SF author Geoff Ryman presented an improvised piece at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival called USEXCO that concerned the creation and marketing of two additional human genders.

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    Asimov also put in a lot of detail into the biology of his three-gendered race to show how they are all involved in the reproductive process (although, not the mechanical aspects). – HorusKol Sep 21 '11 at 3:33

They show up from time to time.

Ian Banks' The Player of Games features a three gendered pan-human race.

Niven's Puppeteers are likewise three gendered (though one could argue about this as the bearing gender is strictly a separate species).

Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness features a human race that lives as neuters except during brief periods during which they take on one or the other gender (but not always the same one), which could be construed as three genders if you wanted to.

  • Ooops, it's "Ian M. Banks", not "Back". ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 21 '11 at 0:12
  • Yes it is. Typing too fast and off the cuff. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 21 '11 at 0:15
  • Just to add to the Niven perspective, Protectors evolve into a gender neutral stage once they pass the breeders stage and consume the tree of life root. – Major Stackings Apr 28 '12 at 0:39

In the Alien Nation series the Newcomers have three genders.

Come to think of it, more than two sexes is not very plausible. Finding a suitable mate is challenging enough in a two-sex species. Imagine having to find two suitable mates for a three-sex species, or generally n-1 suitable mates for an n-sex species. Your chances of reproducing will decrease rapidly as n increases.

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    There were 3? I remember 2 from the TV series: the "woman" carries a fertilized egg (shell and all) for some time, then it is transferred to the "man" who basically carries it in a pouch as it develops into an infant. – gnovice Sep 20 '11 at 18:13
  • The math isn't much of an objection if (1) the race in question has large broods or (2) some of the genders don't get (or are not able to make) a choice in the matter. A more interesting question is what (if any) biological advantage it might bring. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 20 '11 at 18:15
  • @gnovice There were two kinds of males. One fertilized the egg, and the other, called "binom", provided some sort of "catalyst". – Dima Sep 20 '11 at 18:23
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    @Dima: It wouldn't be so bad if one or more of those N sexes could change their gender spontaneously to whatever was in short supply, like some frogs apparently can. – gnovice Sep 20 '11 at 18:37
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    @Dima - you are not being imaginative enough sociologically. One gender could be subservient to the others (actually IIRC the cogenitors in ST:Ent might have been). They could practice poligamy. They could practice random sexual pairings. They could practice reproductive sets separate from stable matings. And I'm merely listing stuff that is modeled on "normal" human BDSM sociology :))) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 20 '11 at 23:58

Just to inject a bit of science into this:

Sex is always well worth its two-fold cost claims to demonstrate why more than 2 sexes are evolutionarily unstable.

Why two sexes? claims to explain why two sexes has arisen so often in Terran evolution.

  • actually, fungi can have up to 11 "genders", but only two mate at a time – SteveED Apr 28 '12 at 0:57

The existence of a three-gendered animal species actually forms a plot twist in

The Hugo and Nebula winning novel Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

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