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Sexual Nature of Gethenians
The Gethenians have an interesting sexual cycle in which they are nonsexual for 22 days of the month and only develop a sexual drive during kemmer, a period of heat. A Gethenian in kemmer must find a partner who is also in kemmer in order to have sex. To actually engage in intercourse, one of the two must develope a hormonal dominance, either toward male or female, after which the other assumes the opposite gender. Then the two can copulate. Unless the female of the pair becomes pregnant, after kemmer is over, the Gethenians return to their latent androgynous state. If the female does become pregnant she remains female through the gestation period, but returns to normal soon after the baby is born. Most Gethenians are not predisposed toward one gender or the other. Each time they enter kemmer, they have the possibility of becoming either male or female, so one Gethenian can both mother and father children. However, inheritance is based on the mother's side-- meaning a Gethenian's "children of the flesh"-- that is, children who have been carried in the Gethenians womb are their heirs. Gethenians have a form of marriage that they call "vowing kemmering"-- basically just a commitment to remain in a monogamous relationship. Incest is allowed on Gethen, at least between siblings, but they are not allowed to vow kemmering. Sex is free and open to all in kemmer, as abstinence is very painful for Gethenians during kemmer, thus, many towns have kemmerhouses, in which anyone in kemmer may go to find a partner. Going to a kemmerhouse is similar to our custom of going to bars to "pick up" sexual partners, rather than like going to a brothel and paying for sexual services. Gethenians can take drugs to prevent kemmer, and the Gethenians have advance forms of birth control.
For the entire chapter of Left Hand of Darkness in which the sexuality of Gethenians is discussed, go to: http://cla.calpoly.edu/~bmori/syll/311syll/Darkness.html .