Like many other tropes, ABO worldbuilding is one of those things that tend to be love or hate. People who don’t like it really don’t like it. (You can see research suggesting fanfic readers don’t have much of a soft spot for it.) But those of us who like it really like it. We can see this in the fact pretty much everyone in fanfic and paranormal romance circles know what you mean by ABO. Even if they don’t like it themselves, they’ve seen the term.
So, why do we love ABO so darn much? Why has it become so popular as to spawn its own sort of subgenre?
I think it has something to do with getting in touch with our wild sides.
The Out-of-Control Omega in ABO
The “wild side” isn’t linked to the idea that all ABO fics are “wolf kink” porn. Rather, I think the appeal lies in the unbridled sexuality of the omega.
It’s pretty rare to find an omegaverse that doesn’t include omega “heat cycles” as a staple of the worldbuilding. This is based on the more “animalistic” estrous cycle. Unlike human beings, most female mammals have ovulation cycles that make them pretty randy. They’re more accepting of male attention when they’re ovulating.
I’ll point to a study of female porcupines. These critters usually mate in the fall, around November. Yet the female porcupines become increasingly interested in sexual activity from the summer onwards.
Sex Isn’t Just about Procreation
Perhaps surprisingly, female porcupines aren’t receptive to male porcupines’ sexual advances for most of this period. They’re most receptive when they’re ovulating, in and around November. Otherwise, the female porcupines tend to prefer sticks or other inanimate objects to get their kicks.
This blows up the theory that female animals only want sex during ovulation. “Scientific fact” has held that female animals only engage in sex when they’re ovulating, because sex is for reproduction. If we look at the porcupines, we know that’s not true. And many other animals exhibit similar patterns.
But scientific thought has long focused on the estrous cycle as this sudden, intensive interest in sex. The idea is animals have this desperate period when they just mate like crazy. Outside of that window, they’re totally uninterested.
Heat Is a Period of Intensive Sexual Activity
There is some truth in the estrous cycle being a sort of “sexual frenzy.” In my research for Lions Will Tame Leopards, the fifth book in the Zodiac series, I discovered that lions and leopards in heat are pretty much insatiable. The female lions will mate up to 50 times a day for a few days. Leopards are even worse. If a male lion isn’t keeping up, a female lion will bite his testicles.
That doesn’t mean lions only have sex during the lioness’s heat, though. It means the female is most receptive to it. Same with our porcupines. They preferred sticks and such outside of heat. That didn’t mean they never got it on with a male porcupine.
Yet heat is cemented in our minds as this sort of frenzied mating cycle, where the female animals lose all control. They are at the mercy of their reproductive tracts.
Bam, Right in the Kink
Female humans have menstrual cycles, which include ovulation. Unlike many other species, though, it’s covert or veiled in humans. That means even the person ovulating doesn’t always know it. (That’s why we have trackers and apps to measure basal temperature and stuff.) The menstrual cycle is accompanied by hormonal shifts and changes; an ovulating person might notice they’re a little hornier than at other points in their cycle. That’s natural and normal.
Yet we also tend to think of “women” as being sexually frigid, just in general. The idea that female animals only “mate” when they’re in heat and humans can’t tell if they’re “in heat” is further used to control AFAB people. Society shames them for having sexual feelings and tells them to suppress what they do feel.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear this idea of someone being “out of control” sits at the confluence of a few kinks. Some men consider out-of-control female sexuality attractive. “Nymphomaniacs” are considered both pathological and desirable, to a degree. We can also look at the desire for “out-of-control” sex with tropes like sex pollen and fuck or die; people literally lose control of their higher faculties. (Fuck or die can just be coercion, although that is also a loss of control, in a sense.)
“Breeding” kinks and pregnancy kinks also sit right here. Some people with a pregnancy kink focus on the idea of impregnating someone or of being impregnated; the focus may be on the act that results in pregnancy versus the subsequent pregnancy itself. That might be more accurately termed a “breeding” kink, but some consider it a specific form of pregnancy kink.
So we have three or four kinks that omegaverse—and specifically the idea of the omega having a heat cycle—encompasses.
Exploring Female Desire and Sexuality in ABO
From there, we can see that omegaverse is, in some ways, a way of exploring feminine desire and sexuality. The omega is out-of-control in a way that most female humans can’t be. In omegaverses, this is both natural and normal, versus pathological. The omega character is freely allowed to express desire and sexuality—to the point of being wanton.
There’s an amount of freedom in that situation that’s hard to come by in other worldbuilding tropes. As much as this is a loss of control, it’s also the omega being totally in control. They can express desire and engage in sex.
A Focus on Social Control and Power
Little wonder that many ABO fics then focus on ways that society controls omegas. Suppressed heats are common; omegas may need to be cloistered during their heat phases. The idea that omegas drive the alphas wild isn’t uncommon; both sexes lose themselves to passion.
So, it’s wild monkey sex, without shame or fear. And it centers on the omega as a catalyst, which means the omega is the one driving sexual situations.
This is an interesting way of getting at the idea of primal urges within female sexuality. Society at large asks us to deny that “women” have sexual urges, needs, and desires. Look at the objections to Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” a song largely about unbridled female sexuality.
So, it isn’t shocking to see fiction exploring these ideas. And that those urges are often linked to reproduction is not surprising either; there’s a strong connection between female sexuality and fertility rites. Look at any number of nature goddesses, the language used to talk about “Mother Nature,” and the idea of the feminine as generative. That feminine sexual desire is connected to generative capability seems only natural and normal.
Wait, Isn’t ABO an MM Trope?!
Despite the proliferation of MF omegaverse stories in recent years, it still connects mostly to MM tales. I’ve mentioned before that omegaverse ties back, in some ways, to mpreg tropes; it’s one of the most common worldbuilding tool in mpreg fic these days. Why? Because it’s a quick and easy way to explain how a dude can get knocked up.
Yet that would seem to counteract my point above—that ABO is all about exploring feminine desire and sexuality.
To explain that, we need to remember how taboo female sexuality is for many people.
MM has evolved, in part, out of a need to circumvent the issue of female sexuality. Yaoi artists in Japan substituted a second male character into their scenarios. This creates a double win: the avoidance of discomfort around female sexuality and a “two-for-one” for female readers. (Of course, there is also a growing body of LGBTQ+ creators wanting to tell LGBTQ+ stories. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking all MM is “by women for women.”)
Transposing feminine desire onto the male body is thus nothing new. Typically, we can see this happening. Yaoi rarely identifies its characters as gay and the two male leads often tend to fall into stereotyped roles. The seme (top) will perform stereotypically masculine roles, including being the penetrative partner; the uke (bottom) performs a feminine role. The uke is not actually “a man” in some senses. Rather, he’s a male body with feminine sensibilities mapped onto him.
Oh, That Sounds Like Omegas
The “male omega” is an even better example of this phenomenon. It’s really debatable what the “male omega” in most ABO fics is. Some fics shy away from addressing this head-on; they assume the male omega is a cisgender male with some extra “bits.”
Others play with this a bit more. It’s not uncommon to encounter omegas that occupy the label intersex. “Male” omegas tend to be hermaphroditic, even in fics that present them as cisgender. They often have female reproductive organs in addition to their male reproductive organs. If the fic is mpreg, then the female reproductive organs most definitely work; whether the male organs work or not is another story.
Relatively few fics suggest ABO is a way of replacing “male” or “female” sex. Still others suggest that everyone is, to some degree, more or less intersex and can thus choose their gender. A “male omega” and a “female omega” may have hardly any physical differences between them but different gender presentations.
Nonetheless, the omega characters remain consistently a representation of feminine desire and sexuality, even when they’re intact, functioning cisgender males. They are the female-mapped uke dialed up a notch. Now their “feminine” traits go beyond preferring to be penetrated or adopting feminine behaviors. Now, they quite literally have female sex organs and engage in hormonally driven “reproductive cycles.”
A Fascination with Sex, Gender, and Sexuality
So, what does this say about omegaverse readers? What does it say about the people who write it?
I think it points to an underlying fascination with the construction of sex, gender, and sexuality. ABO doesn’t always explore it in concrete or even explicit terms; a lot of us think we’re just reading or writing porn, to a degree.
But I do think there’s something underneath the “just porn” atmosphere of it. It’s a way of exploring sexuality and desire that are typically inaccessible or closed off.
And that, I think, is at least part of what makes ABO worlds so popular and so fascinating.