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Omegaverse 101: A Guide to the a/b/o Trope

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You’ve seen it talked about. Maybe some of your fav writers are releasing books with “omegaverse” in the title. You might have seen people slagging on the “a/b/o trope.” Or maybe you’ve heard about that one infamous lawsuit involving “wolf kink porn.”

A gray wolf lying on the ground, head turned to look directly at the camera. Omegaverse often incorporates wolf pack dynamics and is sometimes termed "wolf kink porn."
I’m looking at you, humanity. (Pixabay / Pexels.com)

So now you have a burning question. What the heck is the omegaverse? Better yet, why is it so darn popular?

This guide is here to answer those questions and explain the a/b/o trope in depth. With it, you’ll know not just what the omegaverse trope is but whether it’s something you might enjoy too.

Omegaverse 101: What Is the Omegaverse?

The “omegaverse” is the name for a trope that involves gender identities or “secondary sexes.” These are usually:

  • alpha
  • beta
  • omega

These three designations give rise to the other name for the trope: “a/b/o,” which is short for “alpha/beta/omega.” Omegaverse is sometimes used instead, because it’s easier to say than “a/b/o” or “a/b/o dynamics.” It also avoids the accidental use of “abo,” which is a derogatory word used to refer to Aborigines in Australia.

Why Alpha/Beta/Omega?

The use of these three Greek letters conforms to a former theory about wolf packs. In that theory, the idea was that there was an “alpha male,” who was the leader of the pack.

The alpha male was thought to be the most aggressive, and he was also the “breeding” male.
Scientists thought other wolves were subordinate to the alpha. These wolves were sometimes termed “betas.”

Omegas are notably absent from the wolf pack theory. The “omega” is usually a breeding individual, who plays the role of a female mammal, in that they produce eggs and carry young.

“Omega” is also the last letter of the Greek alphabet, which implies subservience to the alpha (the first). It can also be used to refer to the place omegas often hold in these societies.

Why Wolf Pack Dynamics?

There’s some debate about where omegaverse came from, but the wolf pack dynamics are a hint. Early examples include the work of Patricia Briggs, which features—you guessed it—werewolves.

The a/b/o trope became increasingly popular and common in fandom around 2010, around the same time Teen Wolf was popular. Oddly enough, people don’t usually point to a fanfic in the Teen Wolf fandom as the trope codifier. That distinction belongs to another fandom that deals with the occult.
Yeah, it was a Supernatural fanfic. Perhaps not that surprising, as Supernatural deals with, well, the supernatural—and werewolves are definitely part of that category.

It also pays to note that werewolves were quite popular at the time. Teen Wolf was already noted, but we also had the Twilight saga ongoing. It’s not implausible to think that people were thinking of werewolves more generally. Personally, I was also reading werewolf/vampire fics in other fandoms around the same time.

This is where the omegaverse gets its infamy as the “wolf kink porn” trope. Some of the characteristics—pack dynamics, leaders/subordinates, breeding pairs, and, yes, knotting—come straight out of werewolf stories.

The Influence of Mpreg and Slash on Omegaverse

Another notable influence on the development of the omegaverse is slash—mm pairings—and particularly mpreg. MM romance grew in popularity beginning in the early 2000s. While there have been slash fans forever, there has been a noted uptick in popularity since around 2000. This is likely due to a few influences, such as the internet making it easier for fans to spread their slashfic, the anonymity of the internet, and the relative ease of accessing materials from places like Japan. This also coincides with a period of increasing acceptance and visibility of LGBTQIA+ people.

In short, slash became highly visible—and popular. There are many reasons people enjoy mm romance, although not all of them are benign.

Mpreg is a subset of slash fic that focuses on one or more men getting pregnant. This is historically a “love it or leave it” kink; some people find it super-sqwicky, while others love it. Mpreg can take many different shapes, such as the humorous look in Junior or The Fairly Odd Parents. It can also be treated in a more serious way, such as in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

The Fairly Odd Parents included canonical mpreg, which is often found in omegaverse stories as well.

Mpreg tends to fall into the “kink” camp, where the reader’s primary motivation is titillation. Some people have argued mpreg is a trans-positive narrative, although others argue it can easily veer into trans-negativity.

What does mpreg have to do with the omegaverse? Remember how omegas are “breeding individuals” capable of carrying and giving birth to young?

Yeah, a lot of them are “male omegas” or “omega males.” The a/b/o trope, then, is often used as a convenient way to explain how mpreg functions in a story.

Is All A/B/O Fiction Mpreg?

Nope! I’m merely pointing out that it provides a mechanism for including mpreg in a story. Given mm romance’s popularity, it’s not surprising that mpreg has become more popular—and the omegaverse trope along with it.

That doesn’t mean every story that uses the a/b/o trope also contains mpreg. Some writers use simply to explain mating systems in their werewolf (or shifter) story. Others use it to explore the fated mates trope.

Some omegaverse stories are also M/F, so they don’t necessarily feature mpreg. M/F omegaverse has been present from the start (see Briggs’s books), but omegaverse seems to have largely been absorbed into the mm community, before re-emerging into M/F romance once it became popular.

How Does the A/B/O Trope Work?

This is a tough question to answer, because omegaverse is a worldbuilding trope. That means we start off with not much more than the premise that there are distinct other gender/sex identities. The most basic premise is that there are alphas and there are omegas.

From there, the writer is free to do what they want with the a/b/o trope. Some writers include betas; others don’t, so right off the bat, we have a huge amount of variation.

Generally speaking, though, there are a few tropes that writers will stick to when they’re working with the omegaverse trope.

These include the alpha, the omega, and the heat episode.

The Alpha in Omegaverse Stories

Alpha is usually one of at least two different sex/gender identities included in omegaverse stories. The alpha is usually dominant, aggressive, and possessive. An alpha character can easily veer into toxic masculinity—giving rise to the phrase “alpha-hole.”

Alphas are often physically large and dominating; they may exhibit traditionally “masculine” traits. While they’re often leaders, they’re usually incredibly possessive of their mates—often a “fated” omega.
Alphas mate with omegas, usually to produce the next generation of the pack.

The Omega

The omega character is usually feminine, although not always. They will tend to be described as subservient or meek. Physically, they may be willowy, slight, or very beautiful.

In mm romance, the omega is often capable of carrying children and giving birth, even if he is ostensibly male. How precisely this works depends on the writer. Some don’t care to explain it; it simply is. Others will explain it as part of an alien species or shifter biology. Some use more scientific explanations, such as a cataclysmic event that wiped out “women” in Leta Blake’s Heat of Love series.
Omegas often show more divergence from the “norm” than alphas do. Common tropes include “secret omega,” in which the omega—especially an omega male—tries to hide their status. In other cases, the “feisty,” “aggressive,” or “stubborn” omega may appear. This is an omega who runs contrary to their assigned gender role.

The Heat Episode

One of the most foundational parts of the omegaverse is the idea of omegas have heats—or estrus periods. This usually replaces menstruation, particularly in mm romance. During this period, the omega is fertile and wants to fuck. They may give off pheromones that entice the alpha to mate with them.
The alpha’s possessive nature is usually brought out by the omega going into heat. Heat is usually portrayed as a particularly vulnerable period for the omega. They may not be capable of making decisions for themselves; they may “lose their mind.”

How the heat episode is handled, again, depends on the writer. Some use it as a way of bringing the characters closer together. Others use it as a way to highlight the oppressed nature of the omega and the issue of consent. Whether or not the heat episode leads to pregnancy is another thing that’s up to the writer. In some ‘verses, writers choose to let male omegas have heats, even though they can’t get pregnant.

Other Common Omegaverse Tropes

As we noted, the a/b/o trope is a worldbuilding trope, and one of the reasons it’s so popular is flexibility. That’s why it’s difficult to say “every omegaverse story has this trait or that trait.” The alpha, the omega, and the heat episode remain fairly constant, but even these traits could, in theory, disappear.

That said, there are a few common elements that appear in many omegaverse stories. These include the beta, the knot, and pack dynamics.

The Beta

The beta is part of the trope namer, in that it’s usually “a/b/o” dynamics, but many stories actually use “alpha/omega” dynamics. In that case, the story is a/o.

Betas appear in many stories, but the focus is usually placed on alphas and omegas. In that case, betas may become extraneous to the story. Some writers choose to omit them altogether.

Others imagine various roles for the beta. Betas are usually subordinate to an alpha, but not always. In some cases, they’re individuals who don’t have sex drives or who can’t procreate at all. Some universes depict betas as “regular people,” who lack the powerful instinct and sex drives of alphas and omegas.

Pack Dynamics

This plays directly into whether an author includes betas in their stories, more often than not. If we have a story that follows werewolves or another type of “creature” that tends to exist in packs, then we’ll likely see betas.

Stories that don’t include shifters are sometimes organized this way as well. Betas are easier to incorporate into a world where the family extends beyond the “breeding pair” alpha and omega. Obviously, this parallels the (disproven) theory of wolf pack formation, with an alpha leader and his faithful “beta” subordinates.

Two wolves amid a wintry forest landscape. A black wolf stands to the left of a white wolf, who is lying down. Both look to the right of the frame.
(Shelby Waltz / Pexels.com)

Other stories make creative use of the beta, but it remains true that “pack dynamics” allow them to exist most easily.

Pack dynamics usually emerge when we’re dealing with shifters of some sort that live in colonies, packs, or clans. Some writers use the trope to push for polyamorous relations. I’ve seen at least one writer use the idea to suggest that it takes three to tango in a procreative sense.

The Knot

Perhaps the most infamous part of the omegaverse, beyond the heat episode, is the knot. This trope speaks directly to the trope’s origins in werewolf territory.

Anyone who has much experience with mating canines knows that the male’s penis includes a “knot” at the base, which is used to “tie” the female.

This is a mechanism that’s theorized to help the male assure his paternity. The longer the animals stay “tied” together, the more chance the male’s sperm has to reach the female’s eggs.

So, dog dicks are weird, and that leads to a question about werewolves: what would their dicks be like?
The characteristic canine knot carries over into most omegaverse fiction as a result. It’s not inconceivable that nature could evolve this mechanism in other species, especially “wolf-people.”

It’s also not inconceivable that other species—especially alien species or magical shifter species—could have such a trait.

Within omegaverse, it’s usually less about the alpha protecting paternity than it is about “satisfying” the omega. Often, an alpha’s knot is said to be the only thing that will satiate an omega’s heat. In some universes, alphas and omegas having sex during heat episodes can avoid pregnancy by avoiding “knotting.”

If that’s the case, then we’ll usually see the omega have a powerful instinct to be knotted, while the alpha has a powerful drive to knot the omega. If the story is headed toward (m)preg, then the characters usually can’t resist this instinctual urge.

The Breeding Kink

The knotting scenario, coupled with heat episodes, usually lead back to a breeding kink, which appears even in non-preg omegaverse from time to time. The alpha and the omega have powerful instincts, such that even the most reluctant omega may talk to their alpha about “getting bred up” or similar “dirty talk.”

Why Is Omegaverse Popular?

All right, now that we have the fundamentals of what omegaverse is and isn’t, there’s another burning question … why?!

Why would anyone ever like this trope? It seems pretty weird, doesn’t it?

As noted, omegaverse tends to tie into some other popular categories, including shifter fiction and mm romance.

The confluence of these factors make the omegaverse trope a pretty popular choice for writers. It’s also relatively easy to hit on other kinks, like the breeding kink, mpreg, knotting, and monsterfucking—all of which have become increasingly more visible.

That still doesn’t explain the appeal, other than “it’s popular because a lot of people like it.” If it’s not something that appeals to you, you’re probably scratching your head as to how something that’s seemingly so weird could ever get so popular that The NYT is publishing exposes on “wolf kink porn.”

Love It or Leave It

Let’s start with some basic facts. As much as omegaverse seems to be more popular than ever, it is not a trope that everyone likes. In fact, in a survey of fanfic readers from a few years back, omegaverse was a trope that split the audience pretty evently.

So, don’t get it twisted: omegaverse is not universally beloved or something. A lot of people, in fact, hate it and seek to avoid it.

That said, the people who like the a/b/o trope … really like it! They are voracious readers of it. Even though they’re a fairly small group, they can push books using the trope up the charts. That, in turn, fuels visibility.

A/B/O Combines with Other Popular Tropes

As already noted, the a/b/o trope is a worldbuilding trope that meshes relatively well with quite a few other tropes/kinks/what have you. Mpreg readers are incredibly familiar with it because it’s one of the easiest ways to get to an mpreg scenario. Anyone who has read werewolf fiction in the last ten years or so is likely also well-acquainted with it.

What else about it appeals, though? Often, it’s the hyperfeminization of the omega character and the hypermasculinization of the alpha characters.

The alphahole male often must make decisions that are in “the best interests” of the omega—usually during a heat episode. The omega may not be able to consent or may be “out of their mind.” In turn, the alpha must do whatever he judges is “best.”

This plays on the “protective mate” trope, in which a male cares for his mate by protecting them. This often bleeds over into abusive behavior, where the alpha male just makes decisions because “father knows best,” after all.

The omegaverse allows us to explore this situation in all manners. That’s one of the reasons you can’t say there’s a single way of writing “the omegaverse.” Some writers ignore the implications, suggesting that alphas do indeed “know best” and omegas need to listen to their mates. Others explore the intricacies of consent—and states where we cannot possibly give informed consent. Other writers take this to its logical extreme, showing us how omegas can become trapped and abused by “well-meaning” alphas.

A Mechanism for Exploring Patriarchal Society

One of the reasons omegaverse may be popular is that it provides a relatively “safe” way to critique patriarchal society. Here, we can explore the darker side of “father knows best” and societies that see feminized individuals as incapable of caring for themselves.

This is also a great place to explore inherent sexism. In M/F setups, we often see the “strong female” character who pushes back against the expectations of a sexist society.

These critiques can become more pronounced when we move into the mm space. Male omegas are “feminized,” but because they’re ostensibly male, it’s often easier to critique the ways in which patriarchal society is sexist and oppressive. This can bring the omegaverse much closer to horror.

On the flip, those tropes are incredibly popular. Some omegaverse no doubt incorporates it sans critique. That means omegaverse can run the gamut from dystopian societies that critique the dismal realities of patriarchal society to those that prop up the patriarchal ideal as the height of romance.

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

Perhaps the most compelling argument about omegaverse’s popularity is that it allows us to dispense with the veneers of polite society.

Often, the worlds constructed within omegaverse stories are highly stratified, with alphas and omegas (and betas) adhering to strict gender roles. There are rules about behavior, and there are rules about how to interact. At least, until the omega hits their heat episode.

At that point, everything is tossed to the wind, and the alpha/omega pair go at it like bunnies—or maybe more like wolves.

This crosses over with the monsterfucking kink mentioned earlier, and it plays into the breeding kink that often comes up. It’s no surprise that werewolves and other animal “shifters” show up with great frequency in omegaverse stories. Although non-shifter omegaverse exists, the animal characters allow us to go back to “basic instinct.”

Without thinking too deeply about the implications, though, I think this explanation speaks to why omegaverse is popular. It’s escapist fantasy, pure and simple.

Within the omegaverse, these characters can live out some of our wildest desires—the desire to just let go and experience pure pleasure, to—quite literally—fuck like animals.

Omegaverse taps into the deep-seated sexual instinct that drives most species. It’s particularly telling that the feminized omega—whether “male” or “female”—is the one who “goes wild.” The majority of romance readers are female, and, in turn, they often see themselves in the omega character. In that case, omegaverse may be an exploration of unbridled, instinctual desire with a distinct feminine dimension.

Perhaps the question is about feminine desire—and if it’s “only natural,” as omegaverse often presents the omega’s heat as being some unstoppable force of instinct.

A Diverse World of Omegaverse Worlds

This guide is a brief introduction to the intricacies of the a/b/o trope. As a worldbuilding trope, there is no one way to work with the omegaverse. Therefore, there’s no one simple explanation. Not all omegaverses include some of even what would be considered “foundational” or “identifying” tropes, which in turn means omegaverse can look very different from work to work and author to author.

Maybe that’s one reason omegaverse has become so popular; you are almost never going to experience the same world twice. Even when writers employ some of the founding tropes, they play with them a little differently in each story. Thus, the reader knows what to expect—to some degree—from an omegaverse story, but there’s enough variation to keep it fresh and interesting.

The a/b/o trope is definitely not one that everyone enjoys. Even if you enjoy omegaverse by one author, it may not necessarily mean you like omegaverse by every author. That said, with so many different writers using it to build such vastly different worlds, there’s no harm in giving one a try. You might discover something you really enjoy.

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By Cherry

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