Pon Farr

Pon farr is a Vulcan mating ritual and biological condition. Every seven years, Vulcan males and females become aroused. They undergo a blood fever (‘plak tow’), become violent, and finally die unless they mate with someone with whom they are empathically bonded or engage in the ritual battle known as ‘kal-if-fee.’ The idea is based on the mating ritual of animals on earth, notably the female ferret that also dies if it has not mated by the end of the season.

In the rebooted ‘Star Trek’ (2009), Vulcans also mate outside of pon farr, and with species other than Vulcan even if not mentally bonded with them. A common misconception associated with the series (and Spock in particular) is that Vulcans only have sex once every seven years. However, pon farr is not coincident with the sex lives of Vulcans, and they are able to have intercourse without the affliction.

Pon farr was introduced and prominently featured in the original series episode ‘Amok Time,’ in which Mr. Spock experiences pon farr and is returned to his home planet Vulcan by Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy in order to undergo the mating ritual and save his life. In ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,’ a young Spock experienced an accelerated version of pon farr due to the Genesis planet’s influence.

In ‘Voyager,’ Tuvok experienced pon farr while the vessel was trapped far away from any other Vulcans, so he was unable to mate with his wife. Initially he claimed that he had Tarkalean flu to the crew to spare the embarrassment of discussing his actual condition. He attempted to control the pon farr through meditation and drugs, but he was not ultimately successful until he met with his wife in a holodeck program.

In a later ‘Voyager episode, ‘Blood Fever,’ Vulcan Ensign Vorik experiences pon farr and attempts to mate with B’Elanna Torres. Due to a partial empathic bond, Torres experiences pon farr as well. Vorik attempts to control the pon farr through meditation, drugs and a holodeck mate, while Torres, trapped on an away mission, nearly mates with Helmsman Paris. The pon farr is eventually resolved when Torres and Vorik battle together in the ritual fight kunat kal-if-fee on the planet.

Pon farr also occurs, and has been extensively elaborated from what is canon, in fan fiction. One such fan fiction story is ‘The Ring of Soshern,’ which was probably written before 1976, and circulated as samizdat (a bootleg book) until 1987, when it was formally published in the anthology ‘Alien Brothers.’ The story is denoted as ‘K/S,’ for fan fiction stories that feature an explicitly sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. In the story, Kirk and Spock beam down to an unexplored planet and are marooned there when the Enterprise is forced away by an ion storm.

One element of pon farr in fan fiction that is typified by ‘The Ring of Soshern’ is that Spock is unwilling to engage in sexual intercourse even when in the full throes of pon farr and even though failure to mate results in, ‘lingering death.’ This plot device allows stories to include many more occasions for erotic couplings. Kirk, because of his empathic bond with Spock, can sense when Spock is about to go into pon farr, and even suffers some of its symptoms himself.

Pon farr stories are so popular with slash story fans that at least one fanzine, ‘Fever,’ was devoted specifically to pon farr stories. Constance Penley, professor of Film & Media Studies at UC, Santa Barbara, believes that part of the stories’ popularity rests in the idea of men being subject to a hormonal cycle, observing that in slash fiction the symptoms of pon farr are ‘wickedly and humorously made to parallel those of PMS and menstruation, in a playful and transgressive levelling of the biological playing field.’

Pon farr in canon and pon farr in fan fiction are presented very differently. In the TV series, sex is an intrusion into the world of work and male companionship. Vulcan males find pon farr to be embarrassing. It is uncontrollable, physical, and frightening. In fan fiction, in contrast, pon farr reveals male emotions in a controlled manner, making them available to the female partner, who controls the male’s less controllable physical urges via the telepathic contact that married Vulcans share.

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