Love, Sex and Marriage
As with anywhere else, these happen on Conclave, although not necessarily in that order, and not every relationship features all three.
Traditionally, marriages were performed more for social and economic reasons than for love, and this remains amongst the rich, powerful and traditionalist families. The concept of romantic love does exist in the Empire, however (thought to have originated in the Sagas of the Denra-Lyr). In the Empire itself marriage for love is still frowned upon as dangerous to the carefully woven fabric of Imperial society. In former Imperial lands it is the most common reason for the paring of two people.
About five hundred years ago a fashion arose in the Imperial court of "paper and flowers". Messages sent between the members of court would be on different colours of paper, and flowers (fresh or dried) would be attached. The combination of paper colour and type of flower gave a coded message. This system of communication is no longer in common usage, but some traditions remain.
Blue is the colour associated with love in the Empire (as the colour of the boundless sea and sky), and a message on blue paper with irises attached is a declaration of love. If moon jasmine is used instead of iris, this is an invitation to a late night assignation. Jacaranda flowers mean a polite refusal.
The traditional Imperial wedding is a lengthy affair lasting a day or more. On the first day the bride and groom both wear simple white shifts or tunics, then at various stages of the ceremony another layer, robe or sash is added, creating an increasingly complicated outfit. Wealthy families can be extremely extravagant, with hair decorations, jewelled material, gold thread etc. whereas the poor of course have something much simpler. The final outfit is extremely heavy and, what with the length of time the couple must stand for the ceremony, it can become an endurance test not to faint under it all.
Many girls and boys spend much of their childhood weaving and embroidering their wedding outfits, but wedding garments are also be handed down from generation to generation, or traded within families, with each wearer adding a little bit of the outfit. It is a sign of affection for in-laws to lend part of their wedding clothes to the bride or groom - a bit of lace or a piece of embroidered ribbon carefully removed from their wedding clothes.
For part of the ceremony the bride and groom are tied together with a piece of coloured thread. If the thread breaks before the wedding is complete, it's a sign that the marriage will be unhappy; if one person's end comes untied, it's a sign that they will be unfaithful or die.
Partners in an Imperial marriage are held equal, and all property is considered joint ownership. Either party may sue for a divorce against the other, on the grounds of infidelity, violence or "neglect" (a fairly nebulous term used as a legal catch-all). The process takes about a year to ratify and property is divided three ways between husband, wife and the Magister conducting the case.
Attitudes to Sex
The Empire is quite advanced as far as contraception goes (a herb called Bitter Tea, sold by the Obrenaja in Llaza is commonly used as a preventative), and the Imperial religion is not proscriptive of personal behaviour. However, due to the concept of rao-shimvar, one's duty to society, it's a general belief that sex does not exist for personal benefit - it's there as a means of producing more citizens for the Empire, which is a duty all married couples and even some singles should undertake seriously.
The most ubiquitous text dealing with matters sexual, the Lotus Book, is a very clinical read dealing more with mechanics than pleasure, and while sex acts other than vaginal penetration aren't considered exactly wrong, there is a certain stigma attached to them. Persons engaging in such acts are seen as selfish and irresponsible for placing their personal pleasure above their duty to the Empire.
However, this attitude seems to be more common amongst the ruling classes of the Empire, and subject peoples often have their own ideas about sex. These are given vent within the Imperial system on festival days, especially the Children's Festival and the Laburnum Festival. Llaza in particular of the former Imperial states has a very relaxed attitude to sex. It is, after all, a city of extreme hedonism.
Prostitution in the Empire proper is not illegal, but known prostitutes are considered on the lowest end of the social scale. The authorities simply pretend that the situation does not exist, and euphemisms are used (such as Lotus Girls or Delicate Flowers) if the subject is discussed. In Llaza, prostitutes have a semi-official status, with at least nominal regulation by the authorities and a guild. More often than not, however, a criminal organisation stands by to take the profits.
Again, Imperial Society has a sort of tacit acceptance of homosexuality, but prefers to ignore it. What people get up to in their own home is fine, but people openly flaunting a same-sex relationship will find that they have become all but invisible to society. The slang terms deriving from bath-house use ("morning bather" etc.) can suggest a degree of insult on one's sexual orientation but they are more commonly employed to describe one who is ineffectual or effete rather than specifically homosexual.
Llaza, once again, has a very relaxed attitude, to the point where it is considered fashionable within some circles to dally in same-sex relationships. Elsewhere, the Denra-Lyr, with their big mythical theories of the intermingling of male and female forces are one of the least tolerant societies (despite being quite egalitarian in other matters) since they see same-sex relationships as being dangerous to cosmic harmony. Vaarta, with its fire and brimstone religion, is extremely and violently hostile to perceived homosexuality. The nurturing salsham'ai tend to be happy for someone to love whoever they want. Amongst the tlaxu its not thought "wrong", but since marriage defines social status homosexuality is an effective way of barring oneself from gaining power and influence. To a tlaxu, this is an unthinkable thing to want to do, but it stems from the social status aspect rather than the sexuality aspect.