Every seven years, Vulcan males and females become aroused. They undergo a blood fever, 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, 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, and thus more than once every seven years.
In Star Trek canon
Pon farr was introduced and prominently featured in the original Star Trek series episode "Amok Time", written by Theodore Sturgeon. In the episode, Mr. Spock experiences pon farr and is returned to his home planet Vulcan by Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy to undergo the mating ritual and save his life.
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 the 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 Tom Paris. The pon farr is eventually resolved when Torres and Vorik battle together in the ritual fight kunat kal-if-fee on the planet.
In fan fiction
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 until 1987, when it was formally published in the anthology Alien Brothers. The story is denoted as a "K/S" story — the designation for fan fiction stories that feature an explicitly sexual relationship between Kirk and Spock. (See slash fiction.) 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. This plot device allows stories to include many more occasions for erotic couplings. Other such elements include "plak tow" as the name for the blood fever; the fact that 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; and "lingering death" as the name for the death of a Vulcan male in pon farr who is unable to claim a mate.
Pon farr stories are so popular with slash story fans that at least one fanzine, Fever, is devoted to containing only pon farr stories. Constance Penley, professor of Film & Media Studies at the University of California, 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 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.
Fan fiction stories embodying this are the "Night of the Twin Moons" series by Jean Lorrah, in which Amanda teaches Sarek and then other Vulcan couples to enjoy pon farr and to accept their physical and emotional natures.
In other media
- Dilbert had a series of comics depicting engineers as suffering from pon farr.
- The Futurama episode "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?" closely parodies pon farr, with the character Dr. Zoidberg returning to his home planet Decapod 10 for his species' mating ritual. In an ironic twist, Zoidberg's life would end if he mated.
- In The Big Bang Theory episode "The Lunar Excitation," Raj and Howard use Pon Farr as a way of convincing Sheldon to go on a date with Amy Farrah Fowler, a girl they discovered by entering his information in a dating website. This method fails, and Raj eventually succeeds by blackmailing Sheldon.
- Pon farr is the subject of a Star Trek parody video by the Key of Awesome, starting Todd Womack as Spock and Mark Douglas as Kirk.
- In The Simpsons episode "They Saved Lisa's Brain", Comic Book Guy, representing a member of an intellectual junta that briefly ran the town, proposed plans to limit breeding to once every seven years (actually using the term, "Pon Farr"), commenting that this would mean much less breeding for most, but for him, much, much more.
- Musth, a similar condition affecting male elephants
- "Keeping Ferrets as Pets". The British Ferret Club.
- Bryson, Norman; Holly, Michael Ann; Moxey, Keith P. F. (1994). "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and Popular Culture". Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 311–312. ISBN 081956267X.
- Penley, Constance (1997). NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America. Verso. p. 130. ISBN 0-86091-617-0.
- Verba, Joan Marie (2003). Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan & Zine History, 1967–1987. FTL Publications. p. 29. ISBN 0-9653575-4-6.
- Bacon-Smith, Camille (1992). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-8122-1379-3.
- Adams, Scott (11 January 2011). "Dilbert comic strip for 01/12/2011". Dilbert. Retrieved 15 February 2013.