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Sex in Space

H.G. Stratmann

Introductory Remarks
The focus of this talk will be on the classic
combination of one adult male and one adult
female.
The effects of the space environment on other
combinations of numbers/genders can be
extrapolated from the information presented
here.

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


Vostok 1 April 12, 1961 One-man orbital
flight
Mercury-Redstone 3 May 5, 1961 One-man
suborbital flight
Mercury-Redstone 4 July 21, 1961 One-man
suborbital flight
Vostok 2 August 6, 1961 One-man orbital
flight

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


Mercury-Atlas 6 February 20, 1962 One-man
orbital flight
Mercury-Atlas 7 May 24, 1962 One-man
orbital flight
Vostok 3 August 11, 1962 One-man orbital
flight
Vostok 4 August 12, 1962 One-man orbital
flight

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


Mercury-Atlas 8 October 3, 1962 One-man
orbital flight
Mercury-Atlas 9 May 15, 1963 One-man
orbital flight
The first time a man and woman flew in space
was in June 1963

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


The first woman in space was cosmonaut
Valentina Tereshkova, aged 26 at the time of her
flight
She and her fellow, male cosmonaut Valery
Bykovsky, aged 29, flew in space at the same time
However, any inclination toward intimate
interpersonal relations between these two
cosmonauts would not have been technically
feasible

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


Valery Bykovsky occupied a one-person
capsule in orbit (Vostok 5, June 14-19, 1963)
Valentina Tereshkova occupied a second oneperson capsule in orbit (Vostok 6, June 16-19,
1963)

The two capsules did not allow docking


maneuvers of any kind to be performed

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


All subsequent spaceflights during the 1960s
and 1970s were made only by men
The initial space stations placed in orbit,
Skylab (1973) and the first 6 Salyut stations,
also had all-male crews
The first co-ed crew in orbit together within
touching distance was on Salyut 7

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


A three-person crew consisting of the second
woman in space, Svetlana Savitskaya (age 34),
and two male cosmonauts flew to orbit in a Soyuz
capsule (August 1982)
They stayed aboard Salyut 7 together for several
days
Savitskaya made a second flight to Salyut 7 with
two different male cosmonauts in July 1984,
where she became the first woman to make a
spacewalk

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


The third woman to reach space was Sally Ride
aboard Challenger (ST-7) in 1983, as part of a fiveperson crew
Since then mixed-gender crews on the Space Shuttle
and space stations (Mir and the ISS) have been
common
There is the potential for husband-wife teams to fly
into space together
STS-47 (1992) included a husband-wife team, Mark Lee
and Jan Davis

The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight


Question: Has sexual activity been performed
by humans in space?

Answer: Who knows? There has been no


official confirmation.
The only people who know for sure
apparently arent telling.
NASA appears to have the equivalent of a
Dont ask, dont tell policy.

Sex in Space?
Question: In theory, could sex be performed in
space?
Answer: Yes, but it could be difficult and even
dangerous due to problems with:
Microgravity and its effects on human
anatomy and physiology
Radiation in space
Psychological effects of the space
environment

Review of Basic Sexual Physiology


Women:
Cerebral and peripheral (e.g. the pudenal nerves
and sacral plexus) pathways leading to and from
the spinal cord are activated by:
Psychic stimulation (e.g. thinking erotic thoughts)
Local stimulation of the genitalia and other sensitive
body parts

Parasympathetic nerves act by:


Dilating the arteries of erectile tissue
Stimulating secretion of mucus that acts as a lubricant
for coitus
Relaxing smooth muscles

Review of Basic Sexual Physiology


Women:
Climax is achieved via the sympathetic nervous
system and spinal cord reflexes
Men also achieve climax by means of the
sympathetic nervous system

Review of Basic Sexual Physiology


Men:
Performance and completion of coitus is
dependent on achieving and maintaining penile
erection
As with women, physical and psychic stimulation
play important roles in production of an erection
These types of stimulation activate the
parasympathetic nervous system
Nerve impulses transmitted from the sacral spinal
cord pass through the pelvic nerves to the penis

Review of Basic Sexual Physiology


Men:
Nerve impulses cause relaxation of penile arteries
(thereby increasing blood flow) and the smooth
muscle in its erectile tissue
This erectile tissue consists of large cavernous
sinusoids that are normally nearly empty of blood
These sinusoids dilate tremendously when arterial
blood flows into them under pressure and venous
outflow is partially occluded

Review of Basic Sexual Physiology


Men:
The erectile tissue is surrounded by strong fibrous
tissue
The combined effects of these changes in blood
flow and presence of this fibrous tissue produces
the characteristic hardening, elongation, and
elevation of the penis
Stimulation of the penis produces climax
As in women, reflexes involving the sympathetic
nervous system are required for climax

Why Space is a Terrible Place for Sex


Some space travelers might find the thought
of doing it in space psychologically
stimulating
This enthusiasm may be strongly curbed by
other physiological and psychological effects
of being in space

Not tonight dear, I have Space Adaptation


Syndrome
Space Adaptation Syndrome occurs in about twothirds of trained space travelers within minutes to
about 2 hours after entering space and may persist
for up to about a week
Occurs in about 85% of less well-trained space
travelers (e.g. space tourists?)
Headache, nasal congestion, dizziness, nausea, and
vomiting (typically without warning) can occur,
potentially reducing desire for sexual activity
(Its hard to feel sexy when youre upchucking all over
yourself and your partner)

Impediments to Sex in Space


Anxiety, overexcitement, busy work schedules,
and lack of privacy may also inhibit
performance
Adverse physiological effects of microgravity:
Male rats on Cosmos 2044 had a fall of
testosterone levels to < 20% of controls while in
space
Comparable effects in human males would likely
inhibit sexual function

Impediments to Sex in Space


Other adverse physiological effects of
microgravity:
Mild anemia
Loss of about one to two liters of fluid from the
body
Reduced tone in the autonomic nervous system,
particularly its sympathetic component
All of these factors could have a deflating effect on
erectile function

Impediments to Sex in Space


Still other adverse physiological effects of
microgravity:
Prolonged exposure to microgravity produces
reduction of bone and muscle mass to about 85%
of baseline, despite vigorous exercise
Depending on the circumstances, performing sex
may require significantly more energy and be
associated with increased risk of fractures (of one
type or another) in the event of an accident

Other adverse physiological effects of


microgravity
Normal energy expenditure and risks of sex:
Initial performance of intercourse requires at least 2
to 3 METs
One MET ( metabolic equivalent) is the amount of oxygen a
healthy person uses while sitting quietly (3.5 ml of
oxygen/minute/kilogram of body weight)

At climax, energy expenditure increases to up to 4


METs (equivalent to walking 3 to 4 miles/hour)
These energy estimates are based on ideal
conditions, with a familiar partner and in familiar
surroundings

Other adverse physiological effects of


microgravity
Normal energy expenditure and risks of sex:
In healthy individuals
Heart rate typically rises to around 130 beats/minute
Systolic blood pressure typically rises to around 170 to
180 mmHg

In a stressful environment and with an unfamiliar


(and particularly much younger) partner:
Peak energy expenditure may rise to 5 to 6 METs or
higher
Heart rate and systolic blood pressure may rise
significantly above usual maximums

Other adverse physiological effects of


microgravity
The deconditioning, fluid shifts, and loss of
autonomic tone associated with microgravity may
further increase energy expenditure, heart rate,
and blood pressure during intercourse
Risk of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or
death during sex is about 1 to 2 out of a million
The potential increased risk of this in microgravity
is unknown

Other physiological effects of microgravity


Astronauts are currently screened for STDs
prior to flight
Guidelines for future space tourists (e.g. at
orbiting hotels) regarding screening for STDs
or overall health assessment are uncertain
Microgravity induces at least a mild reduction
in immune function, thus potentially
increasing the risk of acquiring an STD from an
affected partner in space

Adverse Physical Effects of


Microgravity on Sex
Free-floating sex is rendered dangerous by
Newtons Third Law of Motion (For every
action)
Thrusting or other body motions could result in a
coupled couple ricocheting off a wall, striking
ones head or other sensitive body part, or worse
Mistimed motions might also lead to
decoupling and the separated partners
shooting away in opposite directions before
hitting a wall, piece of equipment, etc.

Other Adverse Physical Effects


of Microgravity
Penile fracture
A misguided movement could cause excessive
lateral or downward buckling of the erect penis
This results in a tear in the fibrous tissue within
the penis and an injury that decisively interrupts
any resumption of coitus

Other Adverse Physical Effects


of Microgravity
A penile fracture produces:
A sharp snapping, cracking, or popping sound
Excruciating pain, swelling, bleeding, and
deformity of the penis
Having to answer many embarrassing questions
from Mission Control
A sharp fall in the stock price of space tourism
companies

Other Adverse Physical Effects


of Microgravity
Treatment of a penile fracture
Cold compresses, pressure dressings, splinting
Analgesics
Surgery is strongly recommended to repair a penile
fracture
Surgery will need to be delayed for a painfully long
time, unless one of your crewmates happens to be a
urologist and has proper surgical supplies on hand
Medical treatment alone is much more likely to result
in long-term complications, including erectile
dysfunction, permanent curvature, abscess, etc.

Potential Solutions to Physical Issues


with Performing Sex in Space
Restraining one or both partners:
At least one partner could be restrained by means
of footholds in a solid surface or being bound by
belts/cords to a flat surface (space bondage?)
The other partner could be more loosely bound to
the other by belts, short cords, handles etc.
Alternatively, both partners could be within a
loose covering/blanket/mesh that in turn is
fastened to a surface

Potential Solutions to Physical Issues with


Performing Sex in Space
Other issues:
A third person secured nearby can be employed as a
helper to give a well-timed push or restrain excessive
backward movement of one of the two busy
partners
This technique is reportedly used by dolphins, who
must have some very interesting tales to tell
Partners will need to be careful enough not to be
injured but not too anxious about injury that
performance suffers or a catastrophic system failure
occurs

Potential Solutions to Physical Issues with


Performing Sex in Space
Fluids and other matter generated during sexual
activity need to be contained
Potential substances include perspiration (which also
beads up on skin), saliva, hair, blood, and those originating
from the genitalia
Free fluids of any kind form globules in microgravity that
float until they strike a surface, are inhaled, etc.

Body heat dissipation may be less efficient, making


active, close contact literally and uncomfortably
hot
Noise and unpleasant smells may be inhibiting

Overall Assessment
If proper care and precautions are taken, sex in space
could potentially be successfully performed
Rats (2 males and 5 females) aboard Cosmos 1129
(1979) were able to copulate in microgravity
Mekada fish also successfully mated on STS-65
(1994) and produced viable offspring born in space
The rats, fish, and any humans whove ever done it
in space arent saying whether the experience was
worth it or not

Overall Assessment
Psychological effects are also potentially
serious
Jealousy, love triangles, and interpersonal conflicts
can occur in isolation of space
Incidents have occurred in comparable situations
in remote outposts (e.g. Antarctica)
Soap opera in space could endanger crew and
mission
Lisa Nowak incident

Conception and Pregnancy in Space


There are important reasons to prevent sex in
space from producing conception and pregnancy
This is clearly not desirable on initial missions to the
Moon or Mars due to limited medical resources
available to support the mother and the embryo/fetus
(e.g. an ectopic pregnancy)
Microgravity, lower gravity on the Moon and Mars,
and increased radiation exposure in these
environments have potentially harmful, even deadly
effects on the developing embryo/fetus and children

Contraception in Space
No method of birth control short of full
sterilization is 100% effective in an otherwise
fertile man or woman
Various temporary contraceptive methods can
approach but not reach 100% effectiveness
The effectiveness of chemical means of
contraception (e.g. birth control pills) in micro- or
low gravity environments is unknown

Can Conception Occur in Space?


In microgravity, ejaculated spermatozoa can
stay put within the vagina and be ready for
transport to the uterus and fallopian tubes
Transport of spermatozoa to and through
these organs is produced by muscle
contractions, ciliary action, and the intrinsic
motility of spermatozoa
Microgravity should not significantly affect
conception

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Microgravity and spaceflight may have
contraceptive effects
Menstrual dysfunction is likely in woman
astronauts during prolonged stays in space

Disturbances in circadian rhythms


Intensive exercise needed for pre-flight training
Stress
Potential disturbance of the hypothalamic-pituitaryovarian axis could result in lack of ovulation or
excessive menstrual bleeding

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Menstrual dysfunction:
Microgravity might induce retrograde
menstruation (regurgitation of uterine blood and
tissue backwards through the fallopian tubes and
abdominal organs), producing endometriosis and
infertility

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Effects of the space environment on male
fertility
Fall in testosterone levels and sperm motility
could reduce fertility
Toxins used in life-support systems, propellants,
etc. could reduce sperm counts

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Higher radiation levels in space affect both
male and female fertility
Sperm cells are the most radiosensitive cells in
a mans body
Radiation can damage or destroy sperm cells,
leading either to reduced fertility or genetic
defects in offspring if conception does occur

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Sperm cells are produced and destroyed over
an approximately 74-day cycle
Sperm counts and quality will eventually return to
normal after only low-dose radiation exposure
Higher-dose radiation exposure could produce
prolonged infertility
Radiation doses needed to destroy all sperm cells
are usually lethal

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Effects of radiation exposure on fertility in
women
The ovaries are 5 to 7 cm below the skin, which
attenuates the radiation exposure they receive
compared to a mans testes
Oocytes (immature egg cells) in the ovaries are
more radioresistant to genetic defects than sperm
cells
However, oocytes are not replaced if damaged,
while new sperm cells are produced

Can Conception Occur in Space?


Effects of radiation exposure on fertility in
women
A single acute dose of 300-400 rems usually
results in destruction of all oocytes and ends
further estrogen production by the ovaries
Smaller, repeated doses of radiation have
cumulative effects
Radiation exposure can also cause endometriosis

Conception in Space
Ovulation and fertilization occurred in female rats
aboard Cosmos 1129
However, all embryos were absorbed and never
carried to term
Male rats onboard Cosmos 1129 successfully
mated with earthbound females after their flight
Offspring had a higher rate of developmental
abnormalities, including growth retardation

Conception in Space
Mekada fish did produce viable offspring after
mating on STS-65 (1994)
The overall effects of the space environment
on human fertility and conception are
unknown

Pregnancy in Space
This could be due to a pregnancy originating
in space or a preexisting one at the time of
entry into space
Adverse effects of microgravity and especially
radiation would be expected to be greatest
during the earlier stages of pregnancy
Increased risk of genetic damage to the embryo
Adverse effects on the mother

Pregnancy in Space
Other adverse effects during early pregnancy
Symptoms of morning sickness such as nausea
and vomiting would be more difficult to manage in
the space environment, especially if combined
with similar symptoms of Space Adaptation
Syndrome
Possibility of hyperemesis gravidarum with
severe vomiting, dehydration, and liver damage

Pregnancy in Space
The full range of complications that can threaten the
life and health of both mother and fetus could also
occur in space
Limited medical care in space, particularly at long
distances from Earth (e.g. on the Moon or Mars),
could lead to serious injury or death to mother and
fetus
Common complications that usually are not lifethreatening, such as UTIs and gestational diabetes, will be
more difficult to treat due to limited medical supplies

Pregnancy in Space
Preeclampsia can occur in the second and
third trimester
Hypertension
Proteinuria
Headache
Visual disturbances
Can worsen into eclampsia, with potentially fatal
seizures and coma

Pregnancy in Space
Hemorrhagic complications
Abruptio placentae (partial separation of the placenta
from the uterine wall)
Limited blood supplies in space and the hypovolemia
and mild anemia that occur in microgravity could
worsen the effects of blood loss on mother and fetus
Fetus would be more sensitive to the mothers blood
loss from any cause, potentially causing problems
from low birth weight to anoxic encephalopathy to
death

Pregnancy in Space
Other potential complications:
Ectopic pregnancy
Pre-term labor
Risk of rupture of the amniotic sac during
acceleration or deceleration (e.g. launch and reentry)
Toxins within spacecraft (e.g. nitrogen tetroxide or
hydrazine) could cause respiratory distress or
anoxia to mother and fetus

Pregnancy in Space
Beneficial effects of microgravity
Reduction of incidence of varicose veins and
edema (swelling) of the legs
Reduced problems with back pain and difficulty
moving associated with terrestrial pregnancy
Lightheadedness caused by gravity-dependent
compression of the IVC by an enlarged uterus in
the supine position will not occur

Pregnancy in Space
Birth in microgravity or low gravity
Woman and assistants need to be secured
Maintaining sterility and containing fluids (e.g.
amniotic fluid) will be challenging
Anesthesia (local or intravenous) could be used
Spinal/epidural anesthesia is partly dependent on
gravity for its effectiveness

Cesarean section would require higher level of


sterility, trained personnel, and proper equipment

Pregnancy in Space
Other risks to the embryo/fetus
Decompression sickness caused by sudden cabin
decompression can injure the mother and
especially the fetus
Effects on the mother include difficulty breathing,
pain in the limbs, weakness, paralysis, and
seizures
Caused by release of nitrogen dissolved in blood
and other body fluids as bubbles

Pregnancy in Space
Other risks to the embryo/fetus
In the fetus, nitrogen bubbles can form directly in
arterial blood and can also pass from veins into
the arterial system through the foramen ovale and
ductus arteriosus
These bubbles can impair blood supply to critical
organs, including the brain

Pregnancy in Space
Other risks to the embryo/fetus
Radiation risk to embryo/fetus in space is high
Suggested maximum cumulative radiation exposure to
the embryo/fetus during all nine months of pregnancy
in terrestrial female radiation workers is 0.5 rem
(normal annual background exposure per year is 0.1
to 0.2 rem)
In LEO, annual radiation exposure is 14 to 21 rem
Radiation exposure could be much higher in deep
space or during a solar particle event

Pregnancy in Space
Radiation risks to the embryo/fetus
High acute radiation exposure during the first two
weeks following conception are most likely to
result in destruction of the zygote (first four days
after conception) or embryo (remaining 8 weeks
following conception)
Developmental abnormalities are most likely to
occur with radiation exposure between 8 to 25
weeks after conception

Pregnancy in Space
Radiation risks to the embryo/fetus

Cataracts
Abnormal genitalia
Microcephaly
Microphthalmia
Decreased life span
Mental retardation
Possible increased risk of childhood leukemia
Dose-dependent reduction in IQ

Overall Risks of Conception and


Pregnancy in Space
The probability of conception occurring, if the
most effective level of contraception is used, is
low
However, the risks to the mother and especially
the developing embryo/fetus are high if
conception does occur
These risks are magnified the longer the mother
and her embryo/fetus are in space and the
farther away they are from needed medical care
on Earth

Overall Risks of Conception and


Pregnancy in Space
NASAs current Medical Standards specifically
disqualify any pregnant woman from going
into space due to these risks
None of the problems with conception and
pregnancy are insurmountable
Systems using artificial gravity
Improved protection against radiation
Adequate medical infrastructure

Overall Risks of Conception and


Pregnancy in Space
In the current state of space exploration, the
risk-benefit ratio of conception and
particularly pregnancy in space is very
unfavorable

Kids in Space
Potential risks of microgravity or low-gravity
and radiation exposure are significantly
greater in children than in adults
Unlike adults, the bones and muscles of
children are still developing
Long-term exposure to microgravity is likely to
result in growth retardation, particularly in the
long bones of the thighs and legs

Kids in Space
Other potential adverse skeletal effects:
Delayed closure of the fontanels of a babys skull
Short stature due to reduced lengthening of long
long bones and premature closure of epiphyseal
(growth) plates
Abnormal development of vertebrae, potentially
resulting in nerve compression syndromes

Kids in Space
Other potential adverse skeletal effects:
Adult astronauts need to perform vigorous
exercise to maintain bone and muscle mass of
about 85% of preflight levels
Infants, babies, and small children would not be
able to cooperate in such intensive exercise
programs
This could result in levels of bone and muscle
mass well below 85% of normal

Kids in Space
Other adverse effects
Infants and babies raised in microgravity wouldnt
learn how to walk or develop normal
neurovestibular reflexes (e.g. those associated
with balance)
How prolonged exposure to low or microgravity
would affect overall neurological (especially brain)
development is unknown

Kids in Space
Other adverse effects
Long-term radiation exposure in the space
environment will increase lifetime risk of cancer
Immature immune system may increase risk of
infection
The presence of small children in a spacecraft, with all
its potential dangers, is a recipe for disaster
For example, Daddy, what does this button do?
immediately followed by the whole family breathing
vacuum

The Current Status of Sex in Space


There is a marked dichotomy between some
perceptions (including those in SF) about what
sex in space is like and what it really is at present

Based on current technology, sex and its


consequences in space are both risky and
potentially deadly
However, all of these risks can and must be
significantly reduced with further advances in
technology and medical infrastructure for the
successful colonization of space

Sex with Aliens?


It requires at bare minimum some type of
complementary anatomy
It also requires faith that alien sexual practices do
not lead to unexpected consequences

Hopefully the relevant part of the aliens anatomy does not


have teeth, nor does it have sharp spikes that suddenly
extrude out of it during a critical moment of intimacy
There may be an embarrassing discovery that the alien is
not really the gender you thought, particularly if its
species has more than two genders
Mating with alien females whose post-coital habits are
similar to a terrestrial black widow spider or praying
mantis may lead to abrupt termination of afterglow

Offspring with Aliens?


Very unlikely that interspecies parenthood is possible,
even with the most advanced genetic engineering
Alien physiology will almost certainly be radically
different from the terrestrial variety
They evolved under different average atmospheric pressure
and content, gravity, radiation levels, etc. than humans
They have different DNA (if any), proteins, amino acids,
cells, etc. than life as we know it
We would have more in common genetically with a
rutabaga than we would with an alien, and humanrutabaga hybrids (rutamans?) appear to be uncommon

The way Hollywood sees it

Sorry if I seem a little too touchy-feely. We Metalunan


mutants dont get out much.