By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | January 18, 2011 |
By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | January 18, 2011 |
Last week a reader sent me a suggestion inspired by an episode of The Universe about sex in space.And then this article from last November’s Journal of Cosmonology by Rhawn Joseph was unearthed and reported on by several websites. I’m kinda lazy, so when a topic falls in my lap like that I’m not about to say no. The Cosmonology article is not, sadly, an in depth scientific study of the effect of space travel on all things sexual. No such study has been performed, as NASA hasn’t done any official experiments on the topic. It’s actually just a scientist geeking out about the possibility of astronauts having sex during long missions and discussing various complications and issues that could arise, physically and emotionally, from coupling in the unique atmosphere of a space ship. As a professor of brain research, the author seems especially interested in the psychological effects. (And he’s an emeritus professor, which means “old,” which in this case also seems to mean “cringe-inducingly sexist.” Just a warning if you decide to read the article.) I’d rather not just recap someone else’s scientific editorial, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to geek out about sex in space with respect to my personal fields of expertise - physics and biology.
There is a school of thought that states that because the constants of the universe are exactly as they need to be for human life to exist, human existence must therefore be the purpose of the universe. It makes more sense, however, to assume that humans are built the way we are because we came into existence within the context of that specific set of universal rules. And on a more local level, we evolved specifically to fit the conditions of this particular planet, Earth. That means that our bodies, our bones and muscles and circulatory systems, all of it, evolved to operate under a constant gravitational force of roughly 9.8 N/kg. The mechanics of sex as with all human activity, are designed to accommodate this downward force. The most obvious difficulty with having sex in space, where gravity is almost zero, therefore, is that minus this force things become a little complicated. The first problem is summed up by Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force. Without gravity to hold you down, any movement in space will propel you in the initial direction of that movement until you hit something solid - most likely a wall. Another human being isn’t gonna cut it - thrust into your partner in zero gravity and you’ll both be propelled forward. The in-and-out motion of sex becomes pretty complicated when every thrust either pushes you and your partner across the room or sends one of you shooting upwards toward the ceiling. (Horizontal motion won’t save you, either. What holds you in place normally in that case is friction, and frictional force is a function of the roughness of the surface you’re on and the force with which you press against that surface. No gravity=no friction.) There are several possible ways to get around this particular problem. The most obvious is to utilize something like handlebars to hold yourself in place. Of course that means you won’t have your hands free to stimulate your partner, which kind of sucks. Another option would be a mechanism to hold your body down without requiring you to actively restrain yourself - some sort of Velcro or magnetic apparatus that you would have to strap on. (“Hold on baby, just let me put on my thigh high leather mag-boots…”) Having sex in a very small space where your motion is limited to the range you actually want to move in is also a possibility, although it doesn’t sound like a very comfortable one. Regardless, there’s always going to be a lack of gravity, and as I said before, the way we move is entirely dependent on the presence of this external force. You’d be surprised how much you rely on gravity. Our muscles automatically take into account the opposing force when we move upward and tend to use it to assist us when we move downward. Basically, if you’re on top of your partner, you exert force to push yourself up but require less effort to move back down. In space, the muscular actions required to perform the same motion would likely be different. I’m sure, horny and adaptable creatures that we are, that we’d get used to it, but it would definitely be an adjustment.
There is also the question of how human bodies react to prolonged exposure to microgravity and radiation found in space. There is some evidence that space travel affects hormonal levels. Male astronauts have been found to have lowered testosterone levels, for instance. It isn’t known how space travel affects other aspects of sexual organs, such as semen production and lubrication. Hopefully the effects would be negligible - opening up a bottle of lube in zero gravity could get messy. And for obvious reasons, the pullout method is probably not the best of ideas. (It is, however, a good idea to use some form of birth control, since the effects of space travel on pregnancy would probably be disastrous) Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll know the answers to these questions anytime soon. As far as we know, no one has yet had sex in space. (Although there is speculation that one pair of married astronauts who were on a mission together might have, but they aren’t talking). NASA discourages copulation between astronauts while on a mission but takes a blind-eye approach to the subject, so they aren’t likely to perform any studies on the subject. It’s more likely that if it happens, it’ll happen during commercial space travel, and instead of scientific data we’ll be left with anecdotes.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.