Friday, July 29, 2011

People Are Sexual, Even In Space

That's a "duh!" statement for most of us, but I've been thinking about this in the context of the lecture on "Sex in Space" at Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop 2011. The discussion went like this, "Have people had sex in space? We don't know. If they have, they aren't telling."

Why not?

Certainly, in the earliest space flights, partnered sex was impossible. (The issue of solo sex is an interesting one, however, but no one's talking about that, either.) Astronauts flew solo or remained in their individual space suits. That's changed. We've had crews of more than one person, even a married couple. The presumption is that at one time or another, two of these people have been sexual with one another. So what's the deal with "they aren't saying"? Is spaceflight supposed to be so serious that people stop having sexual feelings? Or so exhausting that even if they did have those desires, they wouldn't have the energy to do anything about them? Maybe they did, and they told NASA (or whoever), but that information is Classified? For what conceivable purpose (excuse the pun)?

Maybe nobody's talking because:
  • Discussing sexual activity during spaceflights encourages prurient interest. (You've got to be kidding; how can the media portrayals get any worse by talking frankly about it?)
  • Sex is undignified and unbefitting professional astronauts. (You've got to be kidding, part 2.)
  • Fraternization between astronauts who are not married to each other is immoral; any appearance of condoning such activity would be detrimental to the space program. (Please leave Victorian attitudes at the door. If you're going to be measuring an astronaut's waste products, you can jolly well acknowledge that people have extramarital sex.)
  • Sex leads to jealousy and possessiveness, therefore it is a divisive force that might be detrimental to the cooperation necessary for survival in space. (Not talking about sex leads to these very things.)
Considering the care devoted to other aspects of the health of astronauts, both physical and psychological, I find it impossible that sexual health is excluded. If we can send a man to the Moon, as the saying goes, why can't we talk about sex as part of the human experience?
  • Sex is pleasurable, and physically good for us. We all have a right to enjoy our bodies, and that does not go away when we are in stressful situations. Often, sexual activity helps to release tension.
  • Sex, whether within a committed relationship or not, can enhance working relationships. People are going to be sexual with one another, so what we need are healthy ways of talking about it, rather than pretending it doesn't exist.
  • Human beings create misunderstandings and friction between themselves, whether they are sexual with one another or not. If we can acknowledge our desire for sex and find mutually respectful ways of expressing those desires, we will have come a long way toward preventing such problems.
There's another reason people might not be 'fessing up to having had sex in space, and that is that it was so awkward as to be unsatisfying but no one wants to admit being inadequate -- that would tarnish the reputation of the macho astronaut or whatever the feminine equivalent is. Maybe partnered sex in space doesn't work very well. That's hardly a sufficient reason to refuse to talk about it.

The illustration is William Bouguereau, Le ravissement de Psyché, 1895.


  1. I can imagine that one would need a certain amount of gravity for the experience to come to fruition, either that or a lot of large rubber bands.

  2. Or some way of anchoring one of the partners, so they don't both go spinning and splatting into hard surfaces.