Space Sex is Serious Business: A Hilarious Short Animation Addresses Serious Questions About Human Reproduction in Space

Back in the late 80s, there was a rumor float­ing around that Earth Girls Are Easy.

40 some years of sci­en­tif­ic and social advance­ment have shift­ed the con­ver­sa­tion­al focus.

We’re just now begin­ning to under­stand that Space Sex is Seri­ous Busi­ness.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk achieves his goal of estab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent human pres­ence on Mars.

Sure­ly at some point in their long trav­els to and res­i­dence on Mars, those pio­neers would get down to busi­ness in much the same way that rats, fruit flies, par­a­sitic wasps, and Japan­ese rice fish have while under obser­va­tion on pri­or space expe­di­tions.

Mean­while, we’re seri­ous­ly lack­ing in human data.

A pair of human astro­nauts, Jan Davis and Mark Lee, made his­to­ry in 1992 as the first mar­ried cou­ple to enter space togeth­er, but NASA insist­ed their rela­tions remained strict­ly pro­fes­sion­al for the dura­tion, and that a shut­tle’s crew com­part­ment is too small for the sort of antics a nasty-mind­ed pub­lic kept ask­ing about.

In an inter­view with Mens Health, Colonel Mike Mul­lane, a vet­er­an of three space mis­sions, con­firmed that a space­craft’s lay­out does­n’t favor romance:

The only pri­va­cy would have been in the air lock, but every­body would know what you were doing. You’re not out there doing a space­walk. There’s no rea­son to be in there.

Short­ly after Davis and Lee returned to earth, NASA for­mal­ized an unspo­ken rule pro­hibit­ing hus­bands and wives from ven­tur­ing into space togeth­er. It did lit­tle to squelch pub­lic inter­est in space sex.

One won­ders if NASA’s rule has been rewrit­ten in accor­dance with the times. Air lock aside, might same sex cou­ples remain free to swing what het­ero-nor­ma­tive mar­rieds (arguably) can­not?

This is but one of hun­dreds of space sex ques­tions beg­ging fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

Some of the most seri­ous are raised in Tom McCarten’s wit­ty col­lage ani­ma­tion for FiveThir­tyEight, above.

Name­ly how dam­ag­ing will cos­mic radi­a­tion and micro­grav­i­ty prove to human repro­duc­tion? As more humans toy with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of leav­ing Earth, this ques­tion feels less and less hypo­thet­i­cal.

Mag­gie Koerth-Bak­er, who researched and nar­rates the ani­mat­ed short, notes that Musk por­trayed the risks of radi­a­tion as minor dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 67th Inter­na­tion­al Astro­nau­ti­cal Con­gress in Guadala­jara, Mex­i­co, and breathed not a peep as to the effects of micro­grav­i­ty.

Yet sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies of non-human space trav­el­ers doc­u­ment a host of repro­duc­tive issues includ­ing low­ered libido, atyp­i­cal hor­mone lev­els, ovu­la­to­ry dys­func­tion, mis­car­riages, and fetal muta­tions.

On its web­page, NASA pro­vides some infor­ma­tion about the Repro­duc­tion, Devel­op­ment, and Sex Dif­fer­ences Lab­o­ra­to­ry of its Space Bio­sciences Research Branch, but remains mum on top­ics of press­ing con­cern to, say, stu­dents in a typ­i­cal mid­dle school sex ed class.

Like achiev­ing and main­tain­ing erec­tions in micro­grav­i­ty.

In Phys­i­ol­o­gy News Mag­a­zine, Dr. Adam Watkins, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Repro­duc­tive and Devel­op­men­tal Phys­i­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham, sug­gests that inter­nal and exter­nal atmos­pher­ic changes would make such things, par­don the pun, hard:

First­ly, just stay­ing in close con­tact with each oth­er under zero grav­i­ty is hard. Sec­ond­ly, as astro­nauts expe­ri­ence low­er blood pres­sure while in space, main­tain­ing erec­tions and arousal are more prob­lem­at­ic than here on Earth. 

The excep­tion­al­ly forth­right Col Mul­lane has some con­tra­dic­to­ry first hand expe­ri­ence that should come as a relief to all humankind:

A cou­ple of times, I would wake up from sleep peri­ods and I had a bon­er that I could have drilled through kryp­tonite.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Free Online Astron­o­my Cours­es

Watch Fam­i­ly Plan­ning, Walt Disney’s 1967 Sex Ed Pro­duc­tion, Star­ring Don­ald Duck

The Sto­ry Of Men­stru­a­tion: Watch Walt Disney’s Sex Ed Film from 1946

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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