A Brief History Of Sex In Space
The Debrief: How do astronauts get off in space? Here's your answer.
Artwork by Alex Coll
We’ve all had a crafty one in an unusual place. The work toilets after a Tinder match goes straight to sext-ville. A farmer’s field after finding a copy of Razzle in a hedgerow. Reading Festival 2002 in a Portaloo with earplugs shoved up your nostrils. All worthy contenders. But a wank in space? Now we’re talking.
Once you’ve Instagrammed Earth a few times and done a space walk it’s got to be near the top of the list of things to try, right?
Sadly though, as much as I waited with baited breath for Tim Peake to tweet the naughty feat from the International Space Station, no eggplant and splash emoji was forthcoming. Come on Tim. Where’s your sense of adventure? Space fans are being denied what would surely amount to the ultimate danger wank since my mate Tel knocked one out on the A38 whilst overtaking a Megabus.
To be fair, it’s not a completely out there request. Masturbation and the Milky Way has form. One Russian cosmonaut interviewed by Mary Roach, author of ‘Packing for Mars’, admitted to ‘making sex in space… by hand’ and NASA astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. has been quoted as saying that wanking in space is within the ‘realm of what is possible’ with the ISS offering plenty of opportunity for ‘quiet time.’
Garan. Wank confirmed.
Seeking out some ‘me time’ might not be the only obstacle. Nick Kanas is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California and previously Principal Investigator of several NASA-funded and ESA-sponsored international psychological research projects. He told me via email 'male astronauts have reported having erections in space' but that 'testosterone levels are decreased in men, which may lower sexual drive in some.' He didn’t say how space travel effects female hormone levels but we could imagine it has a similar impact—and even if it doesn’t, cracking one out in the shadow of the moon is more hazardous than one might expect.
Mark Sergeant is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University and an expert in the way in which habitats can influence our sexual urges. He told me that astronauts would definitely experience an increase in sex drive while in space 'due to being in a new environment which can be arousing in itself' and therefore it’s 'extremely unlikely that someone could go for a lengthy period without masturbating.' He accepts that individuals could take anti-libidinal drugs to control these urges, but that this would have a range of negative knock-on effects leading to complications on the mission.
His most pressing concern however is regards the space station itself, especially for any one with a penis or for women with a proclivity for squirting: 'The only concern might be that there would obviously need to be some way of catching ejaculate as otherwise, like all liquids, it could move around and potentially get into equipment.'
I can just see it now: 'The booster button seems to be jammed… Goddam it Peake! How many times?! Use the space sock provided!'
Sergeant isn’t the only one with concerns about the impact of a weightless environment on sexy time. In an episode of StarTalk American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says zero gravity could prove coitus near impossible. His advice? 'Bring a lot of leather belts to strap things down. Handy.
American author Vanna Bonta was one step ahead. A pioneer of shagging in space, in 2006 after she experienced weightlessness during a reduced-gravity flight Bonta invented a garment called the 2suit: a flight suit with Velcro strips that can connect to another flight suit allowing for intimate exchanges. Basically, if you’ve ever fucked in a sleeping bag you’ll know what to expect.
2suit or not 2suit, aside from the obvious thrill of bonking to a backdrop of stars, sex and self-love in space may actually be good for the mind.
In 2000, Professor Stephen Johnson the editor of Quest (the only peer-reviewed publication dedicated to spaceflight) wrote an article exploring sexual stress in space. The study quoted Dr Victor Schneider, chief physician for NASA as saying: 'We don’t know in long duration space flight whether cosmonauts or astronauts masturbate and relieve their sexual tension that way. As long as they do it in private, it’s a potential relief of sexual problems that may have occurred.'
In the same year Russian cosmonaut Dr Valery Polyakov said: 'Psychological Support Service sent us some nice, ‘colourful’ movies which help to recover our will, to act like a normal adult male.' In other words, they gave them porn. I’m going for Star Wars XXX: A Porn Parody. Turns out Chewie’s packing quite the lightsaber.
I reached out to NASA and the ESA to find out whether sexual stress and its alleviation are taken into account when studies into space isolation and, indeed, companionship are conducted. Perhaps not surprisingly, neither replied to my email. In hindsight, 'Was Tim wanking?' probably wasn’t the best opening gambit.
Mark Sergeant however is adamant NASA and co will have allocated time to the subject no matter how salacious and silly it can be seen to be.
'In terms of sexual stress, I know that the various space agencies conduct very detailed research into all aspects of human psychology as they want the human component of space exploration to be as optimal as the technological side of things,” he says. “Given that, it is very likely that space agencies have at the very least considered sexual stress and/or the need for some form of sexual outlet in space.'
He adds that the discussions about the benefits of recruiting married couples for long distance missions show NASA are accounting for sex and companionship for future space exploration. 'Having some means of expressing sexuality is a fundamental part of the human condition,' he says. 'And the need for sexual expression would apply not only to missions around the orbit of Earth, but also for longer distance missions such as travelling to Mars.'
Sexual expression as a requirement on a mission to Mars? Where do I sign?
Liked this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Gareth on Twitter @GarethMay
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating