As more countries and private ventures are working to establish human colonies on the moon and Mars by the 2020s, it’s a handy excuse to imagine what sex in outer space might be like.
In an earlier edition of Sex in the Press, ‘Space: The Final Orgasm’, we already answered the basic questions of having sex in zero gravity:
Yes, cosmic sex is possible. (But it likely involves a level of bondage or a third party to help keep all the naughty bits in position. Plus, you have to be careful to avoid bodily fluids drifting off and messing up the highly calibrated equipment.)
Yes, people have probably already had sex in outer space. (But sadly, astronauts are not the kiss-and-tell types.)
However, for humans to survive long-term space travel, we also have to think about the by-products of sexual union: space babies.
Star children: a leap forward?
“Can an embryo mature in space, be born, and grow into a healthy human being?” wonders ‘China claims a major breakthrough in making space babies’.
Due to the effects of zero gravity and the increased radiation levels in space, the answer was assumed to be: “No. Are you crazy or something?”
But recent experiments seem to suggest that it may be more possible than previously thought.
“One of those experiments was housed in a microwave-sized chamber with a cell culture system that contained 6,000 mouse embryos. During a 96-hour experiment, some of the embryos developed into advanced blastocysts.”
“The use of the word ‘some' developed is troublesome without knowing more details of the data and the statistical analysis,” notes one expert. “If only a small percentage developed normally compared to the ground controls, this raises concerns about the nature of the space effect on embryo development.”
In addition, many other factors are involved in human reproduction: “including mating, fertilization, implantation, placentation, embryogenesis, organogenesis, prenatal and postnatal development, birth, lactation, and suckling”.
So don’t expect a birth card from Mars anytime soon.
Periods in space
Besides, most female astronauts chose to use the pill to suppress their periods for practical reasons while in space: “It means that they don’t have to deal with the hassle of using pads or tampons in microgravity, or the decreased availability of wash water,” according to ‘Space: the final frontier of birth control’.
But for long-term space flights, such as to Mars, some experts are now suggesting IUDs may be a better option since you won’t have to pack thousands of pills. Plus, scientists claim they are safe and don’t seem to shift under the pressure of G-force.
But studying the effect of outer space on the menstrual cycle remains a very fresh science.
On one level it’s pretty straight-forward: “I’m not totally sure who had the first period in space, but they came back and said, ‘Period in space, just like period on the ground. Don’t worry about it,’” said female US astronaut Sally Ride.
Originally, the male-dominated NASA did worry about it and assumed that “once a month women would be too hormonal to be trusted around complex machines.”
And so: “Despite the fact that women had proven they were as physically and mentally capable as the men (if not more so) – and that women are smaller, lighter, and consume less food – America didn’t put a woman into space until Sally Ride in 1983, decades after the Soviets.”
“Aunt Flo has been cited as a reason against military women being allowed to enter combat jobs, against women being president, and generally, been trotted out time and time again to dismiss or undermine women’s strength, dependability, and authority in the public sphere – particularly as they try to take on roles that have been traditionally male.”
“Once NASA got over this misconception and finally did send a woman to the stars, engineers were still confused about the mechanics of the menstrual: Engineers reportedly tried to send Sally Ride on a 7-day trip to space with 100 tampons, and then tied them together by the strings like sausages so they wouldn’t float away.”
Wow. You’d think NASA would have done their research. It’s not rocket science: they could have just asked a girl.