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Having Sex in Space Might Be a More Challenging Grind Than We Thought

As space tourism comes into its own, scientists are thinking about the challenges and consequences of sex in space.

By Cassidy Ward

The circumstances surrounding the launch of The Ark (streaming now on Peacock) were not ideal. The planet was dying and humanity’s only chance at a continued existence was finding some other place to settle down. That’s pretty heavy even in the best of times, so you can imagine that emotions were running hot when everyone (well, not everyone) woke up to a broken ship, much of the crew gone, and half the trip still in front of them.

How to Watch

Watch the Season 2 premiere of The Ark on Wednesday, July 17 at 10/9c on SYFY. Catch up on Season 1 on Peacock.

You get enough people into a contained environment for a long enough duration and a few things are bound to happen. Some of them are going to fight, and some of them are going to f… smooch and stuff. When it comes to the crew of The Ark, that second thing is not only expected but encouraged. The fate of our species is at stake.

RELATED: Scientists Call for Space Space Sex Guidelines

In the real world, sex in space is highly discouraged and, as far as we know, it has never happened. If any astronauts have gotten lucky in orbit, they aren’t being forthcoming about it. If it hasn’t happened already, the first human-to-human docking in space is likely to happen relatively soon, with some potentially unforeseen consequences.

No One Has Ever Had Sex in Space (We Think)

We can all speculate (though we should remember these are real people we are talking about) but sex in space probably hasn’t happened. The pool of astronauts is incredibly small and made up of trained professionals. It’s not that pros don’t like to boogie down like the rest of us, it’s just that astronauts usually have other things to worry about during their missions. Things like completing their dozens of experiments, staving off muscle and bone atrophy, and not dying.

A still image from The Ark Season 1 Episode 12

Then there’s the question of space; not the emptiness outside the spacecraft but the lack of emptiness inside of it. Certainly, the shuttles and the ISS are large enough to accommodate a Zero G romp in the hay, but it would be cramped quarters. We do know that at least one married couple has been to space at the same time. Astronauts Mark Lee and Jan Davis met during training for STS-47, a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992. They were secretly married before launch and by the time NASA found out it was too late for either of them to be replaced. The space organization has since changed its policies to prevent married couples from flying together.

Space is undoubtedly the coolest location for a honeymoon but perhaps not the most intimate. When asked outright if the couple would conduct any “sexual experiments” on the mission, Davis answered “no.”

“If we talk about space colonies in the future, which are probably many years off, then you have to end up talking about will we have children in space," said astronaut Mae Jemison, who flew the same mission as Davis and Lee, via the Tampa Bay Times. "Right now, I don't think that's something that we're really going to be thinking about doing anytime soon.”

It’s probably possible to keep extracurricular activities at bay with a controlled group of trained professionals but the rules go out the airlock with the rise of space tourism. As private companies spin up plans and actual missions for orbital space hotels and (sometimes undisclosed) space flights, the probability of sex in space becomes a practical certainty. Close quarters and lack of privacy aside, there are some other logistical and potentially physical concerns.

Getting Down in Microgravity

The first and most obvious hurdle is microgravity. The more time that we spend in space, the more we realize how much we take gravity for granted. Everything from the way plants develop to the way our eyes work is impacted by how much gravitational influence is present in the environment. We evolved in an environment where the gravitational influence is more or less static and things get a little funky when we get off planet.

We’re not really sure what sex in space will be like, but one could speculate that a microgravity environment would introduce an acrobatic element to love-making which, at the very least, would complicate matters. It’s hard to get down and dirty if there is no down; we might need to add a few space chapters to the Kama Sutra if we want sex in space to be not only possible, but fun.

A still image from The Ark Season 1 Episode 7

We, unfortunately, have to talk about fluids. Sex has a tendency to be a messy activity (if you’re doing it right) and that can be problematic in space. There are the obvious fluids produced during the human sexual act which will have to be contained lest we start a sexy but very dangerous electrical problem on our ship. There is also, probably, a non-zero amount of sweat being produced. On Earth, those droplets fall to the mattress but in space they would bead up and drift off in a collection of small, salty spheres. Even if it doesn’t get into anything dangerous, you’re still going to have to wade through a freely floating mist of your own making when you’ve finished.

Pregnancy and Erectile Dysfunction in Space

While space sex might sound desirable, space pregnancies probably aren’t. The trouble is that one famously precedes the other, as soon as the opportunity for sex in orbit exists, so does the possibility of an off-Earth conception. But in the end, the juice might not be worth the squeeze.

Prior studies on non-human organisms have identified some unusual developmental behaviors in embryos growing in microgravity. It seems that the process of building an organism relies on the presence of gravity in ways we don’t wholly understand. And that’s before we even account for the damaging effects of the extra radiation in space. Even if everything comes out in the biological planning department, embryos rely on gravitational influence to help build their muscles and bones. There’s no telling what impact microgravity might have on a developing fetus, but it probably wouldn’t be great.

That said, pregnancy in space may not be as much of an issue, thanks to a wholly different problem: we might have trouble conceiving in space at all. A recent study found that prolonged exposure to weightlessness and space radiation results in neurovascular and erectile dysfunction.

As funny or as uncomfy as these discussions can be, humanity is going to have to grapple with the challenges of human sexuality in space sooner or later. Probably sooner.

Catch the complete first season of The Ark streaming now on Peacock.

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