Stuff We Love: Larry Niven’s essay 'Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex' is a hilarious look at Superman’s love life

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Jan 11, 2018, 11:36 AM EST (Updated)

Have you ever thought about Superman’s romantic life? Like, really, really thought about it? Hard science fiction author Larry Niven did back in 1969, with his essay "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex." He takes physical intimacy with the superhero to hilarious — and scientifically accurate — extremes.

Without giving too much away, Niven breaks down the very real problems the not-so-real Kryptonian would have with intercourse. For example, “Electroencephalograms taken of men and women during sexual intercourse show that orgasm resembles ‘a kind of pleasurable epileptic attack.’ One loses control over one’s muscles.” Now picture this happening to someone with super strength, and you’ll see what Niven sees: the probability of either sudden death or endless sexual frustration.

The essay goes on. The ability to get pregnant. The ability to remain pregnant. The terrible power of supersperm. Niven breaks down each problem in the cycle of dating and mating. It results in bad news for any superbeing with a healthy sex drive.


Of course I love this essay, and not just because it’s still funny even after all of these years. I adore the absurdly logical, the suppositions brought to (semi-)real conclusions. Superman is a comic book character with godlike powers. But by focusing on the physical issues of Kal-El's sexuality, Niven makes him all the more human.

Superman may be the man of steel, but every woman on Earth is comparatively made of Kleenex. I suggest we affix a Kryptonian chastity belt to his superparts immediately.

Check out the fabulous essay, here.