Sex in space: Hygiene, harassment and why Canada could lead the way in outer space sexology

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sex in space

Sex in space is an under-researched area. This is despite a [very NSFW] zero-gravity cumshot once being achieved by a porn film crew, and in 2015 Pornhub launching a crowdfunding campaign to fund the first sex tape filmed off-Earth.

Perhaps it’s understandable that governments and spaceflight firms spend more time researching things like oxygen consumption and astronaut nutrition than, say, the logistics of cracking one off in the International Space Station. But considering the recent rise of the private space sector, and predictions that humans could colonise Mars in the next few decades, maybe it’s time that the issue got more attention.

Simon Dubé is very much of this opinion. The Psychology PhD candidate at Canada’s Concordia University studies sextech and erobotics: the term he uses to describe the study of human-machine erotic interaction and co-evolution. He is also a fervent advocate of research into sex in space, and is co-author of The Case for Space Sexology: a research paper published in December 2021 in The Journal of Sex Research.

“Little attention has been given to the sexological issues of human life in space,” the authors write in the paper. “This situation is untenable considering our upcoming space missions and expansion. It is time for space organizations to embrace a new discipline, space sexology: the scientific study of extra-terrestrial intimacy and sexuality.”

Dubé spoke to SEXTECHGUIDE about the need for more research into sex in space, and why it’s far more important than just dealing with bodily fluids in zero gravity.

SEXTECHGUIDE: What exactly is ‘space sexology’, and what are you trying to encourage?

Simon Dubé: “We define space sexology as the comprehensive scientific study of extra-terrestrial intimacy and sexuality. These things were mentioned in a doctoral dissertation in 1998, by Dr. Raymond Noonan. So, we’re not the first to advocate for more research on human sex research and intimacy-related issues in a space context… but space programmes seem to be systematically dodging or omitting these issues.

“And now with the rise of the private space sector and the strides we’re making in developing habitats, technologies, viable space environments and our objective to settle permanently on the moon and Mars… at some point, if we want to create a colony or long-term settlement [off Earth] we need to take these into consideration.

“We also need to take space sexology into consideration for crews on long-term space travel. It’s one thing to go in orbital mission for two days, it’s another to spend six months in space. We need to acknowledge that people have intimate and sexual needs, and that it’s important to their wellbeing.”

Is sex in space so complicated that it really needs more research? You can still masturbate and have sex in zero gravity, right?

“It seems like a simple issue when said like that, but it’s not. Living in a confined, self-sustained habitat is complex. Because of gravitational changes, but also because these space habitats are very closed-in, so hygiene is really important. If you masturbate in space, for men, you need to contain the sperm. But also: odours, privacy, these things play a role. There are also psychosocial dynamics to consider.

“You can have crews with people of different ranks, with scientists, military and civilians in close, small environments. We have to expect, based on what we know of military and scientific missions such as those in Antarctica or on boats, that there might be issues related to sexual harassment, sexual violence and coercion.

“There are other issues: people fall in love, develop intimate relationships or may want to have sex with each other. Then there’s breakups. Maybe they have different ranks and it affects morale and the dynamics of the crew on a long-term space mission.

“Right now it appears that the policies [of most space programs] are that there should be no relationships or sex in space stations. But that’s not a viable option if you’re talking about a year-long mission to Mars.”

I feel like you’ve just written the beginnings of the plot of a space-based romantic comedy film.

“Well, there are research programmes that address all aspects of human existence, that are trying to find a way to transpose how we live on earth to space habitats. But none of them address human sexuality, which is central to our existence.”

“We need to remind people that sexuality is central to human existence”

Simon Dubé, sexology researcher

Why do you think that is?

“The main players in the [space programme] area are the US, Russia, China is also emerging… these governments and institutions, they’re very conservative. They have conservative sexual norms. So there’s stigma, and that definitely plays a role.

“Some of these big organizations, they’re funded by populations that may have sexually conservative views and may not want their tax dollars used to research sexuality in space. I would agree that this is a mistake. It’s really important, and we need to tell people why this is an important issue.”

Maybe SpaceX could have helped, with an Elon Musk and Grimes sex tape.

“Exactly. We need to remind people that sexuality is central to human existence, that taking this into consideration in space exploration, in the broad sense of the term [is important], from gender and sexual identity to issues of consent and harassment to legal aspects to pleasure.”

It does seem a little mad that so much research goes into supporting human life and work in space, but we hear so little about sexuality in space.

“We are talking about the most risk-averse organisations in the world. They are obsessed with risk management, and are trying to reduce risk to zero. Space is a hazardous environment, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. Why are they not addressing the risks and benefits associated with human sexuality? It is beyond me.”

Finally, you previously said that the Canadian Space Agency could potentially lead the charge to change the space sexology conversation. Why?

“I think we [Canada] have a very good socio-political climate to do sex research. We have a lot of sex researchers here in Canada, from coast to coast. Also, Canada has historically been a leader in LGBTQ rights. I think it could establish itself as a leader in space sexology. We have the expertise in sex research, but we also have the expertise in technology. Increasingly Canada, and especially, for instance, Montreal, is establishing itself as a pool for technological development.

“So, Canada, and maybe the European Space Agency, could be well suited to push the envelope regarding intimacy and human sexuality and space, and really kind of shake things up with these big programmes.”

Read Next: Squirting in VR? An interview with sex educator Kenneth Play

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Jamie F

Jamie F

Jamie is a freelance writer, contributing to outlets such as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, CNN and Vice.

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