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Sex in Space H.G. Stratmann. Introductory Remarks The focus of this talk will be on the “classic” combination of one adult male and one adult female.

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Presentation on theme: "Sex in Space H.G. Stratmann. Introductory Remarks The focus of this talk will be on the “classic” combination of one adult male and one adult female."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sex in Space H.G. Stratmann

2 Introductory Remarks The focus of this talk will be on the “classic” combination of one adult male and one adult female. The effects of the space environment on other combinations of numbers/genders can be extrapolated from the information presented here.

3 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight Vostok 1 April 12, 1961 One-man orbital flight Mercury-Redstone 3 May 5, 1961 One-man suborbital flight Mercury-Redstone 4 July 21, 1961 One-man suborbital flight Vostok 2 August 6, 1961 One-man orbital flight

4 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight Mercury-Atlas 6 February 20, 1962 One-man orbital flight Mercury-Atlas 7 May 24, 1962 One-man orbital flight Vostok 3 August 11, 1962 One-man orbital flight Vostok 4 August 12, 1962 One-man orbital flight

5 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight Mercury-Atlas 8 October 3, 1962 One-man orbital flight Mercury-Atlas 9 May 15, 1963 One-man orbital flight The first time a man and woman flew in space was in June 1963

6 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight The first woman in space was cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, aged 26 at the time of her flight She and her fellow, male cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky, aged 29, flew in space at the same time However, any inclination toward intimate interpersonal relations between these two cosmonauts would not have been technically feasible

7 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight Valery Bykovsky occupied a one-person capsule in orbit (Vostok 5, June 14-19, 1963) Valentina Tereshkova occupied a second one- person capsule in orbit (Vostok 6, June 16-19, 1963) The two capsules did not allow docking maneuvers of any kind to be performed

8 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight All subsequent spaceflights during the 1960s and 1970s were made only by men The initial space stations placed in orbit, Skylab (1973) and the first 6 Salyut stations, also had all-male crews The first “co-ed” crew in orbit together within touching distance was on Salyut 7

9 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight A three-person crew consisting of the second woman in space, Svetlana Savitskaya (age 34), and two male cosmonauts flew to orbit in a Soyuz capsule (August 1982) They stayed aboard Salyut 7 together for several days Savitskaya made a second flight to Salyut 7 with two different male cosmonauts in July 1984, where she became the first woman to make a spacewalk

10 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight The third woman to reach space was Sally Ride aboard Challenger (ST-7) in 1983, as part of a five- person crew Since then mixed-gender crews on the Space Shuttle and space stations (Mir and the ISS) have been common There is the potential for husband-wife teams to fly into space together – STS-47 (1992) included a husband-wife team, Mark Lee and Jan Davis

11 The History of Mixed-Gender Human Spaceflight Question: Has sexual activity been performed by humans in space? Answer: Who knows? There has been no official confirmation. The only people who know for sure apparently aren’t telling. NASA appears to have the equivalent of a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

12 Sex in Space? Question: In theory, could sex be performed in space? Answer: Yes, but it could be difficult and even dangerous due to problems with:  Microgravity and its effects on human anatomy and physiology  Radiation in space  Psychological effects of the space environment

13 Review of Basic Sexual Physiology Women: – Cerebral and peripheral (e.g. the pudenal nerves and sacral plexus) pathways leading to and from the spinal cord are activated by: Psychic stimulation (e.g. thinking erotic thoughts) Local stimulation of the genitalia and other sensitive body parts – Parasympathetic nerves act by: Dilating the arteries of erectile tissue Stimulating secretion of mucus that acts as a lubricant for coitus Relaxing smooth muscles

14 Review of Basic Sexual Physiology Women: – Climax is achieved via the sympathetic nervous system and spinal cord reflexes – Men also achieve climax by means of the sympathetic nervous system

15 Review of Basic Sexual Physiology Men: – Performance and completion of coitus is dependent on achieving and maintaining penile erection – As with women, physical and psychic stimulation play important roles in production of an erection – These types of stimulation activate the parasympathetic nervous system – Nerve impulses transmitted from the sacral spinal cord pass through the pelvic nerves to the penis

16 Review of Basic Sexual Physiology Men: – Nerve impulses cause relaxation of penile arteries (thereby increasing blood flow) and the smooth muscle in its erectile tissue – This erectile tissue consists of large cavernous sinusoids that are normally nearly empty of blood – These sinusoids dilate tremendously when arterial blood flows into them under pressure and venous outflow is partially occluded

17 Review of Basic Sexual Physiology Men: – The erectile tissue is surrounded by strong fibrous tissue – The combined effects of these changes in blood flow and presence of this fibrous tissue produces the characteristic hardening, elongation, and elevation of the penis – Stimulation of the penis produces climax As in women, reflexes involving the sympathetic nervous system are required for climax

18 Why Space is a Terrible Place for Sex Some space travelers might find the thought of “doing it” in space psychologically stimulating This enthusiasm may be strongly curbed by other physiological and psychological effects of being in space

19 “Not tonight dear, I have Space Adaptation Syndrome” Space Adaptation Syndrome occurs in about two- thirds of trained space travelers within minutes to about 2 hours after entering space and may persist for up to about a week Occurs in about 85% of less well-trained space travelers (e.g. space tourists?) Headache, nasal congestion, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting (typically without warning) can occur, potentially reducing desire for sexual activity (It’s hard to feel sexy when you’re upchucking all over yourself and your partner)

20 Impediments to Sex in Space Anxiety, overexcitement, busy work schedules, and lack of privacy may also inhibit performance Adverse physiological effects of microgravity: – Male rats on Cosmos 2044 had a fall of testosterone levels to < 20% of controls while in space – Comparable effects in human males would likely inhibit sexual function

21 Impediments to Sex in Space Other adverse physiological effects of microgravity: – Mild anemia – Loss of about one to two liters of fluid from the body – Reduced tone in the autonomic nervous system, particularly its sympathetic component – All of these factors could have a deflating effect on erectile function

22 Impediments to Sex in Space Still other adverse physiological effects of microgravity: – Prolonged exposure to microgravity produces reduction of bone and muscle mass to about 85% of baseline, despite vigorous exercise – Depending on the circumstances, performing sex may require significantly more energy and be associated with increased risk of fractures (of one type or another) in the event of an “accident”

23 Other adverse physiological effects of microgravity Normal energy expenditure and risks of sex: – Initial performance of intercourse requires at least 2 to 3 METs One MET ( metabolic equivalent) is the amount of oxygen a healthy person uses while sitting quietly (3.5 ml of oxygen/minute/kilogram of body weight) – At climax, energy expenditure increases to up to 4 METs (equivalent to walking 3 to 4 miles/hour) – These energy estimates are based on “ideal” conditions, with a familiar partner and in familiar surroundings

24 Other adverse physiological effects of microgravity Normal energy expenditure and risks of sex: – In healthy individuals Heart rate typically rises to around 130 beats/minute Systolic blood pressure typically rises to around 170 to 180 mmHg – In a stressful environment and with an unfamiliar (and particularly much younger) partner: Peak energy expenditure may rise to 5 to 6 METs or higher Heart rate and systolic blood pressure may rise significantly above usual maximums

25 Other adverse physiological effects of microgravity The deconditioning, fluid shifts, and loss of autonomic tone associated with microgravity may further increase energy expenditure, heart rate, and blood pressure during intercourse Risk of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or death during sex is about 1 to 2 out of a million The potential increased risk of this in microgravity is unknown

26 Other physiological effects of microgravity Astronauts are currently screened for STDs prior to flight Guidelines for future “space tourists” (e.g. at orbiting “hotels”) regarding screening for STDs or overall health assessment are uncertain Microgravity induces at least a mild reduction in immune function, thus potentially increasing the risk of acquiring an STD from an affected partner in space

27 Adverse Physical Effects of Microgravity on Sex “Free-floating” sex is rendered dangerous by Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“For every action…”) Thrusting or other body motions could result in a coupled couple ricocheting off a wall, striking one’s head or other sensitive body part, or worse Mistimed motions might also lead to “decoupling” and the separated partners shooting away in opposite directions before hitting a wall, piece of equipment, etc.

28 Other Adverse Physical Effects of Microgravity Penile fracture – A misguided movement could cause excessive lateral or downward buckling of the erect penis – This results in a tear in the fibrous tissue within the penis and an injury that decisively interrupts any resumption of coitus

29 Other Adverse Physical Effects of Microgravity A penile fracture produces: A sharp snapping, cracking, or popping sound Excruciating pain, swelling, bleeding, and deformity of the penis Having to answer many embarrassing questions from Mission Control A sharp fall in the stock price of space tourism companies

30 Other Adverse Physical Effects of Microgravity Treatment of a penile fracture – Cold compresses, pressure dressings, splinting – Analgesics – Surgery is strongly recommended to repair a penile fracture – Surgery will need to be delayed for a painfully long time, unless one of your crewmates happens to be a urologist and has proper surgical supplies on hand – Medical treatment alone is much more likely to result in long-term complications, including erectile dysfunction, permanent curvature, abscess, etc.

31 Potential Solutions to Physical Issues with Performing Sex in Space Restraining one or both partners: – At least one partner could be restrained by means of footholds in a solid surface or being bound by belts/cords to a flat surface (space bondage?) – The other partner could be more loosely bound to the other by belts, short cords, handles etc. – Alternatively, both partners could be within a loose covering/blanket/mesh that in turn is fastened to a surface

32 Potential Solutions to Physical Issues with Performing Sex in Space Other issues: – A third person secured nearby can be employed as a helper to give a well-timed push or restrain excessive backward movement of one of the two “busy” partners – This technique is reportedly used by dolphins, who must have some very interesting tales to tell – Partners will need to be careful enough not to be injured but not too anxious about injury that performance suffers or a “catastrophic system failure” occurs

33 Potential Solutions to Physical Issues with Performing Sex in Space Fluids and other matter generated during sexual activity need to be contained – Potential substances include perspiration (which also beads up on skin), saliva, hair, blood, and those originating from the genitalia – Free fluids of any kind form globules in microgravity that float until they strike a surface, are inhaled, etc. Body heat dissipation may be less efficient, making active, close contact literally and uncomfortably “hot” Noise and unpleasant smells may be inhibiting

34 Overall Assessment If proper care and precautions are taken, sex in space could potentially be successfully performed Rats (2 males and 5 females) aboard Cosmos 1129 (1979) were able to copulate in microgravity The rats, fish, and any humans who’ve ever “done it” in space aren’t saying whether the experience was worth it or not Mekada fish also successfully mated on STS-65 (1994) and produced viable offspring born in space

35 Overall Assessment Psychological effects are also potentially serious – Jealousy, love triangles, and interpersonal conflicts can occur in isolation of space – Incidents have occurred in comparable situations in remote outposts (e.g. Antarctica) – “Soap opera in space” could endanger crew and mission Lisa Nowak incident

36 Conception and Pregnancy in Space There are important reasons to prevent sex in space from producing conception and pregnancy – This is clearly not desirable on initial missions to the Moon or Mars due to limited medical resources available to support the mother and the embryo/fetus (e.g. an ectopic pregnancy) – Microgravity, lower gravity on the Moon and Mars, and increased radiation exposure in these environments have potentially harmful, even deadly effects on the developing embryo/fetus and children

37 Contraception in Space No method of birth control short of full sterilization is 100% effective in an otherwise fertile man or woman Various “temporary” contraceptive methods can approach but not reach 100% effectiveness The effectiveness of chemical means of contraception (e.g. birth control pills) in micro- or low gravity environments is unknown

38 Can Conception Occur in Space? In microgravity, ejaculated spermatozoa can “stay put” within the vagina and be ready for transport to the uterus and fallopian tubes Transport of spermatozoa to and through these organs is produced by muscle contractions, ciliary action, and the intrinsic motility of spermatozoa Microgravity should not significantly affect conception

39 Can Conception Occur in Space? Microgravity and spaceflight may have contraceptive effects Menstrual dysfunction is likely in woman astronauts during prolonged stays in space – Disturbances in circadian rhythms – Intensive exercise needed for pre-flight training – Stress – Potential disturbance of the hypothalamic-pituitary- ovarian axis could result in lack of ovulation or excessive menstrual bleeding

40 Can Conception Occur in Space? Menstrual dysfunction: – Microgravity might induce retrograde menstruation (regurgitation of uterine blood and tissue backwards through the fallopian tubes and abdominal organs), producing endometriosis and infertility

41 Can Conception Occur in Space? Effects of the space environment on male fertility – Fall in testosterone levels and sperm motility could reduce fertility – Toxins used in life-support systems, propellants, etc. could reduce sperm counts

42 Can Conception Occur in Space? Higher radiation levels in space affect both male and female fertility Sperm cells are the most radiosensitive cells in a man’s body Radiation can damage or destroy sperm cells, leading either to reduced fertility or genetic defects in offspring if conception does occur

43 Can Conception Occur in Space? Sperm cells are produced and destroyed over an approximately 74-day cycle – Sperm counts and quality will eventually return to normal after only low-dose radiation exposure – Higher-dose radiation exposure could produce prolonged infertility – Radiation doses needed to destroy all sperm cells are usually lethal

44 Can Conception Occur in Space? Effects of radiation exposure on fertility in women – The ovaries are 5 to 7 cm below the skin, which attenuates the radiation exposure they receive compared to a man’s testes – Oocytes (immature egg cells) in the ovaries are more radioresistant to genetic defects than sperm cells – However, oocytes are not replaced if damaged, while new sperm cells are produced

45 Can Conception Occur in Space? Effects of radiation exposure on fertility in women – A single acute dose of 300-400 rems usually results in destruction of all oocytes and ends further estrogen production by the ovaries – Smaller, repeated doses of radiation have cumulative effects – Radiation exposure can also cause endometriosis

46 Conception in Space Ovulation and fertilization occurred in female rats aboard Cosmos 1129 However, all embryos were absorbed and never carried to term Male rats onboard Cosmos 1129 successfully mated with earthbound females after their flight – Offspring had a higher rate of developmental abnormalities, including growth retardation

47 Conception in Space Mekada fish did produce viable offspring after mating on STS-65 (1994) The overall effects of the space environment on human fertility and conception are unknown

48 Pregnancy in Space This could be due to a pregnancy originating in space or a preexisting one at the time of entry into space Adverse effects of microgravity and especially radiation would be expected to be greatest during the earlier stages of pregnancy – Increased risk of genetic damage to the embryo – Adverse effects on the mother

49 Pregnancy in Space Other adverse effects during early pregnancy – Symptoms of “morning sickness” such as nausea and vomiting would be more difficult to manage in the space environment, especially if combined with similar symptoms of Space Adaptation Syndrome – Possibility of “hyperemesis gravidarum” with severe vomiting, dehydration, and liver damage

50 Pregnancy in Space The full range of complications that can threaten the life and health of both mother and fetus could also occur in space Limited medical care in space, particularly at long distances from Earth (e.g. on the Moon or Mars), could lead to serious injury or death to mother and fetus – Common complications that usually are not life- threatening, such as UTIs and gestational diabetes, will be more difficult to treat due to limited medical supplies

51 Pregnancy in Space Preeclampsia can occur in the second and third trimester – Hypertension – Proteinuria – Headache – Visual disturbances – Can worsen into eclampsia, with potentially fatal seizures and coma

52 Pregnancy in Space Hemorrhagic complications – Abruptio placentae (partial separation of the placenta from the uterine wall) – Limited blood supplies in space and the hypovolemia and mild anemia that occur in microgravity could worsen the effects of blood loss on mother and fetus – Fetus would be more sensitive to the mother’s blood loss from any cause, potentially causing problems from low birth weight to anoxic encephalopathy to death

53 Pregnancy in Space Other potential complications: – Ectopic pregnancy – Pre-term labor – Risk of rupture of the amniotic sac during acceleration or deceleration (e.g. launch and re- entry) – Toxins within spacecraft (e.g. nitrogen tetroxide or hydrazine) could cause respiratory distress or anoxia to mother and fetus

54 Pregnancy in Space Beneficial effects of microgravity – Reduction of incidence of varicose veins and edema (swelling) of the legs – Reduced problems with back pain and difficulty moving associated with terrestrial pregnancy – Lightheadedness caused by gravity-dependent compression of the IVC by an enlarged uterus in the supine position will not occur

55 Pregnancy in Space Birth in microgravity or low gravity – Woman and assistants need to be secured – Maintaining sterility and containing fluids (e.g. amniotic fluid) will be challenging – Anesthesia (local or intravenous) could be used Spinal/epidural anesthesia is partly dependent on gravity for its effectiveness – Cesarean section would require higher level of sterility, trained personnel, and proper equipment

56 Pregnancy in Space Other risks to the embryo/fetus – Decompression sickness caused by sudden cabin decompression can injure the mother and especially the fetus – Effects on the mother include difficulty breathing, pain in the limbs, weakness, paralysis, and seizures – Caused by release of nitrogen dissolved in blood and other body fluids as bubbles

57 Pregnancy in Space Other risks to the embryo/fetus – In the fetus, nitrogen bubbles can form directly in arterial blood and can also pass from veins into the arterial system through the foramen ovale and ductus arteriosus – These bubbles can impair blood supply to critical organs, including the brain

58 Pregnancy in Space Other risks to the embryo/fetus – Radiation risk to embryo/fetus in space is high – Suggested maximum cumulative radiation exposure to the embryo/fetus during all nine months of pregnancy in terrestrial female radiation workers is 0.5 rem (normal annual background exposure per year is 0.1 to 0.2 rem) – In LEO, annual radiation exposure is 14 to 21 rem – Radiation exposure could be much higher in deep space or during a solar particle event

59 Pregnancy in Space Radiation risks to the embryo/fetus – High acute radiation exposure during the first two weeks following conception are most likely to result in destruction of the zygote (first four days after conception) or embryo (remaining 8 weeks following conception) – Developmental abnormalities are most likely to occur with radiation exposure between 8 to 25 weeks after conception

60 Pregnancy in Space Radiation risks to the embryo/fetus – Cataracts – Abnormal genitalia – Microcephaly – Microphthalmia – Decreased life span – Mental retardation – Possible increased risk of childhood leukemia – Dose-dependent reduction in IQ

61 Overall Risks of Conception and Pregnancy in Space The probability of conception occurring, if the most effective level of contraception is used, is low However, the risks to the mother and especially the developing embryo/fetus are high if conception does occur These risks are magnified the longer the mother and her embryo/fetus are in space and the farther away they are from needed medical care on Earth

62 Overall Risks of Conception and Pregnancy in Space NASA’s current Medical Standards specifically disqualify any pregnant woman from going into space due to these risks None of the problems with conception and pregnancy are insurmountable – Systems using artificial gravity – Improved protection against radiation – Adequate medical infrastructure

63 Overall Risks of Conception and Pregnancy in Space In the current state of space exploration, the risk-benefit ratio of conception and particularly pregnancy in space is very unfavorable

64 Kids in Space Potential risks of microgravity or low-gravity and radiation exposure are significantly greater in children than in adults Unlike adults, the bones and muscles of children are still developing Long-term exposure to microgravity is likely to result in growth retardation, particularly in the long bones of the thighs and legs

65 Kids in Space Other potential adverse skeletal effects: – Delayed closure of the fontanels of a baby’s skull – Short stature due to reduced lengthening of long long bones and premature closure of epiphyseal (growth) plates – Abnormal development of vertebrae, potentially resulting in nerve compression syndromes

66 Kids in Space Other potential adverse skeletal effects: – Adult astronauts need to perform vigorous exercise to maintain bone and muscle mass of about 85% of preflight levels – Infants, babies, and small children would not be able to cooperate in such intensive exercise programs – This could result in levels of bone and muscle mass well below 85% of normal

67 Kids in Space Other adverse effects – Infants and babies raised in microgravity wouldn’t learn how to walk or develop “normal” neurovestibular reflexes (e.g. those associated with balance) – How prolonged exposure to low or microgravity would affect overall neurological (especially brain) development is unknown

68 Kids in Space Other adverse effects – Long-term radiation exposure in the space environment will increase lifetime risk of cancer – Immature immune system may increase risk of infection – The presence of small children in a spacecraft, with all its potential dangers, is a recipe for disaster For example, “Daddy, what does this button do?” immediately followed by the whole family breathing vacuum

69 The Current Status of Sex in Space There is a marked dichotomy between some perceptions (including those in SF) about what sex in space is like and what it really is at present Based on current technology, sex and its consequences in space are both risky and potentially deadly However, all of these risks can and must be significantly reduced with further advances in technology and medical infrastructure for the successful colonization of space

70 Sex with Aliens? It requires at bare minimum some type of “complementary” anatomy It also requires faith that alien sexual practices do not lead to unexpected consequences Hopefully the relevant part of the alien’s anatomy does not have teeth, nor does it have sharp spikes that suddenly extrude out of it during a critical moment of intimacy There may be an embarrassing discovery that the alien is not really the gender you thought, particularly if its species has more than two genders Mating with alien females whose post-coital habits are similar to a terrestrial black widow spider or praying mantis may lead to abrupt termination of afterglow

71 Offspring with Aliens? Very unlikely that interspecies parenthood is possible, even with the most advanced genetic engineering Alien physiology will almost certainly be radically different from the terrestrial variety They evolved under different average atmospheric pressure and content, gravity, radiation levels, etc. than humans They have different DNA (if any), proteins, amino acids, cells, etc. than life as we know it We would have more in common genetically with a rutabaga than we would with an alien, and human- rutabaga hybrids (rutamans?) appear to be uncommon

72 The way Hollywood sees it…

73 “Sorry if I seem a little too touchy-feely. We Metalunan mutants don’t get out much.”


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