This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX just made history by being the first private company spacecraft to touch down at the International Space Station (ISS), paving the way for a future where perhaps civilians could also explore the great unknown. Looking beyond Earth would mean we’d have to temporarily give up our worldly possessions. But though we might be okay with forgoing our cell phones and hot-cooked meals, would we really be up for sacrificing basic human desires like a good night’s sleep, much-needed downtime and, most importantly, our sex lives?
A lot has been said about how space really isn’t a conducive environment for cosmic coitus. Not only does the gravity-free environment make it super difficult to hold on to each other in your desired position, but scientists and NASA expers have always been skeptical about the psychological impact sexual relations could have on specfic space missions. So, NASA and ISS frequently dodge all questions related to sex in space, even as rumours of astronauts getting it on keep coming up. But while we know orbital insertions might just be too tough to see through, what about some good old self-pleasure?
A few years ago, Marjorie Jenkins, a NASA advisor and expert on sex and gender health, wrote in a paper titled ‘Effects of Sex and Gender on Adaptations to Space: Reproductive Health’ that ejaculation was essential for men to avoid the risk of bacteria building up in their prostate, which could then lead to genitourinary infections. Many studies also conclude that masturbation is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, so it would make sense for someone in a high-pressure space mission to want some form of escape.
Early NASA studies pointed out that the gravity shift causes blood flow to change or reverse its course and move upwards towards the head and chest instead of circulating in the lower half of your body. This suggests that outer space could be a boner-killer. However, some astronauts have shed light on the issue to suggest otherwise.
In a 2014 interview with Men’s Health Magazine, an astronaut named Michael Mullane said that on his space missions, he would sometimes have “a boner that I could have drilled through kryptonite.” Another astronaut named Ron Garon admitted on an Ask Me Anything Reddit thread that “I know of nothing that happens to the human body on Earth that can’t happen in space” when asked whether erections happened in outer space. While there has been no instance of a woman speaking up about feeling turned on in space, one could possibly assume it won’t be too hard for a woman to finger herself. However, the weightlessness of a zero-gravity environment, coupled with motion sickness, dizziness and numbness of body parts like limbs that many astronauts experience initially could potentially hamper any plans of self-pleasure.
However, even as NASA has stayed hushed about whether their astronauts masturbate in outer orbit, many Russian cosmonauts have bared it all in interviews. A retired soviet cosmonaut named Valeri Polyakov wrote in his diary that “Psychological Support Service sent us some nice, ‘colorful’ movies which help to recover our will, to act like a normal adult male. There is nothing to be ashamed of.” Polyakov also claimed that his superiors encouraged him to pack an inflatable sex doll for his record-breaking 14 months spent alone aboard the Mir space station. However, he said that he “strongly opposed such a solution. A person who is using such things may develop so-called ‘doll syndrome’ or, in other words, start preferring the doll to their own spouse or loved one, even after they return to Earth.”
Meanwhile, another one named Aleksandr Laveykin, spoke about this subject in the book Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, opening up about how “Everybody is doing it, everybody understands. It’s nothing. My friends ask me, ‘How are you making sex in space?’ I say, ‘By hand!’” Laveykin said that “there are possibilities” and also implied that he would sometimes ejaculate in his sleep too.
According to what an anonymous physician who’s worked with NASA told Mel Magazine, astronauts can touch themselves quite easily because of a “short-sleeve” dress code aboard the spacecraft. Also, since most astronauts admit that they can control the cameras aboard the spacecraft, it would be relatively easy for them to surreptitiously rub one out while they’re having a shower or when huddled in their phone booth-sized sleeping quarters. Many Quora and Reddit users also speculate that even in settings like space shuttles, where there’s rarely any closed-door privacy, astronauts could choose to simply “look the other way”, a tactic that is apparently common in army quarters.
Finally, there’s also the question of what happens to the cum if an astronaut were to touch themselves. While tissues and wipes are available on the spacecraft, they may choose to dispose of these bodily fluids the same way they throw out piss: by dumping it in space where it freezes into ice crystals. Not quite the big bang you imagined.
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