A group of scientists are exploring what sex in space will be like

Space tourism has opened up the possibility that sex in space will occur.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Sex in space.jpg
Sex in space.


We could soon be witnessing the emergence of sex in space tourism over the next decade. This would bring up a lot of interesting questions like for instance: how would tourists have sex in space and stay safe?

The query was posed by an international group of scientists, clinicians and other interested parties, who have authored a consultative green paper led by David Cullen, Professor of Astrobiology & Space Biotechnology at Cranfield University about the matter.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Monday.

The paper outlines that the emerging space tourism sector has not openly considered or discussed the risks of sex in space or conceived of and explored suitable mitigation approaches. 

A dangerous gap in knowledge

This is a dangerous gap in knowledge as it is unrealistic to assume all future space tourists will abstain from sexual activities – opening the possibility of human conception and the early stages of human reproduction occurring in space.

“The sociological and cultural aspects are fascinating to consider, given the approaching shift from well-trained professional and private astronauts to true ‘space tourists’. That shift will encapsulate changes in motivations, social interactions, and behavioral norms, the impacts of which we need to take seriously,” said Alex Layendecker, director of the Astrosexological Research Institute and a co-author of the green paper.

If sex in space were to happen, several risks would emerge: those of a biological nature such as embryo developmental risks and those of a commercial nature such as liability, litigation, and reputational damage. An honest discussion is therefore necessary within the space tourism industry to consider the risks.

“Given the long-term importance of human reproduction beyond Earth, as humanity is trying to become a multi-planetary species, we need to take seriously the possible first step, whether this is planned, or especially if unplanned,” said Egbert Edelbroek, the head of SpaceBorn United, a Netherlands-based organization researching human reproduction in space, who helped to coordinate the study.

 “Our starting point was a throwaway comment about sex in space, but when we checked, we were surprised the sector has not openly considered the risks and this led to the study,” said Cullen.

The new paper advises that all the relevant parties involved in the space tourism sector lead these discussions and investigate and disseminate best practice approaches within the sector, according to the statement.

The findings of the study were published Monday as a green paper for community consultation.

Study abstract:

The next ten years (2023 to 2033) are expected to see growth in orbital space tourism, with flights lasting from days to weeks. The motivations for spaceflight and the expected inflight behaviours of participants are likely to differ from those of professional astronauts. It is unrealistic to assume that all space tourism participants will abstain from sexual activities while exposed to microgravity and increased levels of ionising radiation during spaceflight. This raises the possibility of uncontrolled human conception in space, which poses a significant risk to the emerging space tourism sector. Our knowledge of the effects of these space environments on the early stages of human reproduction and the long-term consequence to human offspring is in its infancy. This lack of knowledge underpins the risks within the evolving orbital space tourism sector. The possible detrimental outcomes include those of a biological nature – e.g. developmental abnormalities in human offspring, and those of a societal and commercial nature – e.g. litigation, reputational damage, and financial loss. Currently (2023), the sector does not appear to be discussing this risk and context in an open forum or communicating any risk mitigation. Given the breadth of actors and stakeholders that seem applicable, this means many relevant voices are not engaged in discussions and influencing outcomes. The authors of this paper consider this to be an inappropriate situation that needs to be urgently addressed.

To encourage and contribute to a broad actor and stakeholder engagement and discussion, this green paper defines the term “uncontrolled human conception in emerging space tourism” and outlines the actors and stakeholders that should constitute the community or sector. Various issues and topics relevant to the actor and stakeholder engagement and discussions are outlined. These include the biological context and risks of human conception during spaceflight and postflight; the sociological context of human conception in space; space tourism and other business models relevant to human conception in space; spacecraft engineering context; moral, ethical, legal and regulatory considerations; examples from other relevant and analogue situations; and the present status of discussion and risk mitigation within the space tourism sector.

As part of this green paper, the authors make a series of recommendations for the community: (i) organise a series of consultations and meetings to bring together the actors and stakeholders for debate, discussion, and dialogue concerning uncontrolled human conception in space tourism; (ii) establish the current status of discussion, risks consideration and risk mitigation within the community; and (iii) propose routes forward to result in a community/sector approach to (a) regulation, (b) risk mitigation, (c) development and sharing of best practices, and (d) open communications. Several topics for further research are also suggested, including (i) exploring questions concerning likely tourist motivation for, and sexual activity during, spaceflight and (ii) considering the efficacy of, and approaches to validate the use of, existing human contraceptive approaches during spaceflight.

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