Can you have sex in space – gravity, mutations and NASA’s ‘secret experiments’

If humans are going to spend extended periods in space – on missions to Mars or other distant planets – then for their physical and mental health they’re going to have to engage in some kind of sexual activity

Well over 500 people have been to space, although the exact figure varies depending on how you define where space starts.

That figure is expected to rise sharply as we enter a new era of commercial space flight, with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Tesla tycoon Elon Musk both accepting bids for sub-orbital joy-rides.

However, the exact number of people that have engaged in sexual activity in space remains unknown.

Pierre Kohler, a respected French scientific writer, claimed in his book The Final Mission: Mir, The Human Adventure that a couple had already had sex in orbit as long ago as 1996.

He wrote: "The issue of sex in space is a serious one.

"The experiments carried out so far relate to missions planned for married couples on the future International Space Station, the successor to Mir.

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"Scientists need to know how far sexual relations are possible without gravity."

According to Kohler, NASA launched a secret project codenamed STS-XX to explore which sex positions might be possible in microgravity.

Scientists used computer models to work out how a couple might successfully have sex when every movement could send them spinning across the space capsule. Various different positions were considered.

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"Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions," wrote Kohler.

"The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even Nasa was only given a censored version."

However, Kohler’s account has been rejected by NASA, who insist that no such experiment has ever taken place.

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The Russian space agency, too, denied similar claims.

Valery Bogomolov, the deputy head of the Biomedical Problems Institute, told reporters: "Cosmonauts are of course humans but this has not been an issue throughout the history of space flights."

There are significant obstacles to space sex. A lot of the basic human plumbing relies on normal Earth gravity to function correctly.

Male astronauts might struggle to sustain an erection without gravity. Physicist and astronomer John Millis, PhD told BuzzFeed that male arousal would be "challenging in space, though it could still technically be possible," adding that similar issues might affect female astronauts.

"Vaginal wetness could be an issue as the fluid-like sweat and tears – will tend to pool at the location of secretion in the absence of gravity.

"This wouldn't inhibit arousal necessarily, but I imagine it would be uncomfortable or unpleasant," he added.

Astronauts have also reported a decline in testosterone production while on missions, resulting in a lowered libido, and heart function tends to weaken which makes any kind of vigorous exercise – like sex – more of a challenge.

There’s also the issue of what might happen if a baby were conceived in space, outside Earth's natural radiation shield, cosmic radiation could produce horrific – and probably fatal mutations.

"If you look at the list of organs sensitive to radiation damage, the gonads, the ovaries and testes, are always in the top two or three," says Joseph Tash, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Centre, who has conducted extensive research on the topic of animal reproduction in space.

John Mills added: "If sex were successful, it is virtually certain that any resulting foetus would not survive the pregnancy."

Finally, NASA also has strict rules against married couples going into space together.

The only couple on record to have got around that rule are Mark Lee and Jan Davis, who got together during astronaut training and were assigned to a Spacelab science mission in September 1992.

If they managed to find a private moment on space shuttle Endeavour, they kept it to themselves.

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