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Sex In Space: From Russia...with Love
By Yuri Karash
Special to
posted: 12:06 pm ET
16 March 2000


NASA might be a little squeamish about sex in space but in Russia the scientific community is noted for keeping abreast of sex, romance and long-term crew isolation in space.

The Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP), a leading Russian research institute in the field of space medicine and biology, has been involved for decades in the sex-related studies of living species in space.

The Institutes interest in sexual function during spaceflight began in the early 1960s, when they noticed a difference in behavior between two dogs that had flown in space, Veterok ("Small Wind") and Ugolyok ("Small Piece of Coal").

Veterok lost his hair and energy soon after the flight and ultimately died. Ugolyok, on the other hand, considerably increased his overall activity, particularly in the sexual arena, and maintained quite a healthy libido during his longer-than-average life span. His stuffed body is on display in the IBMP museum as a tribute to the legendary hound dog.

The emphasis in the Institutes studies of space-related sex issues was made, however, not on the behavioral, but on the procreative, physiological aspects of sex.

"We study the impact of weightlessness on the reproductive function of male and female bodies by using mammals as test subjects, particularly rats," said Lyubov Serova, a leading IBMP specialist in the field of procreation in the conditions of spaceflight, in an exclusive interview with The Russian scientists have chosen such approach for a number of reasons.

First, they dont believe that cosmonauts really need a psycho-emotional relief like sex during long-lasting spaceflights.

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"This is a very complicated issue," Serova said. "It all depends on a personal dominant motivation. A human central nervous system is always aimed at the achievement of a certain main goal. For some people sex is such a goal. However, people who are professionally very motivated and goal-oriented do not need sex as an emotional release. It requires a lot of motivation and determination to become a cosmonaut. This is why a space flyer just wont have time to be concerned about sex in space. A person who might experience such problem in flight will most likely be a passenger on a spacecraft a journalist, a politician or just a tourist."

Dr. Anna Goncharova, Dr. Serova's colleague at the institute agreed.

"As about the importance of having sex in space," said Dr. Goncharova, "I will put it this way: It would be nice if there are married couples or boyfriends with their girlfriends among members of the future space crews. They will just extend their earthly sexual relations to space. But having such people as crew members should never be a goal, per se. If crew members are just colleagues and friends, one should never impose on them any intimate relations for the sake of their psycho-emotional stability."

Second, Russian physicians dont believe that long-lasting sexual abstinence that might take place during a lengthy mission could have any negative impact on the human mind or body.

"People who are professionally very motivated and goal-oriented do not need sex as an emotional release. A person who might experience such problem in flight will most likely be a passenger on a spacecraft -- a journalist, a politician or just a tourist."

According to Dr. Serova, this problem has been greatly exaggerated. "I am sure that it all depends on a personal psychological status. We can control our hormonal functions by our central nervous system," she said. "I am deeply convinced that a long-lasting spaceflight has no negative impact on a human sexual function if a person believes that there is no such impact. If a person -- a man or a woman -- had no sexual problem before the flight, he or she will never get it after landing."

But what about experiments with human sexuality in space? Is there any need to conduct them and, if yes, under what conditions?

"It is enough to have a married couple in flight, or a boyfriend and a girlfriend, in order to conduct such experiments," said Dr. Valery Polyakov, IBMP Deputy Director and a Russian cosmonaut, in an exclusive interview with

Dr. Polyakov was on a 438-day long flight in 1994-95. "However, I believe that one of the biggest obstacles in the way of conducting sex experiments in space on humans is a possibility of conception. We still dont know exactly what kind of impactspaceflight conditions -- like weightlessness or radiation -- have on [the] genetic structure of an embryo. Until we know this, we dont have any moral right to experiment with life of a future child who might be conceived in space."

Russian cosmonaut Sergev Krikalev, who spent 312 days in space during his second mission in 1991-92, agreed.

"This would be highly unethical to conduct these types of experiments on people, especially in such a sensitive and delicate field of human activity," said Krikalev in his exclusive interview with "Nobody has ever asked me to do anything like this."

Apart from the ethical aspect of the problem, Dr. Serova believes that "it would make sense to experiment with a man and a woman having sex in space only if the goal of such experiment was a conception followed by an extraction of the embryo from the womb in order to see how it developed.

However, if such experiment was only about testing different sexual positions, it had nothing to do with a science. After a period of adaptation for weightlessness, people will not need any special devices, like elastic belts or inflatable tubes to have sex in space," said Dr. Serova.

Dr. Polyakov says that "it would be desirable to have a normal sexual life in long-term spaceflights." However, he does not offer any possible alternative to it, but patience.

"Lets put it this way: lack of sexual satisfaction has never been a reason for a premature interruption of any spaceflight or for any considerable problem on board the station. Some people asked me about different ways of compensating for a sexual abstention in space, particularly about using a doll which you can buy in a sex shop," said Dr. Polyakov.

"I strongly opposed such a solution. A man who is using such thing may develop a so called doll syndrome, or in other words to start preferring the doll to his own wife or a girlfriend even after he gets an opportunity to return to a normal sexual life. People have a sad experience of using such things during long-lasting stays in Antarctica or sea voyages. Why? Because a man could make such a doll a blond or a brunette, with blue or black eyes, and to give it any shape he wants."

Dr. Polyakov ridiculed any talks about NASA possibly conducting sex experiments in space. "When rumors about NASA allegedly doing this occasionally emerge, we never believe them," said Dr. Polyakov.

"We have very close and intensive contacts with our American colleagues not to know about such activities on their side. Even if we are not involved in joint scientific activities, we still exchange information. This is why I am absolutely sure that nothing like this did ever take place on board [the] space shuttle. Neither did we, the Russians, ever conduct sex experiments in flights. Of course, we cannot neglect this problem but we have a utilitarian approach to it: we might need animals to procreate in space to provide people with food during long-term spaceflights. We never studied sex as a way of getting pleasure, but only from the standpoint of procreation."

However, perhaps experiments in space are needed to test a technique of having sex in weightlessness? Neither Dr. Polyakov, nor Dr. Serova believe that it is necessary. "If people are professionals and they love each other, and they fly in the same crew, they dont have to be specially prepared for sex in space," said Dr. Polyakov.

Dr. Serovas belief is based on her observation of human behavior under extreme conditions as well as on her experiments with rats. "Look at a high-mountain long-lasting expedition. Is it possible to conceive a child there? Of course, it is," said Dr. Serova. "But not everybody would be resolute enough to do this and not everybody will succeed. There is no big difference between such expedition and a long-term stay in weightlessness. We conducted a lot of experiments on rats in space. They have never had any problem finding partners in weightlessness and having normal sexual relations. Why should people? Keep in mind that for people it would be considerably easier than for animals to have sex in space since the former understand what is going on and as result cope with the stress much better than the latter."

Dr. Serova does not believe that space flyers will need any special technical training to have sex in space. "You know, sometimes when I see magazines for adults I am getting really astonished by human sexual creativity in terms of positions and ways of making sex. Weightlessness certainly wont be any kind of obstacle for modern people."

"I think it is all commercial propaganda which makes people overestimate an importance of sex in their lives," Dr. Serova said. "People should not think about it. They should be led by love, which will make everything happen in a very natural way. If one person is attracted by the other, nothing will stop them from having nice and harmonic sexual relations, regardless of where they are -- on Earth, or in space."


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