Out of this world: Should sex technology be launched into space?
The 2018 movie A.I. Rising explores how machines could fulfil desires and support humans during space travel. Lo and behold, it might contain the solution to problems related to space exploration.
Astronauts, despite their rigorous training, remain humans with needs. For space exploration and colonisation to succeed, we need to overcome taboos, consider human needs and desires and provide concrete, realistic solutions based on science rather than conventional morality.
Can humans thrive for prolonged periods of time in small groups and in closed, isolated environments? Can humans contend with limited possibilities of relationships, intimacy and sexuality? Sex tech might have the answer.
As researchers exploring human-machine erotic interactions, we are interested in their implications and potential applications for human wellbeing – even beyond our home planet.
Space exploration and colonisation is one of humanity’s greatest endeavours, but it comes with challenges. One of them is to make the space journey human-compatible, that is, physically and psychologically viable. Given that intimacy and sexuality are basic needs, they become central issues for human-space compatibility
How will humans have sex in space? Can we propagate the species beyond Earth? What will intimate relationships look like aboard spaceships and settlements? As of now, Nasa and other space agencies have denied that any sexual activity has ever occurred during a space mission.
Either sex in space hasn’t happened, or no one is talking about it. Nonetheless, imminent prolonged human missions to the moon and Mars raise concerns regarding the future of intimacy and sexuality in space
One important concern is that space exploration and colonisation will limit people’s opportunities for relationships, intimacy and sexuality for long periods of time. In the very near future, human missions will only include small crews and settlements.
Fewer people mean fewer opportunities for intimacy – making it difficult to find partners to connect with and potentially increasing tension between crew members. For instance, it might be difficult to find partners that fit our personality, preferences and sexual orientation.
And when a relationship ends, people are stuck on a ship with an ex-partner – possibly impairing a crew’s mood and the teamwork necessary to survive in dangerous environments.
While some people might be able to withstand a policy of total abstinence, it might be detrimental to the physical and mental health of others – especially as larger groups venture into space. Yet Nasa seems afraid of tackling issues of intimacy and sexuality in space. In 2008, Bill Jeffs, spokesperson for Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said:
“We don’t study sexuality in space, and we don’t have any studies ongoing with that. If that’s your specific topic, there’s nothing to discuss.”
Given what we know about human sexuality, this position seems irresponsible. It prevents research from examining basic questions about sexual health and wellbeing in space. For instance, how do we deal with hygiene and the messiness of human sex in zero gravity?
How will we maintain a crew’s psychological wellbeing if people must endure long periods lacking in erotic stimulation and affection? Is imposed abstinence a reasonable solution, based on empirical evidence?
One solution could be to make erotic technologies available to crews and settlers in space. This could include sex toys – any object used for sexual enhancement or stimulation
– which could be used for sexual pleasure and gratification. But sex toys do not address the social dimensions of human erotic needs. This is where erobots come in.
The term erobots characterises all virtual, embodied and augmented artificial erotic agents and the technologies that produce them. Examples include sex robots, erotic chatbots and virtual or augmented partners. Erobotics is the emerging transdisciplinary research studying human-erobots interactions and related phenomena.
Unlike previous technologies, erobots offer the opportunity of intimate relations with artificial agents tailored to the needs of their users. Erobotic technologies polarise public and academic discourses:
some denounce them as promoting harmful norms, while others defend their potential benefits and health, education and research applications.
Erobots represent a practical solution to tackle the inhuman conditions of space exploration and colonisation. Moreover, erobotics could enable us to approach questions of intimacy and sexuality in space from scientific, relational and technological perspectives. Erobots could provide companionship and sexual pleasure to crew members and settlers.
Beyond the capabilities of sex toys, erobots can incorporate social dimensions into erotic experiences. They could help with loneliness and the inevitable anxieties borne out of solitude. They could act as surrogate romantic partners, provide sexual outlets and reduce risks associated with human sex.
Erobots could also provide intimacy and emotional support. And finally, erobots’ sensors and interactive capabilities could help monitor astronauts’ physiological and psychological health – acting as a complement to daily medical exams. Erobots can take many forms and be made of light material.
They can manifest through virtual or augmented reality and be combined with sex toys to provide interactive and immersive erotic experiences. The same technology could also be employed to enact erotic experiences with loved ones back on Earth.
To harness erotic technology’s potential for human space missions, we must build collaborations between academia, governmental space programs and the private sector. Erobotics can contribute to space research programs.
As a field grounded in sexuality and technology positive frameworks, it recognises the importance of intimacy and sexuality in human life and promotes the development of technology geared towards health and wellbeing.
And ultimately, we must shed our taboos regarding technology and sexuality as we journey to the final frontier.
One of the basic properties of life is reproduction, the capacity to generate new individuals, and sex is an aspect of this process. Life has evolved from simple stages to more complex ones, and so have the reproduction mechanisms.
Initially the reproduction was a replicating process that consists in producing new individuals that contain the same genetic information as the original or parent individual.
This mode of reproduction is called asexual, and it is still used by many species, particularly unicellular, but it is also very common in multicellular organisms, including many of those with sexual reproduction.
In sexual reproduction, the genetic material of the offspring comes from two different individuals. As sexual reproduction developed by way of a long process of evolution, intermediates exist.
Bacteria, for instance, reproduce asexually, but undergo a process by which a part of the genetic material of an individual donor is transferred to another recipient.
Disregarding intermediates, the basic distinction between asexual and sexual reproduction is the way in which the genetic material is processed. Typically, prior to an asexual division, a cell duplicates its genetic information content, and then divides. This process of cell division is called mitosis.
In sexual reproduction, there are special kinds of cells that divide without prior duplication of its genetic material, in a process named meiosis. The resulting cells are called gametes, and contain only half the genetic material of the parent cells. These gametes are the cells that are prepared for the sexual reproduction of the organism.
Sex comprises the arrangements that enable sexual reproduction, and has evolved alongside the reproduction system, starting with similar gametes (isogamy) and progressing to systems that have different gamete types, such as those involving a large female gamete (ovum) and a small male gamete (sperm).
In complex organisms, the sex organs are the parts that are involved in the production and exchange of gametes in sexual reproduction. Many species, both plants and animals, have sexual specialization, and their populations are divided into male and female individuals.
Conversely, there are also species in which there is no sexual specialization, and the same individuals both contain masculine and feminine reproductive organs, and they are called hermaphrodites. This is very frequent in plants.
Sexual reproduction first probably evolved about a billion years ago within ancestral single-celled eukaryotes. The reason for the evolution of sex, and the reason(s) it has survived to the present, are still matters of debate.
Some of the many plausible theories include: that sex creates variation among offspring, sex helps in the spread of advantageous traits, that sex helps in the removal of disadvantageous traits, and that sex facilitates repair of germ-line DNA.
Sexual reproduction is a process specific to eukaryotes, organisms whose cells contain a nucleus and mitochondria. In addition to animals, plants, and fungi, other eukaryotes (e.g. the malaria parasite) also engage in sexual reproduction.
Some bacteria use conjugation to transfer genetic material between cells; while not the same as sexual reproduction, this also results in the mixture of genetic traits.
The defining characteristic of sexual reproduction in eukaryotes is the difference between the gametes and the binary nature of fertilization. Multiplicity of gamete types within a species would still be considered a form of sexual reproduction. However, no third gamete type is known in multicellular plants or animals.
While the evolution of sex dates to the prokaryote or early eukaryote stage, the origin of chromosomal sex determination may have been fairly early in eukaryotes (see evolution of anisogamy). The ZW sex-determination system is shared by birds, some fish and some crustaceans.
XY sex determination is used by most mammals, but also some insects, and plants (Silene latifolia). The X0 sex-determination is found in most arachnids, insects such as silverfish (Apterygota), dragonflies (Paleoptera) and grasshoppers (Exopterygota), and some nematodes, crustaceans, and gastropods.
No genes are shared between the avian ZW and mammal XY chromosomes, and from a comparison between chicken and human, the Z chromosome appeared similar to the autosomal chromosome 9 in human, rather than X or Y, suggesting that the ZW and XY sex-determination systems do not share an origin,
but that the sex chromosomes are derived from autosomal chromosomes of the common ancestor of birds and mammals. A paper from 2004 compared the chicken Z chromosome with platypus X chromosomes and suggested that the two systems are related.
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