In a sense, this dissertation is the ultimate sexual fantasy. Like some but unlike other sexual fantasies, however, this one will be eventually enacted many times in its myriad permutations by human beings in various habitats, both artificial and natural, in space.
This work, I was advised more than once, should not be encyclopedic, although in some ways it has almost become so. My vision has been to create an authoritative rationale for the scientific study of sexuality in the space environment, although our conceptions of its nature will steadily evolve as our knowledge and experience of the exploration of space changes. It can truly be said that our journey of a million miles into space begins with the single step off our planet Earth. So it is with our sexuality. As I hope this study will clearly demonstrate, wherever humanity goes, our sexuality will surely follow.
The need to view and understand the big picture is essential. Sex in space can be considered a microcosm of the macro world of sex in society. To understand the difficulties we have in considering that sexuality will be a healthy part of human life in space is to understand Western society’s—and particularly American society’s—difficulty with accepting sexuality as a healthy part of normal life on Earth. Part of the problem, I believe, is a lack of understanding of just what dimensions of human life are the domain of the various factors of sexuality. To try to make it clearer, I have termed it the human sexuality complex, or simply, the sexuality complex, a unified, if complex and chaotic, system of interconnected parts that make up the whole of sexuality for human beings. As such, I hope to encourage the application of systems perspectives to the consideration of human sexuality, both within the space life sciences and in sexology as it should be approached in human societies on Earth. At the same time, this somewhat new approach considers recent developments in the sciences of complexity and chaos, or the study of dynamic, complex, seemingly random events, that are beginning to be applied in psychological studies.
For many reading this dissertation, the presentation will serve as an introduction to the subjects at hand. For those with a grounding in the space sciences, the details of professional sexology are likely to be unfamiliar; likewise for sexologists, many of whom know little about space or the human space endeavor. I have sometimes referred to this in a somewhat animistic shorthand by saying that “sex doesn’t know space and space doesn’t know sex”; in this presentation, therefore, I believe it is necessary to provide some of the key foundations of each. My exposition thus assumes little in what is known by the reader. For some people, one or the other subject may seem redundant. If that is so, understand that in today’s typical compartmentalization of academia, few people have developed sufficient cross-discipline expertise. This dissertation presents an overview and synthesis of two heretofore disparate disciplines. Then, too, the unfamiliarity with scientific knowledge by scholars of the diverse disciplines outside of the sciences warrants a more detailed map of both fields of study. Appendix A is a glossary of selected aerospace, sexuality, and philosophical terms to help the reader understand the specialized vocabularies.
As you will discover shortly, the method of philosophical inquiry is beginning to be used more often in sexological studies, particularly when an unfamiliar topic with little theoretical foundation is being addressed. Thus, we will be exploring questions related to the nature of knowledge and applying it to suggest theoretical approaches to the subjects at hand. Social constructionists have given us the insight that no one has a monopoly on the truth, and so have become part of an overall epistemological debate in the philosophy of science. The danger is, of course, that distortions of truth then come to have the weight of truth, much as has happened in the American political/legal system, to the extent that now misrepresentations, spin control, and outright lies often predominate over the truth. Thus, our inquiry takes us into the political aspects of the human sexuality complex, which have a profound influence on our subjects. Similar controversies and points of view vie for attention among professionals in the space and sexual sciences. I will be delving into both specialties in order to provide a synthesis of their diverse philosophical underpinnings which, at present, sharply separate the two, yet which in the near future will inform directions for each. I will not argue the merits of whether we should be pursuing either discipline’s goals, but rather will take it as a given that we will be pursuing these goals simultaneously.
The realm of human sexuality encompasses most, if not all, of life’s disciplines, making it probably the most inherently interdisciplinary subject of human study. When we apply that knowledge to space studies, similarly interdisciplinary in that it involves the study and engineering of ecosystems in which human beings can live and thrive outside of the Earth’s influence, we note some striking omissions in the literature.
What other major system of human functioning would be so neglected as have the varied dimensions of sexuality? It would be grossly irresponsible for mission planners at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to fail to investigate carefully and in-depth every important issue related to human functioning in space. Can one imagine a space program in which eating and waste elimination had not been studied? Even the relatively minor things of which we largely have little awareness, such as the evaporation of sweat (which occurs every day), must be taken into account in the closed ecological environment of a space shuttle or space station cabin. To its credit, NASA has been investigating reproduction and development in some plants and animals in space for some time now, and a few scientists have begun to think about these issues as they may affect humans. But comprehensive human studies had yet to be started at any level. This is not surprising, given the political climate under which NASA must operate. It is only because the functions that we tend to neglect on Earth are related to sexuality that we allow this neglect to occur in the domain of space as well. Very recent data showing decreased sexual drive in men in space underscores the need for such study.
In many respects, the sexual sciences and the space life sciences are neatly suited to each other. Both are relatively recent sciences that have only begun to mature in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, yet both are deeply rooted in various aspects of humanity’s past. Both are profoundly interdisciplinary, drawing insight and knowledge from a variety of subspecializations in the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities. And both offer something that is vital for humankind: the potential for hope in our future.
In addition, as with so much of the technology that has been developed by NASA for the space program and the knowledge that has been gathered in planning for and executing past short-term space missions, the spinoff effect, such as, particularly at present, those in telecommunications, ecology, and the biomedical sciences, should have a profound impact on the psychology and sociology of those of us who will continue to be confined to Earth for the duration of our lives. It is in all of these domains, upon which all of sexual science touches, that space science could begin to break the age-old barriers that prevent many of us from enjoying the sexual lives to which we are all entitled as sexual beings.
These could be exciting times in both scientific domains. Yet, some people call for increasing the use of robotic tools to explore the universe, and eliminating or greatly reducing the role of the human element, except as a remote controller and observer. The cost of human beings is just too expensive, they maintain; there is no cost-effectiveness in the equation. In sexology and other human endeavors, too, there are similarly shortsighted people who have no use for investing in the bulk of humanity to eliminate the ignorance, fear, and pain with which so many continue to live. The lack of cost-effectiveness for the few are translated into an equation by which the rest of us bears the cost. This is very clearly seen in the toll taken by the sex-related problems that are still not addressed here on Earth.
It is interesting to note that today’s space program is considered by many people to be the state of the art in science, yet it is based on 20-year-old technology; the space shuttle is grounded in the science of the 1970s and early 1980s (although current computer technology has been gradually integrated). Americans, in fact, were able to go to the Moon using the technology of the 1960s. The science of the late 1980s and 1990s is that which will fly on the International Space Station in the opening years of the 21st century.
One of the stated reasons to conduct a philosophical inquiry is to look at a set of observations in a new light. Thus, we can look at our knowledge of the human sexual condition on Earth and consider whether it applies to the new experiences we will have in space. Likewise, we can consider our knowledge of humans in space and conjecture about its applicability to us on Earth. That is the work of philosophy, specifically of epistemology: to analyze the boundaries of knowledge and to ascertain its validity in various domains. In that sense, space science can be seen to provide us with a new view of sexuality that puts today’s anti-positivist, social constructionist perspectives in place. In space, we could go to the Moon, using the technology of the 1960s; and in 1969 we did. Yet, we have not done so since 1972; for 25 years, we did not choose to do it. Similarly, in sexual psychology and sexual medicine, we have chosen not to address, except on a very superficial or moralistic level, most of the potential problems associated with sexual behavior, such as sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy. Those that we have chosen to address energetically are often those that have more potential value in their metaphorical meanings and hysterical uses for political purposes than for effective treatment or actually solving the problem—or even for finding factual knowledge about the issue.
Of particular significance to the American space program was the introduction of women as astronauts in January 1978. This brought to the fore the duality of the human sexual condition. NASA had to deal with the biological aspects of maleness and femaleness, although many of the psychosocial aspects of sex and gender have yet to be adequately addressed. Research on these aspects should have relevance for feminist theory and research in Earthly matters as well. The biological issues so important in spaceflight will need to be considered, in contrast to the strict social constructionist arguments in some feminist writings.
If the psychosocial aspects of the human factor in space have received little attention as a whole as demonstrated in this study, the psychosocial context of sex in the societies and in the minds of human beings on Earth have been severely neglected. Intuitively, most of us know that the distinctly human values of self-esteem, happiness, intimacy, and love can be measured. Women and men together must define the tasks to find out how, both in space and on Earth. I hope that this inquiry will provide us with some direction for that collective vision. May you enjoy this journey into these final frontiers.
Noonan, R. J. (1998). A philosophical inquiry into the role of sexology in space life sciences research and human factors considerations for extended spaceflight. Doctoral dissertation, New York University (UMI publication number 9832759).
View AsMA 2000 Presentation Abstract:“Sexuality and Space: Theoretical Considerations for Extended Spaceflight.” Tuesday, May 16, 2000, 2:00-5:30pm, at New Horizons: The 71st Annual Scientific Meeting of the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), May 14-20, 2000, Westin Galleria and Oaks, Houston, Texas (Poster Presentation). This is my first presentation based on the results of my dissertation.
Volume 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (IES4), including 17 new countries and places, Robert T. Francoeur, Ph.D., Editor, and Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D., Associate Editor, published in May 2001 by Continuum International Publishing Group: Includes my chapter on “Outer Space,” which highlights cross-cultural sexuality issues that will have an impact on the human future in space, based partly on my dissertation. For the table of contents or more information, see the IES4 Web site: http://www.SexQuest.com/IES4/, including supplemental chapters available only on the Web. Order from amazon.com!
“The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy,” in Robert T. Francoeur’s Sexuality in America: Understanding Our Sexual Values and Behavior, published in August 1998 by Continuum Publishing Co. This new book contains an updated version of the chapter on the United States contained in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Vol. 3 (in the set below). Now available in paperback at amazon.com!
Two articles in Robert T. Francoeur’s International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, published in August 1997 by Continuum Publishing Co.: “The Impact of AIDS on Our Perception of Sexuality” and “Sex Surrogates: The Continuing Controversy” in the United States chapter in volume 3, and additional comments (with Sandra Almeida) in the chapter on Brazil in volume 1. Encourage your library to purchase this three-volume, 1737-page set—the most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of sexuality in 33 countries ever published. Order from amazon.com.
“The Psychology of Sex: A Mirror from the Internet,” in Jayne Gackenbach’s Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Implications, published by Academic Press in October 1998. Visit the publisher to see the table of contents and more information, then come back here and order it from amazon.com.
The third edition of the book, Does Anyone Still Remember When Sex Was Fun? Positive Sexuality in the Age of AIDS, 3rd edition, edited by Peter B. Anderson, Diane de Mauro, & Raymond J. Noonan, published by Kendall/Hunt in September 1996. Click here for more information about the book.
The latest on positive sexuality from the first book to address the issue: For anyone concerned about the increasingly negative ways in which sex is being portrayed in public life—and who wants to do something positive about it.
Now out of print, but available soon in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format! However, used copies might be available at amazon.com.
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