In July 2022, several news sites published articles claiming that NASA scientists had recently issued a warning to astronauts against masturbating in space because it allegedly could impregnate multiple women. The New York Post, for example, published an article headlined, "Astronauts should not masturbate in zero gravity, NASA scientist says." The Daily Star ran with, "Astronauts warned not to masturbate in space as one session can 'impregnate 3 females.'"
These headlines are absurd. NASA issued no such warning to its astronauts. These articles were based on a joke that was told by a comedian during an episode of Conan O'Brien's podcast ,"Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend."
On July 21, an episode of the podcast, titled "Space Porn," was released on various podcast platforms. The episode featured Conan, co-hosts Sona Movsesian and Matt Gourley, and guest Smythe Mullikin, a mechanical engineer who works with a NASA contractor in Houston, Texas.
During the episode, Conan asked Mullikin about what sort of items can be shipped up to the International Space Station. As the hosts mulled ideas about the strangest items that could be shipped to space, co-host Movsesian asked if he'd ever sent porn into space.
"No," Mullikin replied. "None of that."
The curious hosts were not satisfied with this answer, however, and continued to joke about porn and masturbation in space. At one point, Gourley, who is a comedian and not a NASA scientists, joked that three female astronauts could be impregnated at the same time if an astronaut were to masturbate in space.
CONAN: Were someone to be watching space porn on the space station, how does that work?
GOURLEY: Three female astronauts can be impregnated by the same man from the same session.
CONAN: Because the semen flies around?
GOURLEY: Uh-huh. And finds its way.
MOVESIAN: And the women are all naked?
GOURLEY: Well it's space porn.
Mullikin, who is not directly employed by NASA, was not an active participant in this portion of the conversation. This was a brief exchange by three comedians.
However, when this conversation was recounted in the pages of the NY Post, the site misquoted this section and claimed that the scientist had issued this "warning" about multiple women getting pregnant. Here's how the article appeared on News.com.au.
The "scientist" in the concluding sentence was actually comedian Gourley.
NASA has not issued any strict guidelines around "alone time," and a NASA scientist did not warn against space masturbation. These articles are based on a joke from a comedian. If they were accurately titled, they may have been published under headlines such as: "Comedian Makes Joke About Porn." That title, however, may not generate as many clicks.
So, Can You Masturbate in Space?
NASA has been relatively mum on this subject. As far as we can tell, while there may be some logistical problems to having sex with someone in space, and while a lack of gravity does have an impact on blood flow, masturbation in space is likely safe and possible. In fact, in astronaut Michael Collin's 1989 book "Liftoff," he writes that one medical adviser encouraged masturbation in space in order to prevent prostate problems. Collins wrote:
Before the Skylab flights, various medical concerns were expressed, including the possibility of the celibate crew getting infected prostate glands that could lead to urinary tract problems. One doctor advised regular masturbation, advice Joe ignored.
Vice.com looked into this issue in 2020 and found that Russia's space agency may have taken things one step further. According to diary entries of Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, Russia sent "colorful" movies on the trip and offered to supply an inflatable sex doll for his 14-month journey. Polyakov declined the doll.
While there is still some mystery surrounding sex and masturbation in space, NASA certainly hasn't issued any warnings to astronauts against masturbation because of fears of mass impregnations.