Sex secrets of outer space

2008-02-25 00:00

Sex secrets of outer space. That’s what a Witness billboard read sometime late last year. I was driving home along Hesketh Drive with my two sons, Thomas (11) and Francis (10) when Francis pointed it out to me.

“Dad, what does sex secrets of outer space mean?” he chimed from the back seat. Oh Lord, I thought, how am I even going to start to try to explain this?

I had read the article earlier that morning. It focused to a large extent on the physical implications of sex in space under conditions of zero gravity, the need for a whole lot of lateral thinking (and movement) and obvious problems with the missionary position.

I recalled thinking to myself that the article could have introduced some more humour by a light-hearted look at the implications of zero gravity on gender politics, that as an environment where nobody would get to be “on top” it would “level the playing fields,” so to speak (kinetically anyway). I also thought that space tourism would no doubt bring with it a renewed and necessary interest in the Kamasutra, and I wondered if publishers were preparing for this? But mostly I was just annoyed with myself at not getting there first. And that’s where I had pretty much left things before Francis asked for an explanation.

Now both Tom and Francis have had the birds and bees 101 chat with the help of a very tastefully illustrated book especially written for this purpose. So they have both got the basics. But throwing the concept of weightlessness into the mix at this stage? This wasn’t something I recall signing up for as a father. So instead of confronting a parental curve ball head-on, I decided to try to create a smoke screen and simply said: “In space there is no gravity, people float around so they have to have sex differently.”

From his seat in the back Francis responded first.

“Disgusting, sick,” he said emphatically. This has become his stock response to witnessing any signs of affection or sexual embrace, however mild, in life, books and on TV and film. So strong is his sense of revulsion that to prevent contamination he turns his head away from the offending image and covers the side of his face with the palm of his hand. Although he finds it impossible to believe at the moment, Shelley and I have told him that in a few years this is all going to change.

Tom’s response was much more considered and a whole lot more worrying. He was sitting intently in thought next to me and after a few seconds would nod his head gently to himself as though having arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. It wasn’t so much the process itself that concerned me. I have seen it often when Thomas works through a maths problem while doing homework. It was rather that it was necessary for him to repeat it several times. He was obviously working (and clearly with some success) through the implications of several different scenarios and from a knowledge base far more substantial than I realised. After a few minutes he looked at me and said matter of factly: “Okay dad, okay, now I get it. I’ve got it now.” “Good, well done Tom,” I said, hugely relieved. Exactly what he had got, or how, I had absolutely no intention of pursuing.

Francis was still persisting from the back seat with his “disgusting, sick” mantra and his sense of revulsion had clearly been growing. By now he had turned his head so much that he was looking almost directly through the rear window.

“We’ve moved long past it Francis, you need to let it go and move on”. “Disgusting, sick,” he squeezed in one last time, shaking his head disapprovingly.

There is a lot to be said for sometimes letting children work through things on their own, I thought to myself, although I felt very relieved that we could all now return to Earth and turn our attention to what was going to be happening during the rest of the day. And if there was another lesson for me in this it was that wherever it happens, even in outer space, sex really always does remain in the mind.

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