Passengers may be set on a futuristic starship traveling across light years to a new colony far, far away, but its vision of human relationships is mired in the same earthbound tropes as ever.

Blandly hunky working-class dudebro Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and stunning sensitive blonde journalist Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awake too early from suspended animation and realize that they are doomed to drift through space for the rest of their lives. Once they’ve recovered from the shock, they tromp through the usual romance/adventure arc: love at first sight, weird stalkery obsession, carnal enthusiasm, break up, reconciliation, etc., all the way through the wedding ring in space. Even in the far future on unimagined worlds, heterosexual monogamy between young, conventionally attractive white people is eternal.

The timidity is par for the course in on-screen science fiction. You could argue, as Steve Rose does at The Guardian, that a romcom in space is emotionally daring compared to Hollywood’s usual strict separation of space adventure and emotional intimacy. Rogue One has low-key romantic tension between both a heterosexual couple and a homosexual one, but it chastely refuses to let anyone kiss, much less have sex. Passengers, in contrast, acknowledges that even in the future, people have genitals. In doing so, it takes a small step, not forward, but backward—toward the rich history of sexually adventurous science-fiction novels, which Hollywood has been ignoring for decades.

Many of these novels are now 40 years old, but the future they imagine seems much further out, in every sense, than the everyone-is-basically-the-same-but-with-more-lasers narrative Hollywood seems to prefer.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1970, is set in a world where humans have evolved to the point where there is only one gender; they adopt sexual characteristics, male or female, depending on the specific relationships of the moment, during a two-day period of estrus called kemmer. James Tiptree’s 1972 story “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” imagines a future in which humans have encountered aliens and been utterly undone by their desire for exogamy; humans have a genetic drive to mate with strangers, and the aliens, who do not, use that as a lever to turn all earthlings into sex slaves. Samuel Delany’s Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) includes anonymous group homosexual sex with aliens; his book Trouble on Triton has genetic science so advanced that people switch genders regularly and with little fuss. Octavia Butler’s Dawn (1987) features aliens who mate with human couples by using special appendages to extract and mix their genetic materials. Cue numerous scenes of kinky third-gender tentacle sex.

The list goes on: There’s Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead (1986), in which aliens reproduce by turning into trees; Jack L. Chalker’s Soul Rider series from the 1980s, which is obsessed with body swapping and body alteration; Jaqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension (2013), a lesbian polyamorous space romance. Science-fiction writers have long been aware that the future doesn’t just mean faster ships and better guns; it also means changes in human society, which means changes in the way that humans have sex with each other, and maybe with aliens. The future is, at least potentially, queer.

Science-fiction writers have long been aware that the future doesn’t just mean faster ships; it also means changes in the way that humans have sex with each other, and maybe with aliens.

When sci-fi film and television wants to be adult, though, it generally avoids queerness and sex with aliens to focus on the less messy, more solid possibilities of sex with robots. Films like Ex Machina and Her, and shows like Westworld, are fascinated by the way technology creates new possibilities for sex. But those new technological possibilities are mostly simply plugged into familiar gender roles and narratives. The computer intelligence in Her is a standard romcom heroine—and as soon as she stops being that, her relationship with mopey Joaquin Phoenix ends.

Ex Machina and Westworld use robots as a metaphor for women’s exploitation: men treat robot women as slaves, to imprison and rape, mirroring the way that men see women as objects rather than people. There’s a criticism of current gender roles there, but there’s not much impetus to think about how different bodies coming together in different ways might radically rewire relations between the sexes, for good or ill. Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) describes a future in which the connection between reproduction and motherhood is severed—kids are grown in test tubes, and people of any gender can apply to be a child’s mother. Reorganizing family relationships creates a society built on equality, without sexism or oppression. Could a society of robots also cast off gender roles and create a new, different culture, centered on a different kind of family? You won’t find out from Westworld, which ends with a robot deciding the robot she remembers as her daughter, who isn’t really her daughter, is still the most important thing in her life. Her humanity is affirmed by the fact that she has a traditional relationship to reproduction and family, even though her daughter was built, not born.

In Passengers, sex is not a subject for adventurous exploration so much as a reassuring, nostalgic alternative to it. When the Homestead company’s ship fails Jim and Aurora are understandably upset, but the friendly android bartender tells them to reconcile themselves to their fate and make the best of things because, hey, you can’t fight the corporation. Wedded heterosexing is presented as a consolation prize in a diminished future.

Science fiction in novels has long demanded more. Rather than seeing traditional gender roles and sexiness as an escape from the prison ship, writers like Joanna Russ and Delany and Butler have seen them as part of the prison itself. Science fiction in novels has been bravely reimaging sex with different partners, different appendages, different species. Meanwhile, most Hollywood futures are so retrograde they barely acknowledge that homosexuality exists. As far as sex goes, sci-fi movie audiences are on the same endless journey as ever, going nowhere.