Misc.

Male and Female Reproductive Systems

You might be thinking this is an odd post to have on a new mom site. If you’re here, you obviously know how to get pregnant (at least, I hope you know).

But this is about understanding more than just how to get pregnant.

Understanding your fertility as yourself and as a couple provides great benefits.

Fertility is a topic too often ignored. When I first met my husband, he knew more about my body than I did. And during my pregnancy class, one of the dads was unable to recognize a picture of the female reproductive system.

An understanding of Male and Female Fertility should be common adult knowledge.

So if you need a refresher on your high school health class, here it is. I certainly needed this information.

Male Anatomy

Usually, when someone talks about fertility, it’s just about women. But men have a fertility system too. Humans do not reproduce asexually. A woman does not get pregnant on her own.

The key hormone to male fertility is testosterone. And fun fact, there seems to be a link between high testosterone levels and having a hairy chest and being bald. However, it’s not an understood connection.

Now for the main part of this discussion. Let’s take a look at a picture first to make sure we are familiar with all of the parts of a male reproductive system.

There are a few items missing from this picture that need to be mentioned. Two are connected to each other, the epididymis and vas deferens. While not labeled, they are visible.

They connect the testicles to the urethra. The epididymis are tubes attached to the testicles. They are tightly coiled and are actually 20 feet in length. Rather amazing, huh?

The epididymis leads into the vas deferens which is the long white piece that arches around to connect to the seminal vesicle and urethra.

The other item not labeled is also not depicted in this picture. But that’s okay; it doesn’t really need to be. The Cowper’s gland sits right below the prostate and is connected to the beginning of the urethra.

The Life of a Sperm

Sperm are created in the testes. They can produce 200 million sperm a day and is the gland that produces testosterone. Do you know which one usually hangs lower? The left one. 

From creation, the sperm travel to the epididymis where they grow into their swimming and fertilization abilities. It takes them anywhere from 2 to 12 days to pass through (quite a long stretch for some). This is where they sit while they wait for an ejaculation.

During ejaculation, they pass through the epididymis and travel through the vas deferens past the seminal vesicles. 

The purpose of the seminal vesicles are to provide fluid the sperm can survive and swim in. It is nourishing for them.

Next up is passing through the junction that sits in the prostate gland that connects to the urethra. The prostate gland also provides fluid for the sperm to be nourished in. 

Remember that Cowper’s gland? Here is where it comes into play. Before ejaculation, it releases a fluid that neutralizes any acidity left in the urethra from urine. It also helps the sperm to survive the passage.

The urethra itself is an 8-inch tube where sperm leaves the body.

Once the sperm leaves the male body, it is female fertility that comes into play, but we won’t get to that just yet.

Male Fertility

As already mentioned, the testes create about 200 million sperm a day. The epididymis and vas deferens together store about 700 million sperm.

This means men are fertile 24/7, and unlike women with tier eggs, they do not have sperm until they hit puberty. However, once they start creating sperm, they make it until death.

They do have limitations on how often they can ejaculate. Sperm requires fluid to survive. The seminal vesicles and prostate create that fluid. But those two parts need time to reproduce fluid.

That’s why men cannot usually ejaculate a second time right way.

Scrotum

The testes sit inside the scrotum outside of the body. This is necessary because sperm production requires temperatures slightly cooler than the body to work.

The scrotum acts as a natural shield. When it is cold out, it shrinks and hardens to keep as much heat in as possible. When it is hot out, it expands and thins to let heat escape.

Ejaculation and Semen

Before an ejaculation, men usually leak a few drops of fluid. This is fluid from the Cowper’s gland. It is normal and a sign of good health.

It can contain sperm, so it is something to be careful of if you are trying to avoid pregnancy.

The fluid that surrounds the sperm during ejaculation is semen and is designed to be gelatin-like initially to prevent the sperm from slipping back out of the vagina.

After a time, the gelatin-like consistency dissolves and the sperm and semen leak back out the vagina over the next several hours.

Semen is made up of fluid from the seminal vesicles (65%), prostate (30%), testicular fluid, and the sperm itself (these last two together are 5%).

Female Anatomy

Now that we have discussed men, it is time to discuss women. As little as people usually know about male fertility, even less is often known about female fertility. It is more complicated, so that does make sense.

We’re only going to go over the basic of female fertility. Otherwise, we’d be here a while. Female fertility will be gone over greater in length during a post that talks about FAM and NFP. (Once created it will be linked here)

The Life of an Egg

Female fertility starts in the ovaries where Ovum (or eggs) reside. The ovaries can have as many as one million eggs at birth. During a woman’s fertile phase (called ovulation), an egg passes into the fallopian tube. If fertilized, the egg flows into the uterus, aka the womb.

Inside the uterus is a lining called endometrium. Each cycle it builds up a blood-rich lining. If conception occurs, it acts as an incubator for the egg. If conception does not occur, it is shed during menstruation.

In menstruation, the endometrium and egg pass through the cervix and vagina to exit the body.

Female Fertility

Cervix and Vagina

In conception, the cervix dilates during birth, and the vagina becomes the birth canal. During sex, the vagina expands to receive the penis.

The cervix produces cervical fluid leading up to ovulation and during. Sperm can survive in cervical fluid, so it is often called fertile fluid.

The cervix is also the part that expands during ovulation. When a woman is fertile, she can feel if her cervix is open with her finger if she checks it.

Eggs

Women are born with all of the eggs they will ever have in a lifetime. Once they hit puberty, they start going through cycles where they flow from menstruation to fertile, to infertile. Menstruation is when the egg and lining from the previous cycle get expelled.

This cycle causes women to lose all the eggs in their body during their lifetime. When a woman’s eggs are all gone, she goes through menopause.

What this also means is that a woman who is pregnant with a girl is carrying a part of her grandchildren as the fetus already has the eggs. Cool, huh?

The Two Work Together

During ovulation, a woman’s cervix opens letting fertile fluid it creates into the vagina. If semen enters the female body while fertile fluid is present, it can survive up to five days.

So even if a woman hasn’t ovulated yet at the time of intercourse, if she has fertile fluid, she can still get pregnant a couple of days later.

If there is no fertile fluid, the sperm dies within a few hours.

Pregnancy achievement depends on the fact that male sperm can live for up to five days in fertile fluid. Females are fertile for a very short time, about 24 hours.

It is the constant fertility of men and the lifespan of their sperm that causes unplanned pregnancy.

Similarities

Did you know that the same cells that initially make the male reproductive system also make the female reproductive system?

Babies are not conceived with a sex/gender. That is something that forms at about 7 weeks. At that time, the body takes the same cells and forms them into male or female.

Because of that fact, some parts of the body perform similar functions. Women develop eggs in the ovaries. Men produce sperm in the tests.

Both then flow into tubes.

Eggs go into the fallopian tube and sperm into the vas deferens.

Both receive nutrients from a part in roughly the same location, in men, it’s the prostate, and in women, it’s the uterus.

The same cells that make the tip of the penis, also make the clitoris in the womb. The vulva (term includes everything outside of the vagina, lips, clitoris, etc.) and scrotum are also made from the same cells.

That’s the Basics

There is more to be learned about female fertility but that will be covered more in a post that discusses how to track ovulation.

All of the information in this post came from my fertility book which can be found in my reading list, 3rd down.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that there is a benefit to understanding your own and your partner’s fertility. And there is.

Couple fertility determines pregnancy.

A woman who understands her cycle can examine if she’s healthy or not, telling her if she needs to see the doctor. By understanding her cycle, a woman can use the knowledge as effective birth control.

Did you learn anything? If no, you’re a rock star. If yes, what did you learn and did you enjoy learning it?

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Ungil
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Great Article. I know not alot of us know the specific detail of our reproductive systems and it’s great to learn from your article. This will help us understand the process of human reproductive system in details.

Matts Mom
Guest

This was a really informative post. I remember learning a lot of this in school, but I still learned something today from reading this! I think it is good information. It is possible that someone knows “how” to get pregnant, but not about the whole body process. Which really is important 🙂

Shane Black
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Shane Black

Hi Nicole, 

I’ve come across another very informative article of yours. 

I also came across some people during pregnancy classes who did not have this basic knowledge. I also know of people who struggled to get pregnant, however after being educated about the reproductive systems, they managed to get pregnant. Your article will be a valuable resource to both new parents and people trying to get pregnant. 

Cheers, 

Shane

admin
Admin
admin

Understanding fertility can make a huge difference to couples trying to get pregnant. I intend to write a follow up post to this one on how FAM and NFP work for achieving or avoiding pregnancy. And it is common for people not to know this info. I didn’t until I went looking for it a few years back.

AnxietyPanda
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AnxietyPanda

My gosh, what a highly entertaining and informative article! Anything I didn’t know before, I most definitely now have a much clearer understanding of for both the male and female reproductive systems x) 

I never knew that women were born with all their eggs! That’s incredible!

“What this also means is that a woman who is pregnant with a girl is carrying a part of her grandchildren as the fetus already has the eggs. Cool, huh?”  <—–  WOW, lol!

Tom
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Tom

Holy crap!  You say that’s the basics?  That is way more than I learned in sex ed in school.  I found it very interesting the part about the same cells developing into different things.  I hope people find and utilize this post when educating their children about sex.  Although it is a bit clinical I think it will be beneficial during “the talk” with children.

Taetske
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Taetske

Good afternoon Nicole, Thank you for this good and straight forward post. It is strange that even nowadays people still need this information. I am 68 so actually I do not need it anymore. When I was small I had a very “modern” Mother who explained it all starting at a young age, so I really was lucky. These modern times make it extra difficult for young couples to conceive. As our food is loaded with bad stuff, including Ostrogen many man suffer and become feminized missing a good amount of testosterone. Modern lifestyle has caused a great decline in… Read more »