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Some interesting facts about the human

reproductive system:

Men and women are each born with two gonads (two
internal sex organs)the testes (plural) in men, and
the ovaries in women.

The human female is born with all the ova (eggs) she
will ever haveabout 2 milion. These are immature. By
puberty, she will have only about 400,000 ova, the
rest having dwindled away. During her reproductive
life, a woman will only ovulate (release from the ovary)
about 400 eggs. Which eggs are selected to mature
or ripen to ovulation is still a biological mystery.

The number of times a woman's ovaries are
stimulated to produce a mature ovum may be related
to her lifetime risk for developing breast and/or
ovarian cancer. Women who experience "ovarian rest"
through taking the birth control pill, through
pregnancies, through breast feeding, are at a lower
lifetime risk for development of these diseases.

The ripening of an egg is stimulated by hormones
released by the pituitary gland in the brain. The
pituitary receives a chemical signal from the
hypothalamus (the true "master" gland of the brain),
and responds by releasing two hormonesFSH and
LHinto the blood stream. FSH stimulates the
maturing of an egg, while LH assists in this. As LH
levels climb, it eventually triggers the release of the
ovum (egg) in the process called ovulation (ovulation
occurs approximately 12-24 hours after LH has
reached its peak concentration). LH also stimulates
the corpus luteum (the follicle that once contained
the now-released egg) to produce estrogen and
progesterone, two key hormones in a woman's cycle.
Levels of progesterone and estrogen reach their
peaks at around the 20th to 21st day of a woman's
cycle. This peak causes changes in the endometrium
(the lining of the uterus) which will make it better
able to support the implantation of the embryo.

If a woman becomes pregnant, estrogen levels and
progesterone levels remain high, and the
progesterone produced by the corpus luteum helps
maintain the lining of the uterus, so that the
developing embryo has a good environment to attach
to for further development. If the woman doesn't
become pregnant, all levels of hormones decline, the
corpus luteum degenerates, and a woman has her
monthly menstrual flow. A normal menstrual flow is
only about 2-3 ounces (4-6 tablespoons) of blood.

In males, FSH stimulates sperm production, while LH
stimulates the production of testosterone, the key
male sexual hormone.

Unlike the ovaries which never produce new eggs
after a female child is born, the male testes (once
sperm production begins in puberty), can produce
about 1,000 sperm per second, or about 30 billion per
year. From the standpoint of the mathematics alone,
10-20 ejaculations of semen hold enough sperm to
populate the earth!

Sperm cells contain receptors on the surface of the
sperm head that are similar to odor receptors in the
nose. This has lead researchers to believe that sperm
can detect the "odor" of the released egg, and
literally are following its scent to locate it and
attempt to fertilize it.

It was once thought that the best time to either have
sex to get pregnant, or to abstain from sex to keep
from getting pregnant was at the time of ovulation. In
reality, the best time to have sex if one to two
days before ovulation, so that sperm cells have
enough time to swim up through the uterus and the
fallopian tubes to be waiting for the egg when it is
ejected from the ovary at ovulation. Following
ovulation, changes in a woman's hormones produce
changes in the secretions at the cervix (the opening
to the uterus, at the blind end of the vagina), and
these thicken to form a barrier intended to protect
the potentially developing embryo (if the egg has been
fertilized). It is extremely difficult for sperm to
penetrate this mucus barrier, and therefore more
difficult for the egg to be fertilized after ovulation
has occurred.

Some highlights of male anatomy:

The seminiferous tubules fill the lobes (sections of
tissue) of each testicle. Here, sperm cells develop.
Though compacted into the testicles, the surface
area provided by the tubules is enormous, and if
stretched out end to end, would be much longer than
a football field!

The epididymis is a tube that lies against the back
wall of each testicle, that serves as a storage
facility for sperm cells to finish maturing, and who
have yet to be ejaculated. It is about 2 inches in
length, but if unrolled (it is make up of many twisted
passages) it would be about 10-20 feet in length if
all sections were stretched end-to-end!

The vas deferens (also called the ductus deferens)
each epididymis empties into one of these tubes.
Each vas deferens is about 16 inches long, and
serves as the delivery tube for mature sperm.

The seminal vesicles are small glands that lie behind
the bladder, and which secrete fluids (especially
frustose, a sugar) which nourish the sperm and help
them to become active (motile).

The prostate glad lies beneath the bladder, and is
about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Postatic fluid is
milky and alkaline, and provides some of the texture
and odor we associate with seminal fluid. The
alkaline fluid helps neutralize some of the acidity in
the vagina of the woman which could harm the sperm
cells.

Cowper's glands (also called the bulbourethral
glandsthere are two of them, positioned below the
protate) provide a drop or two of clear, slippery
fluid, that appears at the opening of the urethra. It
may help with the acidity of the vagina, and may
provide some lubrication. The droplets from these
glands may contain active sperm, and are released
before ejaculation.