The reproductive system is a system of organs within an organism which work together for the purpose of reproduction. Many non-living substances such as fluids, hormones, and pheromones are also important accessories to the reproductive system. Unlike most organ systems, the sexes of differentiated species often have significant differences. These differences allow for a combination of genetic material between two individuals, which allows for the possibility of greater genetic fitness of the offspring.
The major organs of the human reproductive system include the external genitalia (penis and vulva) as well as a number of internal organs including the gamete producing gonads (testicles and ovaries). Diseases of the human reproductive system are very common and widespread, particularly communicable sexually transmitted diseases.
Most other vertebrate animals have generally similar reproductive systems consisting of gonads, ducts, and openings. However, there is a great diversity of physical adaptations as well as reproductive strategies in every group of vertebrates.
Humans have a high level of sexual differentiation. In addition to differences in nearly every reproductive organ, numerous differences typically occur in secondary sexual characteristics and in sexual and parental behaviours.
The human male reproductive system is a series of organs located outside of the body and around the pelvic region of a male that contribute towards the reproductive process. The primary direct function of the male reproductive system is to provide the male gamete or spermatozoa for fertilization of the ovum.
The major reproductive organs of the male can be grouped into three categories. The first category is sperm production and storage. Production takes place in the testes which are housed in the temperature regulating scrotum, immature sperm then travel to the epididymis for development and storage. The second category are the ejaculatory fluid producing glands which include the seminal vesicles, prostate, and the vas deferens. The final category are those used for copulation, and deposition of the spermatozoa (sperm) within the female, these include the penis, urethra, vas deferens, and Cowper's gland.
Major secondary sexual characteristics include: larger, more muscular stature, deepened voice, facial and body hair, broad shoulders, and development of an adam's apple. An important sexual hormone of males is androgen, and particularly testosterone.
The human female reproductive system is a series of organs primarily located inside of the body and around the pelvic region of a female that contribute towards the reproductive process. The human female reproductive system contains three main parts: the vagina, which acts as the receptacle for the male's sperm, the uterus, which holds the developing fetus, and the ovaries, which produce the female's ova. The breasts are also an important reproductive organ during the parenting stage of reproduction.
The vagina meets the outside at the vulva, which also includes the labia, clitoris and urethra; during intercourse this area is lubricated by mucus secreted by the Bartholin's glands. The vagina is attached to the uterus through the cervix, while the uterus is attached to the ovaries via the fallopian tubes. At certain intervals, typically approximately every 28 days, the ovaries release an ovum, which passes through the fallopian tube into the uterus. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, and unfertilized ova are shed each cycle through a process known as menstruation.
Major secondary sexual characteristics include: a smaller stature, a high percentage of body fat, wider hips, development of mammary glands, and enlargement of breasts. Important sexual hormones of females include estrogen and progesterone.
In males this process is known as spermatogenesis and takes place only after puberty in the seminiferous tubules of the testes. The immature spermatozoon or sperm are then sent to the epididymis where they gain a tail and motility. Each of the original diploid germs cells or primary spermatocytes forms four functional gametes which is each capable of fertilization.
In females gametogenesis is known as oogenesis which occurs in the ovarian follicles of the ovaries. This process does not produce mature ovum until puberty. In contrast with males, each of the original diploid germ cells or primary oocytes will form only one mature ovum, and three polar bodies which are not capable of fertilization.
It has long been understood that in females, unlike males, all of the primary oocytes ever found in a female will be created prior to birth, and that the final stages of ova production will then not resume until puberty. However, recent scientific data has challenged that hypothesis. This new data indicates that in at least some species of mammal oocytes continue to be replenished in females well after birth.
The Wolffian duct forms the epididymis, vas deferns, ductus deferens, ejaculatory duct, and seminal vesicle in the male reproductive system and essentially disappears in the female reproductive system. For the Müllerian Duct this process is reversed as it essentially disappears in the male reproductive system and forms the fallopian tubes uterus, and vagina in the female system. In both sexes the gonad goes on to form the testes and ovaries, because they are derived from the same undeveloped structure they are considered homologous organs. There are a number of other homologous structures shared between male and female reproductive systems. However, despite the similarity in function of the female fallopian tubes and the male epididymis and vas deferens, they are not homologous but rather analogous structures as they arise from different fetal structures.
|Male organ||Female organ||Shared function|
|Cowper's gland||Bartholin's glands||Lubrication secretions.|
|Penis||Clitoris||Erectile tissue and sensation|
|Prostate gland||Skene's gland||Ejaculatory fluid and sensation.|
Specific reproductive diseases are often symptoms of other diseases and disorders, or have multiple, or unknown causes making them difficult to classify. Examples of unclassifiable disorders include Peyronie's disease in males and endometriosis in females. Many congenial conditions cause reproductive abnormalities but are better known for their other symptoms, these include: Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, Cystic fibrosis, and Bloom syndrome.
It is also known that disruption of the endocrine system by certain chemical adversely affects the development of the reproductive system and can cause vaginal cancer. Many other reproductive diseases have also been link to exposure to synthetic and environmental chemicals. Common chemicals with known links to reproductive disorders include: lead, dioxin, styrene, toluene, and pesticides.
Most mammal reproductive systems are similar, however, there are some notable differences between the "normal" mammal and humans. For instance, most mammalian males have a penis which is stored internally until erect, and most have a penis bone or baculum. Additionally, males of most species do not remain continually sexually fertile as humans do. Like humans, most groups of mammals have descended testicles found within a scrotum, however, others have descended testicles that rest on the ventral body wall, and a few groups of mammals, such as elephants, have undescended testicles found deep within their body cavities near their kidneys.
Marsupials are unique in that the female has two vaginae, both of which open externally through one orifice but lead to different compartments within the uterus; males usually have a two-pronged penis which corresponds to the females' two vaginae. Marsupials typically develop their offspring in an external pouch containing teats to which their newborn young (joeys) attach themselves for post uterine development. Also, marsupials have a unique prepenial scrotum.
The uterus and vagina are unique to mammals with no homologue in birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish. In place of the uterus the other vertebrate groups have an unmodified oviduct leading directly to a cloaca, which is a shared exit-hole for gametes, urine, and feces. Monotremes (i.e. platypus and echidnas), a group of egg-laying mammals, also lack a uterus and vagina, and in that respect have a reproductive system resembling that of a reptile.
The "penis" in most unshelled male cephalopods (Coleoidea) is a long and muscular end of the gonoduct used to transfer spermatophores to a modified arm called a hectocotylus. That in turn is used to transfer the spermatophores to the female. In species where the hectocotylus is missing, the "penis" is long and able to extend beyond the mantle cavity and transfers the spermatophores directly to the female.
Many cephalopods shed their gonads during reproduction, and thus only reproduce once. Most cephalopods die after reproducing. Females nautilus however, have the ability to regenerate their gonads, making them the only cephalopods to spawn once per year. The females in many cephalopod species exhibit some level of parental protection for their eggs.
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