Human reproduction is any form of sexual reproduction resulting in human fertilization. It typically involves sexual intercourse between a sexually mature male and female. During sexual intercourse, the interaction between the male and female reproductive systems results in fertilization of the woman's ovum by the man's sperm. These are specialized reproductive cells called gametes, created in a process called meiosis. While normal cells contain 46 chromosomes, 23 pairs, gamete cells only contain 23 chromosomes, and it is when these two cells merge into one zygote cell that genetic recombination occurs and the new zygote contains 23 chromosomes from each parent, giving them 23 pairs. A typical 9-month gestation period is followed by childbirth. The fertilization of the ovum may be achieved by artificial insemination methods, which do not involve sexual intercourse. Assisted reproductive technology also exists.
Biological and legal requirements
In order for human reproduction to be achieved, an individual must have undergone puberty first, requiring the menarche of a female and the spermarche of a male to have occurred prior to engaging in sexual intercourse. Prior to puberty, humans are infertile, for their genitals lack any sexual function (only being able to discharge urine). Legal factors also play a vital role in the achievement of human reproduction: a minor under the age of consent cannot give legal consent to sexual activity or artificial alternatives of reproduction, the former case of which is liable to be charged as statutory rape on part of the older party, depending on jurisdictions.
Even for teenagers over the age of consent, sex education resources advise both consenting parties to use contraceptives or other forms of birth control to avoid both sexually transmitted diseases and early, unplanned pregnancy. Pregnancy in girls under the age of 15 is especially discouraged due to their reproductive systems having yet to reach the maturity required to sustain a pregnancy and give birth.
The male reproductive system contains two main divisions: the testes where sperm are produced, and the penis which discharges the sperm as semen (this is known as an ejaculation). In humans, both of these organs are outside the abdominal cavity. Having the testes outside the abdomen facilitates temperature regulation of the sperm, which require specific temperatures to survive about 2-3 °C less than the normal body temperature i.e. 37 °C. In particular, the extraperitoneal location of the testes may result in a 2-fold reduction in the heat-induced contribution to the spontaneous mutation rate in male germinal tissues compared to tissues at 37 °C. If the testicles remain too close to the body, it is likely that the increase in temperature will harm the spermatozoa formation, making conception more difficult. This is why the testes are carried in an external scrotum rather than within the abdomen; they normally remain slightly cooler than body temperature, facilitating sperm production.
The ovum meets with the sperm cell: a sperm may penetrate and merge with the egg, fertilizing it with the help of certain hydrolytic enzymes present in the acrosome. The fertilization usually occurs in the oviducts, but can happen in the uterus itself. The zygote then becomes implanted in the lining of the uterus, where it begins the processes of embryogenesis and morphogenesis. When the fetus is developed enough to survive outside of the uterus, the cervix dilates and contractions of the uterus propel it through the birth canal, which is the vagina, and thereby gives external life to the newborn infant. This process is called childbirth.
The ova, which are the female sex cells, are much larger than the spermatozoon and are normally formed within the ovaries of the female fetus before its birth. They are mostly fixed in location within the ovary until their transit to the uterus, and contain nutrients for the later zygote and embryo. Over a, usually, regular interval known as the menstrual cycle, in response to hormonal signals, a process of oogenesis matures one ovum which is released and sent down the Fallopian tube. If not fertilized, this egg is flushed out of the system through menstruation.
Process of fertilization
Human reproduction normally begins with copulation, and it is followed by nine months of pregnancy before childbirth, though it may be achieved through artificial insemination. Pregnancy can be avoided with the use of contraceptives such as condoms and intrauterine devices.
Human reproduction naturally takes place as internal fertilization by sexual intercourse. During this process, the male inserts his penis, which needs to be erect, into the female's vagina, and then either partner initiates rhythmic pelvic thrusts until the male ejaculates semen, which contains sperm, into the vaginal canal. The sperm and the ovum are known as the gametes (each containing half the genetic information of the parent, created through meiosis). The sperm (being one of approximately 250 million sperm in a typical male ejaculation) travels through the vagina and cervix into the uterus or Fallopian tubes. Only 1 in 14 million of the ejaculated sperm will reach the Fallopian tube. The egg simultaneously moves through the Fallopian tube away from the ovary. One of the sperm encounters, penetrates and fertilizes the ovum, creating a zygote. Upon fertilization and implantation, gestation of the fetus then occurs within the female's uterus.
Pregnancy rates for sexual intercourse are highest during the menstrual cycle time from some 5 days before until 1 to 2 days after ovulation. For optimal pregnancy chance, there are recommendations of sexual intercourse every 1 or 2 days, or every 2 or 3 days. Studies have shown no significant difference between different sex positions and pregnancy rate, as long as it results in ejaculation into the vagina.
As an alternative to natural sexual intercourse, there exists artificial insemination, where sperm is introduced into the female reproductive system without the insertion of the penis. There are also many methods of assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, where one or more egg cells are retrieved from a woman's ovaries and co-incubated with sperm outside the body. The resulting embryo can then be reinserted into the woman's womb.
Pregnancy is the period of time during which the fetus develops, dividing via mitosis inside the female. During this time, the fetus receives all of its nutrition and oxygenated blood from the female, filtered through the placenta, which is attached to the fetus' abdomen via an umbilical cord. This drain of nutrients can be quite taxing on the female, who is required to ingest slightly higher levels of calories. In addition, certain vitamins and other nutrients are required in greater quantities than normal, often creating abnormal eating habits. Gestation period is about 266 days in humans. While in the uterus, the baby first endures a very brief zygote stage, then the embryonic stage, which is marked by the development of major organs and lasts for approximately eight weeks, then the fetal stage, which revolves around the development of bone cells while the fetus continues to grow in size.
Once the fetus is sufficiently developed, chemical signals begin the process of birth, which begins with the fetus being pushed out of the birthing canal. The newborn, which is called an infant in humans, should typically begin respiration on its own shortly after birth. Not long after, the placenta eventually falls off on its own. The person assisting the birth may also sever the umbilical cord.
- Evolution of sexual reproduction
- Female infertility
- Human Reproduction (journal)
- Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences
- Male infertility
- Paternal age effect
- Reproductive system
- Legislation on human reproduction
- Reproductive health
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