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Male Reproductive System

What Is Reproduction?

Reproduction is the process by which organisms make more organisms like themselves. But even though the reproductive system is essential to keeping a species alive, unlike other body systems, it's not essential to keeping an individual alive.

In the human reproductive process, two kinds of sex cells, or gametes (GAH-meetz), are involved. The male gamete, or sperm, and the female gamete, the egg or ovum, meet in the female's reproductive system. When sperm fertilizes (meets) an egg, this fertilized egg is called a zygote (ZYE-goat). The zygote goes through a process of becoming an embryo and developing into a fetus.

The male reproductive system and the female reproductive system both are needed for reproduction.

Humans, like other organisms, pass some characteristics of themselves to the next generation. We do this through our genes, the special carriers of human traits. The genes that parents pass along are what make their children similar to others in their family, but also what make each child unique. These genes come from the male's sperm and the female's egg.

What Is the Male Reproductive System?

The male has reproductive organs, or genitals, that are both inside and outside the pelvis. The male genitals include:

  • the testicles (TESS-tih-kulz)
  • the duct system, which is made up of the epididymis and the vas deferens
  • the accessory glands, which include the seminal vesicles and prostate gland
  • the penis

In a guy who has reached sexual maturity, the two oval-shaped testicles, or testes (TESS-teez) make and store millions of tiny sperm cells. The testicles are also part of the endocrine system because they make hormones, including testosterone (tess-TOSS-tuh-rone).

Testosterone is a major part of puberty in boys, and as a guy makes his way through puberty, his testicles produce more and more of it. Testosterone is the hormone that causes boys to develop deeper voices, bigger muscles, and body and facial hair. It also stimulates the production of sperm.

Alongside the testicles are the epididymis and the vas deferens, which transport sperm. The epididymis (ep-uh-DID-uh-miss) and the testicles hang in a pouch-like structure outside the pelvis called the scrotum. This bag of skin helps to regulate the temperature of testicles, which need to be kept cooler than body temperature to produce sperm. The scrotum changes size to maintain the right temperature. When the body is cold, the scrotum shrinks and becomes tighter to hold in body heat. When it's warm, it gets larger and floppier to get rid of extra heat. This happens without a guy ever having to think about it. The brain and the nervous system give the scrotum the cue to change size.

The accessory glands, including the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland, provide fluids that lubricate the duct system and nourish the sperm. The urethra is the channel that carries the sperm (in fluid called semen) to the outside of the body through the penis. The urethra is also part of the urinary system because it is also the channel through which pee passes as it leaves the bladder and exits the body.

The penis is actually made up of two parts: the shaft and the glans. The shaft is the main part of the penis and the glans is the tip (sometimes called the head). At the end of the glans is a small slit or opening, which is where semen and urine exit the body through the urethra (yoo-REE-thruh). The inside of the penis is made of a spongy tissue that can expand and contract.

All boys are born with a foreskin, a fold of skin at the end of the penis covering the glans. Some boys are circumcised, which means that a doctor or clergy member cuts away the foreskin. Circumcision is usually done during a baby boy's first few days of life. It's not medically necessary, but parents who choose to have their sons circumcised often do so based on religious beliefs, concerns about hygiene, or cultural or social reasons. Boys who have circumcised penises and those who don't are no different: All penises work and feel the same, regardless of whether the foreskin has been removed.

How Does the Male Reproductive System Work?

The male reproductive system:

  • makes semen (SEE-mun)
  • releases semen into the reproductive system of the female during sexual intercourse
  • produces sex hormones, which help a boy develop into a sexually mature man during puberty

When a baby boy is born, he has all the parts of his reproductive system in place, but it isn't until puberty that he is able to reproduce. When puberty begins, usually between the ages of 9 and 15, the

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