Male Reproductive System

Infertility or difficulties trying to conceive affects both men and women. While it may be true that a woman only has one chance of getting pregnant at a particular time each month (during ovulation), assuming that a healthy man has the ability to fertilize an egg at any moment would be a misnomer.

Approximately 35% of infertility cases are a result of difficulties with the male reproductive system, while 50% are attributed to women, and 10% are designated as unexplained infertility. The most common causes of infertility in men include sperm count abnormalities, motility (movement), and shape. Here's how the male reproductive system works.


Anatomy of the Male Reproductive System

The male reproductive system is comprised of four main parts: the testicles, the duct system, the gland systems, and the penis.

The testicles are considered the main reproductive organ when it comes to male fertility. This is because the testes help produce the male sex hormone testosterone as well as producing sperm.

The testicles are the two, oval-shaped organs located within the scrotum, a muscular sac that protects the testes and regulates temperature. Testes are made up of seminiferous tubules comprised of hundreds of tiny tubes, Leydig cells which produce testosterone, and Sertoli cells which nurture immature sperm cells. As the testicles begin to produce testosterone, sperm cells located within tiny tubes begin to divide. Eventually, these immature sperm cells will move into the epididymis.

The Duct System
The duct system is comprised of several tubes which transport fluids within the male reproductive system. These tubes are necessary to keep sperm healthy and motile.

The epididymis is a tightly coiled tube located at the top of the testes where sperm are temporarily stored as they mature and become motile. This process generally takes three weeks to be completed, as the sperm travel along the tube and become available for ejaculation.

The Vas Deferens is a long tube-like structure that connects the epididymis to the urethra, the tube which expels sperm as well as urine and is regulated by a valve. The vas deferens is also another storing place for sperm.

The urethra is a tiny tube that extends from the bladder, through the prostate, and to the head of the penis as the small opening from which semen is released. Semen compromised of fluids added to by the prostate and other glands as well as sperm passes through the urethra and is expelled during ejaculation.

The Gland System
The gland system secretes seminal fluids which mix with sperm in order to nourish it, help it develop, and assist with quicker movement. It is this mixture of fluids that is released during ejaculation.

The seminal vesicles secrete an alkaline (base) fluid that accounts for 30% of the semen released during ejaculation and is combined with sperm before they enter the urethra. The seminal vesicles themselves are two pouch-like sacs that are located behind the bladder.

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that sits just below the bladder and accounts for 60% of fluid released. This fluid is emptied into the urethra and helps neutralize any acid that may be contained within it and potentially damage sperm. Two glands known as the Cowper's glands are located just below the prostate and secrete an alkaline fluid that comprises 5% of ejaculation.

The Penis
The penis is comprised of three parts: the head, the root, and the shaft. The head is where the urethra opening is located, through which semen and urine pass. This organ is made up of veins, arteries, and spongy tissue. When a man is sexually aroused, the arteries begin to dilate and the spongy tissue is filled with blood as the penis becomes erect. This process allows for easier intercourse and the delivery of sperm which are expelled during orgasm.

Approximately 250 million to 1 billion sperm are produced and ejaculated at a given time in a healthy male reproductive system. Out of this total, only about 200 sperm will successfully be delivered through the vagina, cervix, and uterus, and make it into the fallopian tubes, where only one sperm will be able to fertilize an egg. The entire process typically takes several days within the female reproductive system.

The Hormones
During male puberty, several different hormones begin to stimulate the simple, round sperm cells that are contained within the seminiferous tubules since the time of birth. It is at this point that the maturation of sperm begins in men. These hormones are regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands located in the brain.

Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) are released by the hypothalamus and signal the pituitary gland to produce follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) as well as lutenizing hormones (LH). FSH is responsible for regulating sperm production, while LH signals the production of testosterone. Both are necessary in the development of sperm.

Testosterone is produced in the Leydig cells of the testes and is mainly responsible for male maturation such as the development of sex organs during puberty as well as assisting sperm production.

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