Urinary and reproductive organs

Urinary and reproductive organs

The reproductive system or genital 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 reproductive system includes, 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.

Human reproductive system

Human reproduction takes place as internal fertilization by sexual intercourse. During this process, the erect penis of the male is inserted into the female's vagina until the male ejaculates semen, which contains sperm, into the female's vagina. The sperm then travels through the vagina and cervix into the uterus or fallopian tubes for fertilization of the ovum. Upon successful fertilization and implantation, gestation of the foetus then occurs within the female's uterus for approximately nine months, this process is known as pregnancy in humans. Gestation ends with birth, the process of birth is known as labor. Labor consists of the muscles of the uterus contracting, the cervix dilating, and the baby passing out the vagina. Human's babies and children are nearly helpless and require high levels of parental care for many years. One important type of parental care is the use of the mammary glands in the female breasts to nurse the baby.

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.

Male reproductive system

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.

Major secondary sexual characteristics includes: 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 curious thing about the evolution of the human penis is that, for something that differs so obviously in shape and size from that of our closest living relatives, only in the past few years have researchers begun to study it in any detail. The reason for this neglect isn’t clear, though the most probable reason is because of its intrinsic snicker factor or, related to this, the likelihood of its stirring up uncomfortable puritanical sentiments. In addition, only our species has such a distinctive mushroom-capped glans, which is connected to the shaft by a thin tissue of frenulum (the delicate tab of skin just beneath the urethra). Chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have a much less extravagant phallic design, more or less all shaft. It turns out that one of the most significant features of the human penis isn’t so much the glans per se, but rather the coronal ridge it forms underneath. The diameter of the glans where it meets the shaft is wider than the shaft itself. This results in the coronal ridge that runs around the circumference of the shaft—something Gallup, by using the logic of reverse-engineering, believed might be an important evolutionary clue to the origins of the strange sight of the human penis. Magnetic imaging studies of heterosexual couples having sex reveal that, during coitus, the typical penis completely expands and occupies the vaginal tract, and with full penetration can even reach the woman’s cervix and lift her uterus. This combined with the fact that human ejaculate is expelled with great force and considerable distance (up to two feet if not contained), suggests that men are designed to release sperm into the uppermost portion of the vagina possible. Thus, in a theoretical paper published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology in 2004, Gallup and coauthor, Rebecca Burch, conjecture that, “A longer penis would not only have been an advantage for leaving semen in a less accessible part of the vagina, but by filling and expanding the vagina it also would aid and abet the displacement of semen left by other males as a means of maximizing the likelihood of paternity.”

Female reproductive system

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 leads from the vulva, the vaginal opening, to the uterus; the uterus, which holds the developing fetus; and the ovaries, which produce the female's ova. The breasts are also a reproductive organ during the parenting stage of reproduction. However, in most classifications breasts are not considered to be part of the female reproductive system.

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. If the ova is fertilized by sperm, it attaches to the endometrium and the fetus develops.

Production of gametes

The production of gametes takes place within the gonads through a process known as gametogenesis. Gametogenesis occurs when certain types of germ cells undergo meiosis to split the normal diploid number of chromosome(n=46) into haploids cells containing only 23 chromosomes.

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 forever young.

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.

Development of the reproductive system

The development of the reproductive system and urinary systems are closely tied in the development of the human fetus. Despite the differences between the adult male and female reproductive system, there are a number of homologous structures shared between them due to their common origins within the fetus. Both organ systems are derived from the intermediate mesoderm. The three main fetal precursors of the reproductive organs are the Wolffian duct, Müllerian ducts, and the gonad. Endocrine hormones are a well known and critical controlling factor in the normal differentiation of the reproductive system.

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.

Diseases of the human reproductive system

Like all complex organ systems the human reproductive system is affected by many diseases. There are four main categories of reproductive diseases in humans. They are: 1) genetic or congenital abnormalities, 2) cancers, 3) infections which are often sexually transmitted diseases, and 4) functional problems cause by environmental factors, physical damage, psychological issues, autoimmune disorders, or other causes. The best known type of functional problems include sexual dysfunction and infertility which are both broad terms relating to many disorders with many causes.

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's 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.

Examples of congenital abnormalities

  • Kallmann syndrome - Genetic disorder causing decreased functioning of the sex hormone-producing glands caused by a deficiency or both testes from the scrotum.
  • Androgen insensitivity syndrome - A genetic disorder causing people who are genetically male (i.e. XY chromosome pair) to develop sexually as a female due to an inability to utilize androgen.
  • Intersexuality - A person who has genitalia and/or other sexual traits which are not clearly male or female.

Examples of cancers

  • Prostate cancer - Cancer of the prostate gland.
  • Breast cancer - Cancer of the mammary gland.
  • Ovarian cancer - Cancer of the ovary.
  • Penile cancer - Cancer of penis.
  • Uterine cancer - Cancer of the uterus.
  • Testicular cancer - Cancer of the testis/(plural:testes.
  • Cervical Cancer - Cancer of the cervix.

Examples of functional problems

  • Impotence - The inability of a male to produce or maintain an erection.
  • Hypogonadism - A lack of function of the gonads, in regards to either hormones or gamete production.
  • Ectopic pregnancy - When a fertilized ovum is implanted in any tissue other than the uterine wall.
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder - A low level of sexual desire and interest.
  • Female sexual arousal disorder - A condition of decreased, insufficient, or absent lubrication in females during sexual activity
  • Premature ejaculation - A lack of voluntary control over ejaculation.

Other vertebrates

Vertebrate animals all share key elements of their reproductive systems. They all have gamete producing organs or gonads. These gonads are then connected by oviducts to an opening to the outside of the body, typically the cloaca, but sometime to a unique pore such as a vagina or intromittent organ.


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 15mm (5/8 in) long newborn joey instinctively crawls and wriggles the several inches (15 cm), while clinging to fur, on the way to its mother's pouch.

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.


Male and female birds have a cloaca, an opening through which eggs, sperm, and wastes pass. Intercourse is performed by pressing the lips of the cloacae together, which is sometimes knowna intromittent organ which is known as a phallus that is analogous to the mammals' penis. The female lays amniotic eggs in which the young fetus continues to develop after it leaves the female's body. Unlike most vertebrates female birds typically have only one functional ovary and oviduct. As a group, birds, like mammals, are noted for their high level of parental care.


Reptiles are almost all sexually dimorphic, and exhibit internal fertilization through the cloaca. Some reptiles lay eggs while others are viviparous (animals that deliver live young). Reproductive organs are found within the cloaca of reptiles. Most male reptiles have copulatory organs, which are usually retracted or inverted and stored inside the body. In turtles and crocodilians, the male has a single median penis-like organ, while male snakes and lizards each possess a pair of penis-like organs.
A female frog sitting in a mass of its own spawn


Most amphibians exhibit external fertilization of eggs, typically within the water, though some amphibians such as caecilians have internal fertilization. All have paired, internal gonads, connected by ducts to the cloaca.


Fish exhibit a wide range of different reproductive strategies. Most fish however are oviparous and exhibit external fertilization. In this process, females use their cloaca to release large quantities of their gametes, called spawn into the water and one or more males release "milt", a white fluid containing many sperm over the unfertilized eggs. Other species of fish are oviparous and have internal fertilization aided by pelvic or anal fins that are modified into an intromittent organ analogous to the human penis. A small portion of fish species are either viviparous or ovoviviparous, and are collectively known as livebearers.

Fish gonads are typically pairs of either ovaries or testes. Most fish are sexually dimorphic but some species are hermaphroditic or unisexual.


Invertebrates have an extremely diverse array of reproductive systems, the only commonality may be that they all lay eggs. Also, aside from cephalopods, and arthropods, nearly all other invertebrates are hermaphroditic and exhibit external fertilization.


All cephalopods are sexually dimorphic and reproduce by laying eggs. Most cephalopods have semi-internal fertilization, in which the male places his gametes inside the female's mantle cavity or pallial cavity to fertilize the ova found in the female's single ovary. Likewise, male cephalopods have only a single teste. In the female of most cephalopods the nidamental glands aid in development of the egg.

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 transfer the spermatophores directly to the female.

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