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The reproductive system review

Learn about the organs and functions of the reproductive system.

Key terms

GameteA reproductive (sex) cell. In males, sperm; in females, eggs
PubertyProcess during which adolescents reach sexual and reproductive maturity
TestesMale reproductive gland that produces sperm and male hormones
OvariesFemale reproductive gland that produces eggs and female hormones
Menstrual cyclePattern of events in females involving the development and release of an egg
FertilizationThe process in sexual reproduction in which a male gamete and female gamete fuse to form a new cell

The female reproductive system

Diagram of major female reproductive organs
Image modified from OpenStax, CC BY 4.0
OvariesProduces and develops eggs
Fallopian tubes (oviducts)Transports egg to uterus, acts as site of fertilization
UterusSupports a developing embryo
CervixAllows passage between the uterus and the vagina
VaginaReceives penis during intercourse, acts as birth canal, passes menstrual flow
BreastsProduce and deliver milk
During puberty, the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to produce two hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). In females, FSH and LH stimulate the ovaries to produce the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. This results in the development of secondary sex characteristics (such as breasts), and causes the ovaries to begin producing mature eggs.
Egg release (ovulation) occurs approximately every 28 days, and is part of a larger process called the menstrual cycle. If an egg is fertilized after ovulation, it attaches to the wall of the uterus and embryonic development begins.
If an egg is not fertilized (or a fertilized egg does not attach to the wall of the uterus), the egg and the lining of the uterus are discharged from the body.

The male reproductive system

Diagram of male reproductive organs
Image from OpenStax, CC BY 4.0
TestesProduce sperm and male hormones
ScrotumSupports testes and regulates their temperature
Seminal vesicleContribute fluids to semen production
Prostate glandSecretes prostate fluid (component of semen), aids in ejaculation
EpididymisStores mature sperm
Vas deferensTransports sperm from epididymis
PenisTransfers sperm into female
Puberty begins the same way in males as it does in females: the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland to produce FSH and LH.
In males, LH stimulates the testes to produce testosterone, and with FSH, causes sperm development to occur. Testosterone is also responsible for the development of secondary male sex characteristics, such as a deepened voice and growth of body hair.

Common mistakes and misconceptions

  • Incorrect: Fertilization occurs in the uterus or vagina.
  • Correct: Fertilization occurs in the fallopian tube (oviduct) of the female reproductive system. Once fertilized, the egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. It becomes a ball of cells over time, then develops in the uterus of the female to become a baby.
  • Incorrect: Both males and females are born with reproductive sex cells.
  • Correct: Only females are born with reproductive sex cells. Females are born with immature eggs already in their ovaries. When puberty occurs, the eggs mature and are released by the ovaries. Males only produce sperm after reaching puberty.
  • Incorrect: Females urinate through the vagina.
  • Correct: In men, both semen and urine pass through the urethra, a passageway that terminates at the end of the penis. Females urinate through a urethra as well, but it is not connected to their vaginal opening. The female urethra is located above the vagina and urine may pass over or around the opening, but the two passageways are not connected.

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