Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By John P. Holdren; Paul R. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview

APPENDIX 4
Reproduction and Birth Control

REPRODUCTIVE ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY

According to those who have been involved in the Planned Parenthood movement, the two greatest obstacles to successful birth control are ignorance and prudery. In fact, the two often go together. Women who have been raised to fear and dislike sex will often resist learning the facts of reproduction and be very reluctant to discuss any aspect of the subject, including birth control, with their doctors or anyone else. Regardless of such psychological problems, women who are ignorant of their own anatomy and the significance of the menstrual cycle are very likely to have failures in their birth control programs, simply because they do not understand how they work or why. Here is one more argument for good sex education programs in schools, churches, and in the home.1 A sound understanding of the reproductive process is essential to the effective use of at least the conventional methods of birth control. There is even enough uncertainty among educated persons about human reproductive biology and contraception to make a brief review appropriate here.2

Conception occurs when a spermatozoon (sperm cell) from a man meets and fertilizes an ovum (egg cell) within a woman's body. The various forms of contraception are designed to prevent that occurrence in a number of ways, either by erecting a physical or chemical barrier between sperm and egg or through adjustment of the hormone system (see next section of text).

Spermatozoa are manufactured continuously by the millions daily in a man's testes. This goes on from the age of puberty (around fourteen) until very old age. Each spermatozoon contains the genetic information that the man passes on to the child in the event conception takes place. But unless it meets and fertilizes an egg cell, it dies within a few days. These microscopic, active cells, which resemble minute tadpoles, are emitted in the hundreds of millions each time a man ejaculates. The testes are also the source of production of the male hormone, testosterone, which is released to the bloodstream and is responsible for sexual activity and for the development of a man's secondary sexual

____________________
1
A superb college-level text is H. A. Katchadourian and D. T. Lunde, Fundamentals of Human Sexuality, 2d ed., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1975.
2
Sheldon J. Segal, The physiology of human reproduction, Scientific American, September 1974.

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