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The Male Reproductive System: Function & Parts

Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Did you know that inside every guy is a factory? That's right - a sperm making factory! Learn about all the different part of this factory in this lesson on the male reproductive system.

Goal of the Male Reproductive System

The human body is a well oiled machine. Everything works together to help us make it through our daily lives. Each system in your body is a part of that machine with its own job. The job of the male reproductive system is to create, store and release sperm, with the hope of passing along their DNA to the next generation. Basically, it's a sperm factory.

Let's break it down, take a look at each of the parts of that machine so that you understand the whole system. So, where do we begin? With the testes of course!

Testes and Epididymus

Males are born with a pair of testicles. During development these testicles migrate from inside the pelvic area to just outside of it, dropping into the scrotal sac or scrotum. The scrotum serves to protect the testes from the outside environment and help regulate their temperature.

The male scrotal sac houses the testes outside of the main body cavity. This allows the testes to operate at 2-3 degrees below body temperature, important for regulation of sperm production
Male Scrotal Sac

Did you know that temperature regulation is extremely important for the testes? See, the function of the testes is to produce the male's sperm, the carrier of his DNA. But this can only be done at certain temperatures, about two to three degrees below body temperature. Inside each testicle are tiny, spaghetti like tubes called seminiferous tubules. Inside these tubules is where sperm production takes place.

This diagram shows a side view of the male
Male Reproductive Tract

Once sperm are produced they travel to the top of the testicle and enter the next part of our machine: the epididymus. Sperm enter at the top, or the head, of the epididymus and, over the course of about two weeks, make their way down to the tail of the epididymus. But why so long? I mean, the epididymus isn't that large of a structure, right? So why does it take the sperm nearly two weeks to make that journey? Well, did you know that if you uncoiled the tube inside the epididymus it would stretch to about 23 feet? Now, that may not seem like a long journey to you, but you aren't the size of a sperm.

Along this journey the sperm are continuing their maturation process. See, sperm released from the testes are only partially mature; they have to finish that maturation within the epididymus if they are going to have any hope of fertilizing a female's egg. Once they make that journey they move on to the next part of our machine.

The Ductus Deferens and the Accessory Glands

This diagram shows a side view of the male reproductive system.
Male Reproductive System

The ductus deferens is like the conveyor belt that takes the sperm from one part of the reproductive system to the next. It is one long tube that travels from the epididymus, through the male accessory glands and all the way out to the tip of the penis. The accessory glands are a set of three structures that secrete the semen in which the sperm swims. The job of semen is to provide protection and nourishment for the sperm. The first accessory glands along our conveyor belt are paired seminal vesicles. As sperm pass by these glands they are combined with seminal fluid. Seminal fluid contains a form of sugar to help nourish the sperm - 'cause hey, sperm have to eat, right? - and compounds that give sperm their mobility. That means they have finally learned to swim! This helps the sperm make their way through the female reproductive tract.

Here you can see the structures of the male reproductive tract in both a side and a front view. The frontal view allows you to see the paired accessory glands, located on either side of the ductus deferens, a view not see in the side view. Note: In some texts the ductus deferent is also called the vas deferent, and the bulbourethral glands are also called Cowper
Male Reproductive Tract Side and Front View

After passing the seminal vesicles, the sperm move down our conveyor belt and enter the next accessory gland, the prostate. Once inside the prostrate, the ductus deferens combines with the urethra and will also carry urine out of the body. But, back to the prostate. This structure also secretes a fluid, called prostatic fluid, that will be added to the semen. Prostatic fluid has antibiotic properties to help prevent infections in the reproductive tract.

The prostate gland is located underneath the bladder. As the ductus deferens enters into prostate gland it becomes the ejaculatory duct. Inside the prostate it combines with the urethra from the bladder before it exits the prostate.
The Prostate Gland

And the last stop on our conveyor belt? The bulbourethral glands! These tiny little paired structures are located just outside the prostate, one on either side of the urethra. These secrete something known as pre-ejaculate, which helps lubricate the urethra and neutralize any acid left over from urine, protecting the sperm as they make their final trek down the conveyor belt.

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