Sexuality is about reproduction. But human reproduction involves much more than intercourse. The distinct male and female roles are apparent from nature. The female produces the egg and the male fertilises it. We are all a product of genes from one man and one woman. A man has a protruding phallus (penis) and a woman has an opening between her legs (vagina).
When a man is erotically aroused, his penis becomes firm and erect. This makes penetration possible. After a man inserts his penis into a woman’s vagina, the pleasure of thrusting causes him to orgasm. Orgasm is a peak of sexual pleasure that triggers the ejaculation of semen. Semen contains millions of microscopic spermatozoa (sperm for short), together with other glandular secretions. The sperm are created in a man’s testes throughout his life in a continuous process. The act of ejaculation (where semen is produced from the end of the penis) causes the man’s genetic material to be transferred to the woman. After ejaculation, the penis returns to its usual flaccid state.
A woman ovulates on a monthly cycle as a result of a hormonal and subconscious process. A woman can engage in intercourse without being erotically aroused. So there are no psychological stimuli that cause female arousal with a lover. Equally, the circumstances of sexual activity with a lover are not conducive to a woman achieving orgasm. The only requirement, in order to be impregnated by intercourse, is that a woman must have recently ovulated. Compared with the significant time and effort a woman invests in pregnancy, breastfeeding and raising a child to adulthood, intercourse represents a relatively small part of women’s total reproductive function.
Conception occurs inside the woman’s body after a man has ejaculated into her vagina. When one of the sperm joins with an egg (the egg and sperm nuclei fuse) inside the woman’s body, a new life is conceived. Once the egg is fertilised, the combined cells divide and multiply rapidly to form a zygote. The zygote attaches itself to the wall of the uterus (womb) and the placenta starts to form. The placenta is an organ that provides the growing cells with oxygen, water and nutrients as well as removing waste products. After about 4 days, the zygote consists of 32 cells. At this point it is called an embryo. After 9 weeks when the body has completely formed, it is called a foetus.
After conception, the baby grows inside a woman’s womb until it is mature enough to be born. This period of gestation, called pregnancy, lasts around 9 months. It’s a simple principle of what goes up, must come down. During childbirth, the baby comes out of the mother’s abdomen via the birth canal. The vagina, together with the rest of the birth canal, accommodates a baby’s head and body during childbirth. This is why the vagina is insensitive to the relatively insignificant stimulation provided by the penis during intercourse.
Problems with pregnancy are common and include ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages and still-births. Miscarriages occur when a woman loses the child she is carrying before it is mature enough to survive outside the womb. Miscarriages are common and can occur at any time during pregnancy. Childbirth is dangerous. Even with medical assistance, childbirth can be life-threatening for the mother and the child. Various pain-relief methods are available. There are three stages of labour: dilation of the cervix (neck of the womb), the baby passing from the uterus to the outside via the birth canal and the placenta detaching from the wall of the womb. If a natural delivery is not possible, then the baby is extracted by Caesarean delivery (C-section).
A woman’s breasts enlarge during pregnancy. For the first few days after birth, her breasts produce antibodies to protect the baby from infections. When her milk first comes in, a woman’s breasts feel very tender and are susceptible to mastitis until the swelling subsides. A mother’s breasts (mammary glands) produce milk so that she can feed the baby until it is weaned onto solid food. This allows for bonding between mother and child.
Reproduction is much more crucial that we ever acknowledge. If women stopped having babies or men stopped producing sperm, the human race would be extinct within a hundred years. Even today, it is hard work for one parent to raise a child alone. Most people only plan a family once they have a supportive relationship that is compatible with raising children to maturity. Women continue to be much more involved in the daily care of children than men typically are. Some male animals even eat their own offspring, if they aren’t protected by the mother. This nurturing instinct arises because the young are a product of the mother’s own body. This devotion to their children motivates women to provide the regular intercourse that men need.
Men have sexual needs they hope a lover will satisfy. A man’s view of relationships is short term. He thinks of a lover when he has an erection. A woman’s love is constant. Women look for platonic (caring and affectionate) love. Women have nurturing instincts because they need to be motivated to care for children on a daily basis. Women are looking for evidence that a man is sincere rather than just using them as a sexual outlet. Men should be affectionate without always expecting sex. If a man ignores a woman’s need to feel appreciated (admired and respected) and her need for affectionate companionship, she sees this as evidence that he doesn’t care about her.
… the average female marries to establish a home, to establish a long-time affectional relationship with a single spouse, and to have children whose welfare may become the prime business of her life. Most males would admit that all of these are desirable aspects of a marriage, but it is probable that few males would marry if they did not anticipate that they would have an opportunity to have coitus regularly with their wives. (Alfred Kinsey)
Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)