Sexual organs: function in men and women

Sexual organs: function in men and women

Our internal and external sex organs change due to the influence of hormones in the different phases of life, and we have different tasks to fulfil. Find out what tasks these are, what role hormones play in this and what diseases can occur in the genital organs of men and women.

Sexual organs in men and women

We all have external and internal sex organs that we need for sexual union and reproduction. Under the influence of hormones, the sexual organs produce the sperm and egg cells, form sex hormones and produce secretions to influence reproduction positively. The sexual organs are divided into an inner and an outer part.

  • The internal female sex organs include the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and Bartholin’s glands.
  • The external genital organs in women include the mons pubis, labia, clitoris and vaginal entrance.
  • The internal male sex organs include the testicles and epididymis, vas deferens and spermatic cord, as well as the prostate gland, seminal vesicles and Cowper’s glands.
  • The external sex organs in men are the scrotum and the penis.

The sex organs form the primary sex characteristics. Secondary characteristics include the changes that develop during puberty, such as facial hair growth and pronounced changes in voice pitch in males and breast growth in females. The differences in female and male physique, height, and gender-typical behaviours are tertiary sex characteristics.


What is the function of the sex organs?

The sex organs are needed for both sexual union and reproduction. Uncertainty prevailed for a long time about the exact function of the sexual organs: Up until the 17th century, there was the theory that an embryo develops from a female egg and is only stimulated by the male sperm, and the other theory that the embryo develops from The spermatic cord of the male develops, and the female egg represents only a food depot. It was in the 19th century that chromosomes were discovered as carriers of genetic information and the exact processes involved in fertilization.

Function of the sexual organs in women

The egg cells are already in the ovaries in an incomplete form before birth. From puberty onwards, a few cells mature monthly via intermediate stages into at least one fertilizable egg cell, which is then transported via the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where it nests in the event of fertilization.

The uterus is made up of strong muscles, is usually the size of a plum and is lined on the inside with a layer of mucous membrane. It surrounds the growing child during pregnancy, forms the placenta and can reach the size of a pumpkin.

The neck of the uterus protrudes into the vagina – this is the connection between the internal and external sex organs. Their glands produce secretions that make it difficult for germs to spread and help the sexual organs to slide during intercourse.

The external female genitalia, with its erogenous zones, clitoris and glands, plays a vital role in sexual stimulation aimed at sexual union.


Function of the genital organs in men

The development, maturation and storage of sperm cells occurs in the testicles and the epididymis lying on top of them. During an ejaculation (ejaculation), the sperm are thrown into the urethra via the muscular vas deferens.

Just before the vas deferens opens into the urethra, a secretion from the prostate (prostate gland), seminal vesicles and Cowper’s glands is added to the sperm cells, which improves the mobility of the sperm and gives them some protection from the vaginal secretions. This seminal fluid, called semen, is released during an ejaculation and can contain up to 500 million sperm.

During sexual arousal, the cavernous bodies of the penis fill with blood, resulting in an erection. Ejaculation usually occurs as the climax of sexual arousal, during which the sperm is transported out of the male body by involuntary contractions of the muscles of the vas deferens, urethra and penis.

What role do hormones play in the sex organs?

To function, the sex organs need hormones, and they also produce important sex hormones themselves, which are essential for the development of secondary sex characteristics or pregnancy, for example.

Role of hormones in women

With the onset of puberty, the hormones from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, two important superordinate centres in the brain, influence the ovaries so that various hormones – estrogen and progesterone – are produced there.

Estrogens promote breast development, lead to the maturation of the egg cells, and play an essential role in the menstrual cycle and also in pregnancy. In addition, they also influence other organs in the body: they influence bone formation – which is why women after menopause are so susceptible to osteoporosis – build up body mass and affect behaviour and mood.

Progesterone is essential during pregnancy because it supports the uterus and the embryo.


Role of hormones in men

From puberty onwards, the hormones from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland lead to increased production of androgens, the male sex hormones, of which testosterone is the most important. It is responsible for the growth of the testicles and penis and sperm maturation; on the body, it influences beard growth and voice breaking, the build-up of body mass and male appearance and leads to male behaviour patterns – too much testosterone can make you aggressive.

How do the sex organs change throughout life?

The sex organs are created during embryonic development, and even the germ cells, i.e. the egg and sperm cells, are already present in the unborn child as preliminary stages. The actual start of their activity, however, does not take place until puberty and lasts in women until menopause, when the ovaries slowly stop producing hormones and no longer trigger monthly bleeding.

In men, the concentration of testosterone and, thus, the fertility is constant until old age. Sexual union is possible into old age – however, the external sex organs change in such a way that the vaginal glands produce less vaginal secretion, and erections occur less frequently in men. Both sexual partners also usually need prolonged sexual stimulation to get in the mood.

What diseases are there in the genital organs?

The most common diseases of the sexual organs include venereal diseases, breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women, and benign prostate enlargement in men. In addition, women often have vaginal infections, fibroids or menstrual abnormalities.


Stigma of STDs

Despite many educational campaigns, diseases of the sexual organs are often still associated with the stigma of “having something objectionable” by those affected, are considered a taboo subject and are then only treated late due to misunderstood shame, which in the case of contagious infectious diseases leads to a further spread of the pathogens and can lead to poorer chances of recovery from cancer.


In addition, up to 20% of all partnerships in industrialized countries remain childless, with the causes being found in about 30% of the cases in the man, the woman or both partners. A couple is considered infertile if, despite unprotected sexual intercourse, no pregnancy occurs for a period of one to two years.

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