What is reproduction and why is it so difficult to talk about?
How old were you when you first wondered where babies come from? Who discussed it with you? What was the explanation?
Children used to be told many fanciful stories about babies (Figure 1.1). Now children are given more accurate explanations, but still often less than the full story.
Figure 1.1 “Where did I come from?”-“The stork brought you, dear.”
What Do You Think?
Why might young children have problems understanding the true nature of pregnancy?
Young children gradually understand reproduction, the process of producing young. Those younger than four years may think babies are made in some distant place (such as in a factory). Later, children may get the idea that a baby grows in the mother's stomach, like a plant. By age 10 or so, many children know about pregnancy. If someone explains reproduction to 10-year-olds, they usually know that a male's germ cell called the sperm combines with a female's germ cell called the egg. However, often many inaccurate ideas about reproduction continue into adolescence, which is the period of psychological and social development between childhood and adulthood.
What Do You Think?
Why might parents and other adults give incomplete or incorrect explanations to children about babies and reproduction?
The word produce means to bring forth, to make, or to create. To reproduce is to make more of the same, to make copies. Males and females together reproduce by having sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse consists of the male inserting his penis into the female's vagina (penis and vagina are the male and female sex organs). Usually the male then discharges semen, a whitish fluid that contains sperm. If one of the sperm released unites with the egg, fertilization takes place. Although sexual intercourse can occur without the release of sperm, reproduction cannot. Unlike other functions of the body (such as circulation or respiration), reproduction is not necessary to keep us alive as individuals. However, it is essential for the continuation of the human species.
The reproductive system differs from other systems of the body in another important way. Most systems of the body serve specific physiological purposes and nothing else. For example, your heart pumps blood to circulate oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. That is its only purpose. Your body depends on the heart's continuous function for survival. Although the primary purpose of the reproductive system is to produce babies, people often have sex without the intention of reproducing. Instead, they have sex to express their love for each other and for sexual enjoyment.
The reproductive system matures during puberty, the period of biological development and maturation between childhood and adulthood. In our culture, puberty happens many years before young people are psychologically and socially ready for parenthood, even though changes during puberty enable them physically to produce and bear children. What should adolescents do during this period of puberty? That is one of the sensitive questions you will consider in this unit.
What is the difference between sex and reproduction? These words are sometimes used to mean the same thing. For example, sex organs refer to the parts of the reproductive system. However, the word sex, in terms of behavior, includes more than reproduction. The only type of sexual activity that may result in reproduction is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Other forms of sexual activity, such as kissing or fantasy, do not result in pregnancy. So sex and reproduction do not always mean the same thing. Reproduction is only one aspect of sex.
Activity 1-1: Teaching Children about Reproduction
It is not easy for some parents to talk to their children about reproduction. Some parents may feel embarrassed and avoid the subject. Other parents may approach the subject by explaining how reproduction is accomplished in the animal kingdom. There are those who attempt a full and complete scientific explanation accompanied by sketches of the human anatomy. Someday it may be your turn to explain the wonder of reproduction to a child. When that time comes, what will you say to your child? What would you like others to tell your child about reproduction?
Step 1 On paper, write a few words to remind yourself how you first learned the truth about reproduction. Where were you? Who told you? What were you told? How did you feel about the experience of being told about reproduction?
Step 2 Your teacher will divide the class into small groups.
Step 3 Within each group, some students will take the part of parents and some students will take the part of teachers. As a group, discuss the following questions.
- Why is it sometimes difficult for parents and teachers to speak freely and truthfully to children about the reproductive system?
- How should children be taught this subject and why?
- How important is it to use the correct terminology in your discussions?
Step 4 One student will facilitate the discussion in each group. One student will write down the group's conclusion. One student will present the conclusion to the class when the groups come together again for a general discussion.
What body functions serve dual purposes, one biological function and one pleasurable function? (Hint: Do you eat only because your body needs food?)
In the rest of this unit, you will learn all about reproduction. What do you already know? What questions do you hope to have answered? How comfortable will you be asking the questions you need answered? If you are not comfortable asking out loud, consider turning this assignment in to your teacher so the questions can be answered privately.
- What is the difference between sexual intercourse and reproduction?
- The distinction between reproduction and sex is important. Explain why this distinction is important to learn about, but difficult to get information on as an adolescent.