Reproduction, contraception & sexual health

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This page shares information that may be useful to know when exploring how contraceptives work. Reproduction, contraception and sexual health involves a number of organs.

Reproductive Organs

These organs contribute to feelings of sexual attraction and pleasure. They may be used for personal masturbation or during consensual and intimate sexual activities with other people.

These organs can also support human reproduction. They can make, store, and move gametes. Gametes are reproductive cells. Female reproductive system gametes are eggs (ova). Male reproductive system gametes are sperm. When a sperm joins with an egg, the egg can be fertilised and an embryo forms. This is called reproduction. Providing both people are healthy, the embryo may grow to be a foetus and eventually a baby.

Female Reproductive Organs and Sexual Health

Female Reproductive Organs

The ovaries are located on opposite sides in the pelvic area. They produce hormones and store eggs (ova). Eggs are reproductive cells (gametes) stored in the ovaries.

Eggs (or ova) are reproductive cells stored in the ovaries. Female babies are born with about 1 million eggs, which gradually dissolve into the blood stream throughout life. From menarche (puberty) onwards, usually one egg (or ovum) is released by the ovaries every month during a process called ovulation. The ovaries usually take turns, so each ovary releases an egg every 2 months.

Fallopian tubes connect the two ovaries to the uterus. Eggs travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

The uterus is also known as the womb.

If the egg has been fertilised by a sperm, it may try and stick to the lining of the uterus. If it sticks securely to uterus lining, pregnancy occurs. The fertilised egg would then be supplied with blood and may develop into an embryo and then a foetus and eventually a baby.

If the egg has not been fertilised, or if it has not been implanted tightly in the wall of the uterus, a menstrual bleed occurs.

The menstrual period is when the female reproductive system cleans out the uterus lining and occurs every 4-6 weeks. The process involves 2-7 days of menstrual bleeding. The uterus lining is a mixture of blood, tissue and mucus. It exits the uterus through the cervix and then the vagina. Afterwards the lining in the uterus will start building up again. Learn about managing menstrual bleeding.

The cervix is the entrance of the uterus that opens into the vagina. It provides a channel for sperm to travel up into the uterus and fallopian tubes as well as a channel for the menstrual blood or baby to travel from the uterus to the vagina.

The cervix produces mucus (also known as vaginal discharge) that changes consistency throughout a menstrual cycle. During ovulation it is becomes sticky and slippery, this helps sperm survive longer and transfer more easily from the vagina into the uterus. Many contraceptives alter this mucus to prevent sperm entering the uterus.

The vagina is a muscular tube that joins the cervix to the vulva. The vagina produces fluid when stimulated. It is where mucus and menstrual blood exits the body. If a birth does not have complications, a baby can be born through the vagina.

The bartholin's glands are located on each side of the vagina opening. These glands produce fluid that lubricates the vagina.

The urethra is located above the vaginal opening. It is where urine (wee) exits from the bladder.

The clitoris is located both externally and internally. Externally, the clitoral glans is located above the urethra. Internally, the clitoris wraps around the vagina. The clitoris becomes enlarged during sexual stimulation

The vulva is the name given to the external female genital organs. At the top of the vulva is the mons pubis. Below the mons pubis there are folds of skin called the labia majora (outer lips) and labia minora (inner lips). Labia become enlarged during sexual stimulation.

Male Reproductive Organs and Sexual Health

Male Reproductive Organs

Testicles are located on opposite sides in the groin area. They produce hormones and sperm.

Sperm are reproductive cells (gametes). They are produced in testicles.

The scrotum is the pouch of skin covering and protecting the testicles. The scrotum keeps the sperm healthy.

The vas deferens are tubes that transport sperm. As the sperm travel they are mixed with semen.

Semen (or seminal fluid or cum) is produced by the seminal vesicle, bulbourethral and prostate glands. Semen protects sperm, allowing them to survive and travel once ejaculated from the penis. Semen and sperm are ejaculated at the same time through the penis.

The penis is made up of two sections, the head and the shaft. The shaft of the penis becomes erect during sexual stimulation.

The urethra is a tube that runs through the penis. It’s exit is the hole on the head of the penis. Semen, sperm, and urine all exit the penis through the urethra. Urine cannot exit at the same time as semen and sperm.

Intersex Reproductive Organs and Sexual Health

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit medical norms for female or male bodies. Intersex traits are natural manifestations of human bodily diversity. There are many different intersex traits. Intersex variations might become apparent prenatally, at birth, at puberty, or in adulthood. (Intersex Human Rights Australia 2018

Depending on which reproductive body parts a person has, sperm or eggs may be present. Pregnancy may also be possible.

Reproductive Choices

Everyone has reproductive choices. Some people may:

  • choose to use contraception to prevent them from reproducing during sexual activities
  • reproduce during sexual activities and choose to remain pregnant
  • reproduce during sexual activities and choose to have an abortion (also called a termination)
  • experience difficulty fertilising an egg with a sperm. It could be an issue with the male or female organs, or both
  • choose to use assisted reproductive technology options. There are numerous alternative methods to fertilise an egg, for example intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
  • want to support children in other ways, such as adopting a child, fostering, volunteering or working with children or babysitting
  • not want children in their lives at all

You can make an appointment with a Reproductive and Sexual health Clinic to discuss your reproductive choices.

Reproduction and Contraception

Reproduction occurs when sperm reaches and fertilises an egg, through sexual intercourse.

When the female reproductive system is sexually aroused, it is naturally lubricated by fluids from the bartholin’s glands and the vagina. This fluid is different to cervical mucus.  Sperm can travel from any part of the vagina up through the cervix and into the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Contraceptives work in various ways to stop sperm from reaching and fertilising eggs.

People may use contraceptives because they may:

  • want to delay parenting
  • already have children and want to plan for an age gap between children
  • already have children and do not want more
  • want to look at adopting or fostering future children
  • not want children at all
  • want to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • want to reduce heavy menstrual bleeding

You can read more about your contraceptive choices and visit a Reproductive and Sexual Clinic for a contraceptive consultation.