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close this bookHuman Growth and Development (FAO)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAims/objectives
View the documentBasic concepts
View the documentActivity no. 1 - The wrong information, or the right information
View the documentActivity no. 2 - The human reproductive cycle
View the documentActivity no. 3 - How does the story end?

Activity no. 2 - The human reproductive cycle

The human reproductive cycle

A flip chart discussion explaining the structure and function of the reproductive organs of the human body and the human reproductive process.



Note: It does not matter if the group is made up of young men or young women or both, the information is important for everyone. You, as the leader, may decide, however, that this session should be presented separately to the young men and women of your group.

· The leader explains that all living things reproduce plants, animals and, of course, people.

· He explains that it is important for young people to understand how their bodies function and how human beings reproduce in order to be more responsible adults and parents.

· He then either presents the pre-prepared flip chart on the human reproductive cycle himself or introduces a health/population worker who presents the flip chart.

· As the flip chart is presented, the leader or health worker answers any questions the group members may have.


So that group members will be able to:

· Understand the structures and function of the human reproductive organs.
· Obtain factual information about the human reproductive cycle.



· The pre-prepared flip chart accompanying this module (the images and information are also reproduced as background information with this activity).

· Advance preparation by the leader and use of a resource peson if desired.

· Recognition by the leader that this is an important and serious topic, and one about which some people may feel uncomfortable.

· Interest and participation by the group members.

Some background information for the group leader

Note: All drawings marked "Copyright © 1982 Fran P. Husken" are adapted from "The Universal Childbirth Picture Book", by F. Hosken and M. Williams, published by Women's International Network News, 187 Grant Street, Lexington, MA 021173 U.S.A.

Please contact WIN NEWS directly if you would like more information about the picture hook and related publications.

Male reproductive or sex organs

This is a drawing of the male reproductive or sex organs. The most obvious male sex organ is the penis. The penis is made of soft spongy tissue covered by very elastic skin. When a man becomes sexually excited, the penis becomes larger and rigid. This is called an erection. Erections make it possible for the male to deposit his sperm cells inside the female's body.

When the sexual excitement that caused the man's erection continues, the muscles in the base of the penis contract and a very pleasant experience called an ejaculation or orgasm results. In ejaculation, a liquid called semen containing male sperm cells is forced out of the penis in spurts.

The male sperm cells are produced in the testes which are the two oval organs contained in a pouch of skin under the base of the penis. This pouch is called the scrotum.

The penis is also used to urinate, but ejaculation and urination cannot occur at the same time. When the male is sexually excited, the opening connecting the penis and the bladder (where urine is produced) is closed.

Male sex organs

Male sex organs

Female reproductive or sex organs

This is a drawing of the female sex or reproductive organs which, unlike those in the male, are all hidden inside the body. The reproductive system of the human female consists of four internal organs.

The uterus is a hollow organ shaped like an upside-down pear. It is in the uterus that a baby lives and develops before being born. When a woman is not pregnant, the uterus is usually about the size of a closed fist. But in a pregnant woman, the uterus gradually expands as the baby grows inside it.

There are two ovaries in the female body, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries, which are about the size of the first joint of the thumb, are where the female eggs are stored.

Each ovary is connected to the uterus by a fallopian tube and each month the ovaries usually send one egg (one month from one ovary and one month from the other) down the fallopian tube passageway to the uterus.

Female sex organs

The vagina is an elastic tube that connects the uterus with the outside of the woman's body. The vagina has three functions. It is the place the man puts his penis when two people have sexual intercourse. It acts as a passageway for menstruation each month when a woman is not pregnant. It is the passageway through which a baby is born.

The woman urinates through the vulva, located just above the vagina.

Female sex organs

The female reproductive cycle

This drawing shows what happens in the female reproductive or menstrual cycle.

Each month, one of the ovaries prepares and releases a single egg into the fallopian tube. The egg slowly moves along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. As it does, the body sends signals ahead to the uterus to prepare for the arrival of the egg. The uterus prepares by building up its inner lining into the perfect home for a fertilized egg.

During this trip, fertilization or the formation of a new being can occur if the egg unites with a male sperm cell inside the fallopian tube. However, if fertilization does not occur, when the egg finishes its trip along the fallopian tulle, it and the lining of the uterus are no longer needed and are discarded by the body. This process is called menstruation or the menstrual period (some women call this "having their period"). The menstrual flow is a mixture of blood, dead cells and mucus and usually lasts 35 days. In some women. it may last 7-8 days.

When a woman is menstruating she is not bleeding from a wound and she is not sick or in danger. Her uterus is simply cleansing itself to prepare for the next monthly cycle.

When she is not pregnant, a woman menstruates every month, from the time she is an adolescent at about 11-13, until she is 45-50 years old. When a woman reaches the age at which she stops menstruating, this is called menopause. It is a sign that the body is no longer able to bear children, but a woman can continue to enjoy sex after menopause.

The female reproductive cycle (1)

The female reproductive cycle (2)

The female reproductive cycle (3)

The female reproductive cycle (4)

The process of fertilization or conception

When a man puts his penis inside a woman's vagina and ejaculates, millions of sperm cells are released. Once inside the vagina, the sperm cells begin to swim up through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes. If there is a female egg at just the right spot in the fallopian tube and it meets a sperm cell, the two may join together to form a new being. This is called fertilization or conception.

The process of fertilization or conception

Neither the sperm nor the egg can become a new person by themselves, hut together they contain all the information needed to produce a human being. If conception occurs, the fertilized egg continues to move down the fallopian tube. When it reaches the uterus, it attaches itself to the inner lining especially prepared for it by the woman's body and begins to grow and develop. This is how pregnancy begins. Pregnancy does not always occur every time a man and a woman have sexual relations even if there is an egg in the fallopian tubes. But pregnancy can occur each time

The egg fertilized

How a baby develops inside the uterus

The next illustrations show how a baby develops inside its mother's uterus during the nine months of pregnancy. This first chart shows what a baby looks like after the first three months of pregnancy.

During this time, the baby's internal organs begin to form and the baby grows to about the size of a closed fist. However, if the baby were to be born at this time, it would die.

How a baby develops inside the uterus (after the first three moths)

The baby grows inside a pouch that is filled with water called the amniotic sac. The baby lives inside this sac for the nine months of pregnancy and gets all of the oxygen and nourishment it needs through a tube which connects it with the lining of the mother's uterus. This tube is called the umbilical cord.

During the first three months of pregnancy, the mother's belly usually does not show any signs of swelling so other people may not even know she is pregnant. But the mother does know because she does not have her monthly menstrual period. It is important that she take good care of her health and nutrition during pregnancy. This means eating well and avoiding any substances that could be harmful to her 0 Everything the mother eats, drinks or otherwise takes into her body also reaches the baby through the umbilical cord. Once a woman knows she is pregnant, she should stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Also during the first three months, she should not take any drugs that have not been perscribed by a doctor who knows she is pregnant.

No drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes

A baby after six months inside the uterus

This drawing shows a six-month-old baby inside the mother.

From the third to the sixth month, the baby grows to a length of 35 cm (approximately the length of an arm from wrist to elbow) and may weigh up to 1 kg.

During this period, the face of the baby develops as well as its fingers and toes. Its bones begin to develop too.

One very exciting thing that happens during this period is that the baby begins to move inside the mother. By putting your hand gently on the mother's bely, you can sometimes feel the baby turn or move inside the amniotic sac.

A baby after six months inside the uterus

The last three months of pregnancy

In the last three months of pregnancy, the baby grows very rapidly and the mother's belly becomes distended and swollen. The baby's bones grow and become stronger although they are still very flexible. The body fully develops and the internal organs are complete.

From the seventh month onward, it is also possible to see whether the baby is male or female. However, although the sexual organs of the baby are not visible until the seventh month, the sex of the baby is determined at the moment of fertilization. It is the father's sperm cells that carry the information that determines the sex of the baby.

It is important to understand, therefore, that it makes no sense for a man to complain that it is the woman's fault if they have only girl babies. First of all, children of both sexes are equally valuable and second, it is the father's sperm which determines whether the baby will be a boy or a girl.

The last three months of pregnancy

The process of birth

The baby after nine moth

The baby after nine moth

The next two illustrations show how a baby is born. This first chart shows a baby at the end of nine months, full grown and ready to be born.

When the baby is full grown, it turns so that its head is next to the opening in the mother's uterus called the cervix. The birth process begins with the breaking of the amniotic sac. When this happens, the amniotic liquid comes out through the vagina and the mother knows that it is time to go to the hospital or to a clinic, or to seek help from a midwife if she will have the baby at home.

Note: The group leader and/or health worker should decide whether these next illustrations should be shown to the whole youth group, to boys and girls separately or only to the girls. The situation will depend on the social background of each particular group.

It is very important that the place where the baby will be born is warm and as clean as possible because a newborn baby can easily get an infection and die.

After the amniotic sac has broken, the muscles in the mother's uterus begin to try to push the baby out through the vagina. Gradually the contractions become stronger and more frequent and the cervix and the vagina stretch enough to let the baby through.

The process of birth (1)

The process of birth (2)

The process of birth (3)

The birth process: Part 2

The placenta

When the baby is born, it is still attached to the lining of the uterus by the umbilical cord. The doctor or midwife ties off and cuts the umbilical cord where it joins the baby. After the umbilical cord is cut, the mother's body also pushes out the amniotic sac and the lining of the uterus. This is called the placenta or afterbirth.

As soon as the baby is born and the umbilical cord has been cut, the baby is given to the mother to suck on her breast. The first milk that the mother produces is not white like milk usually is and sometimes mothers think that it is not good for the baby. But this is a mistake. The first milk (called colostrum) is very important for the baby. It is very rich in protein and also contains substances which help to protect the baby from infections and diseases.

The umbilical cord

Breast-feeding is very important for the baby's growth and should be continued as long as possible - even up to two years. However, after the fourth month, breast milk by itself is not enough and the baby needs to start eating solid foods as well.

How do twins develop?

There are two kinds of twins. The first kind are babies who are born at the same time but do not look exactly the same (they may even be one boy and one girl). This type of twin occurs when two eggs are released from the ovaries at the same time instead of the usual one. If both of these eggs are fertilized by sperm, then twins will be formed. These are called non-identical twins.


If both eggs are fertilized. non-identical twins are formed.

The second type of twins are called identical twins. This type of twin occurs at a later stage. After the single egg has been fertilized by the man's sperm, it divides into two and each of the halves becomes a new fertilized egg that can grow into a baby.

If one fertilized egg divides into two, identical twins are formed.

Why can't some women have babies?

There are many reasons why some women cannot have babies - it may be that they do not produce eggs from their ovaries - or that the tube from the ovary to the womb is blocked so that the egg cannot be fertilized.

Why can't some men have babies?

It may be nothing to do with the woman at all - the man may be infertile - that is although everything seems normal when they have sexual intercourse, the sperm cannot fertilize the woman's eggs. Sometimes these problems can be solved. Your clinic or health worker will be able to give you more details.

What is an albino?

An albino is just a normal person who's body cannot make the chemical for skin colouring. That is why the skin is white and the eyes pink. They get sunburned very easily but otherwise they are the same as anyone else.

Note: Albinism and other inherited characteristics are complicated subjects. This background information is intended as a brief introduction only. The leader may wish to refer group members to a book on genetics or a health worker if they wish to know more about this subject. Your local library or health centre may also be able to help.

Albinism is passed on from parents to children but not as simply as some other characteristics.

As explained earlier, a baby is formed from the egg of a woman and the sperm of a man. Each of these contains half of the information needed to make the baby. That is why children look partly like their mother and partly like their father. Albinos are only produced when both parents have some of the information to make an albino. This information may not be enough on its own to make either parent an albino but when put together, the child may be an albino. Even if one parent is an albino, they cannot have an albino child unless their partner also has some of this 'albino information'. (The chance then of having an albino child is one in four.)

If there are albinos in a family - whether parents, children, grandparents or any other blood relatives - there is a chance that another child born into that family will be an albino. If there has never been an albino in the family of either parent, their children cannot be albinos.

Some women have difficulty giving birth - what are the main problems and why do they occur?

Women who have a baby when they are young (less than 18) often have difficulty with their first birth because the pelvic area has simply not developed enough. This means that the baby is too large for the birth canal and can cause great pain and even permanent damage to the mother during child birth. Although a woman is capable of conceiving a child as soon as she starts to menstruate, her body does not fully develop for several more years. A young woman may be physically mature enough to have a family when she is 17 years old but she may well not be psychologically mature enough until several years later.

Another common birth problem occurs when the baby is born feet first instead of head first. This is called a breech birth. The head and shoulders are the largest part of the baby and should come out first. If the baby is born feet first, there is a danger that the umbilical cord will be broken or damaged before the baby's head is outside. Until the baby takes its first breath, the cord which joins it to its mother keeps it alive. Once the baby is born, the cord is no longer needed.

Usually, even a breech birth does not cause any serious problem, however, if a properly trained midwife or doctor is in attendance.

Your health worker or clinic will be able to give you more information on difficult births.

Breech birth