Note: There’s no need to be shy and/or paranoid that someone from your family will walk into your room while you’re reading this – in the words of a few people I know – absolutely scandalous piece of information, because it’s anything but. This is important. This is information every teenager must be aware of. This is the article that is going to save you the embarrassment you will face when you ask questions like this, this, or this. (Some of my favourite ones are: “Can your baby get pregnant if you have sex while pregnant?”, “How do I grow a vag? Is there some kind of pill?” ,“Will getting an abortion make me back into a virgin?” and “In 7th grade I kissed a boy on the cheek and I’m worried that I am pregnant and I can’t eat bananas?”)
Ah, the naivety. Let’s start with the basics, yes?
Q1. Why is Sex Education so important?
FUN FACT: 16 million girls ages 15-19 give birth each year, and about 77% of these pregnancies are unplanned. (1)
Sex is a topic that is still not correctly approached and/or taught about to teenagers all over the world, and what’s worse – it’s barely talked about in orthodox countries like India where it is considered ‘taboo’. Moreover, cultures where teenagers engaging in sexual intercourse is definitely a possibility, parents are reluctant to talk about it because they either believe their children will ask for their permission before they actually do the deed, or that they’re being taught at school (which they are, but not candidly enough). Due to this, many teenagers end up facing unplanned pregnancy, resulting in their young lives spiralling out of control. Apart from unplanned pregnancies, there is always the lurking risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are caused by infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual contact. (2)
Sexual health is a vital component of overall health and well being of a person. And therefore, the youth in particular should be familiar with the nooks and crannies of their bodies, not only to prevent the aforementioned problems but also to adopt a positive self image and to integrate sexuality into healthy and mutually satisfying relationships.
Q2. Which are the reproductive organs of the body?
F E M A L E
There are external reproductive organs and internal reproductive organs of the body.
The internal reproductive organs include:
- Vagina – muscular tube that is three to four inches long; this place where a man’s penis enters the woman during sexual intercourse; protected by the labia (explained below).
- Uterus (womb) – pear shaped organ; home to the developing foetus for nine months; divided into two parts: the cervix (lower part that opens into the vagina; a channel allows sperm to enter and menstrual blood to exit) and the corpus (main body of uterus).
FUN FACT: During the ninth month of pregnancy, the uterus extends from a woman’s pubic area to the bottom of her rib cage. That’s almost the size of a watermelon. (3)
- Ovaries – they produce eggs (the female reproductive cell) and hormones (oestrogen and progesterone)
- Uterine (or Fallopian) Tubes – tubes attached to the upper part of the uterus on either side; carry the eggs from the ovaries to the uterus; fertilisation of an egg by a sperm (conception) occurs here and the fertilised egg then attaches itself into the lining of the uterine wall.
There are two functions of the external reproductive organs:
- To enable the sperm (the male reproductive cell) to enter the body.
- To protect the internal reproductive organs from infectious organisms.
The external reproductive organs include:
- Labia majora (singular: labium majus) – two relatively large and fleshy folds of the skin; comparable to the scrotum in males. (4)
FUN FACT: The labia majora join to form the cleft shape of the female genitals. This is also known the cleft of Venus, named after the Roman goddess of love. (5)
- Labia minora (singular: labium minus) – two folds of skin that lie inside the labia majora and surround the opening to the vagina and urethra; joined together by the fourchette (“little fork”) which is a small fold of skin; this can be torn during childbirth or during acts of sexual violence.
- Clitoris – a small protrusion located at the top of the vagina at the junction of the labia minora; comparable to the penis in males, the clitoris is sensitive to stimulation and can become erect.
- Urethra – the urethral opening is where you pee from.
Orange is the New Black – lesson on female anatomy! (warning: includes curse words)
M A L E:
Most of the male reproductive system (penis, scrotum, testicles) is located outside of the body, unlike the female reproductive system.
The functions performed by the aforementioned organs are:
- To produce, maintain, transport sperm and protective fluid (semen, contains sperm).
- To discharge the sperm within the vaginal tract during sexual intercourse.
- To secrete the male sex hormones (testosterone: responsible for development of male characteristics such as muscle mass, facial hair, etc) responsible for maintaining the system.
- Penis – the organ used in sexual intercourse, cylindrical in shape, consists of three circular chambers made up of sponge-like tissues (contains spaces that fill with blood when aroused), penis becomes erect when filled with blood.
- Scrotum – behind and below the penis; contains the testicles (or the testes); acts as a climate control system for the testes.
- Testicles – oval organs that lie in the scrotum, most men have two testes which are responsible for making testosterone and for generating sperm.
- Epididymis – a long coiled tube that rests at the back of each testicle; transports and stores the sperm cells.
- Vas deferens – long muscular tube that travels from the epididymis into the pelvic cavity, to just behind the bladder.
- Urethra – carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body; has the additional function of ejaculating semen when the man reaches his orgasm.
As you can notice, the female reproductive system is far more interesting than the male reproductive system (hah!). Just kidding, here’s one way the latter definitely outruns the former:
FUN FACT: During a woman’s lifetime, she will only ovulate 300 to 400 of the 1-2 million eggs she was initially born with. On the other hand, men will produce over 500 billion sperm in their lifetimes. Far more gametes than any woman is ever born with. (6)
Q3. What causes pregnancy?
Pregnancy involves two major steps: an egg released by the ovary during ovulation (the ovary discharges an egg during your periods) and the egg is fertilised by a sperm cell.
The three steps of pregnancy (7):
- Ovulation – ovary released egg
- Fertilisation – sperm meets egg
- Implantation – the fertilised egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus.
Sexual activities that do not cause pregnancy (girls, please, you should know this):
- Frottage (dry humping – with clothes on)
- Oral Sex
- Anal Sex
Sexual activities that cause pregnancy
- Vaginal intercourse with a penis
- Any activity where semen (which contains sperms) is ejaculated near or in vagina.
FUN FACT: Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get pregnant during your period. Sperm can live upto five days inside your body; it is possible for the sperm to enter your body during your period to still be alive when your body releases an egg during ovulation. (8)
Q4. What exactly happens during the menstrual cycle, a.k.a periods?
Process of the Menstrual Cycle:
- The pituitary gland secretes a hormone that stimulates the egg cells in the ovaries to grow.
- Simultaneously, estrogen (the primary female sex hormone) triggers the lining of the uterus to thicken with blood and tissue in order to make a ‘cushion’ for a potential fertilised egg.
DAY 14 – Ovulation Phase
- The ovary releases the matured egg cell into the fallopian tube.
- The egg cell remains in the fallopian tube for approximately 24 hours.
- The hormone progesterone helps the estrogen to keep the lining of the uterus thick and ready to receive a fertilised egg.
- If the sperm cell does not fertilise the egg within that time, the uterine lining breaks down so that it (and the unfertilised egg) can be shed from the uterus.
- When the thickened lining of the uterus starts to shed, menstrual bleeding begins from the vagina. (Day 1 of the cycle; although it is the end of the entire process)
- Menstruation (bleeding) lasts from 2 to 7 days.
- It is likely that one experiences cramps and pains in the pelvic area, legs and back; this is because the uterus is contracting to help get rid of the lining.
FUN FACT: In the days before electricity, women’s bodies were influenced by the amount of moonlight we saw. Just as sunlight and moonlight affect plants and animals, our hormones were triggered by levels of moonlight. And, all women cycled together. Today, with artificial light everywhere, day and night, our cycles no longer correspond to the moon. (9)
Q5. What are STDs? How do they spread?
The name itself i.e Sexually Transmitted Diseases should be enough to cringe, am I right?
STDs are infectious diseases that spread from one person to another through the means of intimate contact aka sexual intercourse (including but not limited to). You can acquire a STD by having sexual contact with someone who already has one. These are caused by different bacteria and viruses – and even tiny insects. Some of the common STDs are: genital warts, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.
NOT A FUN FACT BUT NEEDED TO BE HIGHLIGHTED: One reason STDs spread is because people think they can only be infected if they have sexual intercourse. That’s wrong. A person can get some STDs, like herpes or genital warts, through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore. (10)
Activities that increase the risk of getting an STD:
- Sexual activity at a young age (keep it in your pants)
- Having lots of sex partners
- Unprotected sex (this is kind of obvious, please)
How do you avoid STDs:
- Get tested for STDs (and treated, too)
- Have only one sexual partner
- Always use a condom
PS: Remember, kids, that women/men who have sex with women/men also are at risk for some STDs.
ALSO HAVING AN STD IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF!
Q6. How do you prevent unplanned pregnancy?
- You choose abstinence (aka no sex at all) – no pregnancy, no risk of STDs.
- You use contraceptives (eg: condom)
A contraceptive is a device or drug that is used to prevent pregnancy. There are several types of contraceptives (the most common of the lot being a condom) for both men and women.
COMMON BARRIER METHODS:
- Condom (male): a latex barrier that prevents the sperms from entering the vagina; placed over the penis before sex; also helps prevent STDs.
- Condom (female): YES, THESE EXIST TOO; has a flexible ring at each end, one of which is fixed behind the pubic bone (to hold the condom in place) while the other ring stays outside the vagina.
FUN FACT: The Egyptian pessary (a small soluble block) is the earliest contraceptive device for women. A concoction made of crocodile dung, honey, and sodium carbonate is inserted into the vagina to block and kill sperm. (11)
- Diaphragms (female): shallow, flexible cup made of latex inserted into the vagina before intercourse, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. (Cervical Caps are similar devices but smaller, more rigid)
- Contraceptive sponges (female): soft, disposable, spermicide-filled foam sponges; is inserted into the vagina before intercourse; sponge blocks sperm from entering the uterus, and the spermicide also kills the sperm cells.
COMMON HORMONAL METHODS:
- Combined Oral Contraceptives or ‘the pill’ (female): consumption of these pills interferes with ovulation; one to be taken daily preferably at the same time each day.
- Emergency Contraceptive Pills (female): hormonal pills; are intended for use in the event of unprotected intercourse; if taken prior to ovulation, the pills can delay or inhibit ovulation for at least 5 days to allow the sperm to become inactive; cause thickening of cervical mucus and may interfere with sperm function.
COMMON INTRAUTERINE METHODS:
- The IUD (female): an IUD is a small, T-shaped device inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy; there are two types: the copper IUD, the hormonal IUD.
COMMON STERILIZATION METHODS:
Sterilization is a permanent form of birth control that either prevents a woman from getting pregnant or prevents a man from releasing sperm. (12)
- Blocking the fallopian tube (female): this way, the sperm cannot reach the egg.
- Tubal ligation (female): the doctor cuts (ouch!), ties, or seals the fallopian tubes; blocks the path between ovaries and uterus; sperm cannot reach egg and fertilise it and the egg cannot reach the uterus.
- Vasectomy (male): the doctor cuts, closes or blocks the vas deferens; blocks the path between the testes and the urethra; sperm cannot leave the testes and reach the egg.