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Structure of the Male Reproductive System

by Irvin H. Hirsch, MD

  • The penis and the urethra are part of the urinary and reproductive systems.

  • The scrotum, testes (testicles), vas deferens, seminal vesicles, and prostate comprise the rest of the reproductive system.

The penis consists of the root (which is attached to the lower abdominal structures and pelvic bones), the visible part of the shaft, and the glans penis (the cone-shaped end). The opening of the urethra (the channel that transports semen and urine) is located at the tip of the glans penis. The base of the glans penis is called the corona. In uncircumcised males, the foreskin (prepuce) extends from the corona to cover the glans penis.

The penis includes three cylindrical spaces (sinuses) of erectile tissue. The two larger ones, the corpora cavernosa, occur side-by-side. The third sinus, the corpus spongiosum, surrounds most of the urethra. When these spaces fill with blood, the penis becomes large and rigid (erect).

The scrotum is the thick-skinned sac that surrounds and protects the testes. The scrotum also acts as a climate-control system for the testes because they need to be slightly cooler than body temperature for normal sperm development. The cremaster muscles in the wall of the scrotum relax to allow the testes to hang farther from the body to cool or contract to pull the testes closer to the body for warmth or protection.

The testes are oval bodies that average about 1.5 to 3 inches (4 to 7 centimeters) in length and 2 to 3 teaspoons (20 to 25 milliliters) in volume. Usually the left testis hangs slightly lower than the right one. The testes have two primary functions:

  • Producing sperm (which carry the man's genes)

  • Producing testosterone (the primary male sex hormone)

The epididymis is a collection of coiled microscopic tubes that together are almost 20 feet (6 meters) long. The epididymis collects sperm from the testis and provides the environment for sperm to mature and acquire the ability to move through the female reproductive system and fertilize an ovum. One epididymis lies against each testis.

The vas deferens is a firm tube (the size of a strand of spaghetti) that transports sperm from the epididymis. One such duct travels from each epididymis to the back of the prostate and joins with one of the two seminal vesicles. In the scrotum, other structures, such as muscle fibers, blood vessels, and nerves, also travel along with each vas deferens and together form an intertwined structure, the spermatic cord.

The urethra serves a dual function in males. This channel is the part of the urinary tract that transports urine from the bladder and the part of the reproductive system through which semen is ejaculated.

The prostate lies just under the bladder and surrounds the urethra. Walnut-sized in young men, the prostate enlarges with age. When the prostate enlarges too much, it can block urine flow through the urethra and cause bothersome urinary symptoms.

The seminal vesicles, located above the prostate, join with the vas deferens to form the ejaculatory ducts, which travel through the prostate. The prostate and the seminal vesicles produce fluid that nourishes the sperm. This fluid provides most of the volume of semen, the fluid in which the sperm is expelled during ejaculation. Other fluid that makes up a very small amount of the semen comes from the vas deferens and from Cowper glands in the urethra.

Male Reproductive Organs

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