Reproduction in Human Beings
So far, we have been discussing the variety of modes that different species use for reproduction. Let us now look at the species that we are most interested in, namely, humans. Humans use a sexual mode of reproduction. How does this process work? Let us begin at an apparently unrelated point. All of us know that our bodies change as we become older. Our height increases from Class II to Class X, and so does our weight (sometimes too much!). We acquire teeth, we even lose the old, so-called milk teeth and acquire new
ones. All of these are changes that can be grouped under the general process of growth, in which the body becomes larger. But in early teenage years, a whole new set of changes occurs that cannot be explained simply as body enlargement. Instead, the appearance of the body changes. Proportions change, new features appear, and so do new sensations.
Some of these changes are common to both boys and girls. We begin to notice thick hair growing in new parts of the body such as armpits and the genital area between the thighs, which can also become darker in colour. Thinner hair can also appear on legs and arms, as well as on the face. The skin frequently becomes oily and we might begin to develop pimples. We begin to be conscious and aware of both our own bodies and those of others in new ways.
On the other hand, there are also changes taking place that are different between boys and girls. In girls, breast size begins to increase, with darkening of the skin of the nipples at the tips of the breasts. Also, girls begin to menstruate at around this time. Boys begin to have new thick hair growth on the face and their voices begin to crack. Further, the penis occasionally begins to become enlarged and erect, either in daydreams or at night.
All of these changes take place slowly, over a period of months and years. They do not happen all at the same time in one person, nor do they happen at an exact age. In some people, they happen early and quickly, while in others, they can happen very slowly. Also, each change does not become complete quickly either. So, for example, thick hair on the face in boys appears as a few scattered hairs first, and only slowly does the growth begin to become uniform. Even so, all these changes show differences between people. Just as we have differently shaped noses or fingers, so also we have different patterns of hair growth, or size and shape of breast or penis. All of these changes are aspects of the sexual maturation of the body.
Why does the body show sexual maturation at this age? We have talked about the need for specialised cell types in multi-cellular bodies to carry out specialised functions. The creation of germ-cells to participate in sexual reproduction is another specialised function, and we have seen that plants develop special cell and tissue types to create them. Human beings also develop special tissues for this purpose. However, while the body of the individual organism is growing to its adult size, the resources of the body are mainly directed at achieving this growth. While that is happening, the maturation of the reproductive tissue is not likely to be a major priority. Thus, as the rate of general body growth begins to slow down, reproductive tissues begin to mature. This period during adolescence is called puberty.