4. HUMAN REPRODUCTION
Human life is reproduced through a special form of sexual intercourse between men and women. The sex organs of males and females can easily be joined together, and such a joining (called copulation or coitus) provides an opportunity for the male and female sex cells (sperm and egg) to unite. This union results in a new cell which may grow into a new human being.
However, while there can be no reproduction without sexual activity, there can very well be sexual activity without reproduction. Men and women can respond sexually at any moment, and they can engage in many non-coital forms of sexual intercourse, but they can reproduce only through coitus and only during certain recurring short periods when an egg is available for fertilization by a sperm.
In spite of these biological facts our culture has long held the belief that the only purpose and justification of sex is reproduction. This belief is reflected in our religious dogmas, criminal laws, and, indeed, in some traditional medical theories. In short, we are conditioned to regard all sexual behavior that cannot lead to conceptions as sinful, illegal, or sick.
Still, there have been peoples on this planet who were quite unaware of the fact that pregnancies are caused by sexual activity. They assumed that a spirit entered the female body where it then grew into a child. Obviously, such an assumption had to lead to a sexual morality very different from our own.
A man who has never heard of the connection between sex and reproduction is, of course, free to enjoy sexual intercourse for its own sake. His attitude may change only when the connection is pointed out to him. Thus, the end of his ignorance could also mean a reappraisal of his moral values. Indeed, he could possibly end up adopting the sexual standards of our society. On the other hand, if, after some time, he should also discover that he is infertile, he might find the newly adopted morality irrelevant and return to his former value system. He would just realize that, in his particular case, there was no connection between sex and reproduction after all.
This theoretical example is not as far-fetched as it may seem. As a matter of fact, it can perhaps serve to illustrate a rather common problem. We know that in every society there are men and women whose sexual intercourse cannot possibly lead to conceptions. They may be too young or too old to reproduce, they may suffer from sterility, or they may prefer members of their own sex as sexual partners. !n any case, they all face the same taskódeveloping a sexual morality without reference to reproduction. In the past, the number of people confronted with this situation was always relatively small. For the majority of the population, sex and reproduction remained firmly linked, whether they liked it or not. However, in recent decades the invention of effective contraceptives has made nonreproductive sex a practical possibility for everyone. On the other hand, couples are now also able to reproduce by means of artificial insemination, i.e., without any direct sexual involvement at all. As a result of these developments, sex and reproduction have, once and for all, become separate issues, raising different moral questions.
Our public policies are beginning to take this fact into account. A good example is the official handling of sexual knowledge. Most traditional sex education was never more than reproduction information. When teachers talked to their students about the so-called facts of life, they rarely went beyond a discussion of how babies are conceived, and they almost never explained how conceptions can be avoided. Most people simply assumed that the spread of such knowledge would lead to general immorality. Today, however, there is a growing recognition that it may be immoral to deny young people this knowledge. Indeed, the threat of overpopulation has forced many governments in various parts of the world to reverse their moral positions and to propagate the separation of sex and reproduction for all of their citizens. In most countries, there are now public and private agencies which distribute contraception information in books, films, pamphlets, advertisements, and through personal counseling. At the same time, an increasing number of men and women demand full control over their own reproductive lives without any interference from society.
There is no doubt that the separation of sex and reproduction will eventually revolutionize all our lives. Once sexual intercourse no longer leads to unwanted pregnancies, and the conception of each child is a matter of conscious choice, the attitude of sexual partners toward each other is bound to change. Most probably there will be more mutual understanding and cooperation between the sexes. Many couples already plan their families together and share the experience of the woman's pregnancy all the way through the delivery of the baby. Modern hospitals encourage expectant fathers to remain present during the process of birth and also offer instruction in child care to both parents. These shared interests and responsibilities may soon make the traditional social roles of males and females obsolete and, for the first time in human history, lead to full sexual equality.
In the meantime, there is a clear need for both sexes to become familiar with the basic biological facts. Science has made great progress in exploring the mysteries of procreation and, although the ultimate questions are still unanswered, many time-honored myths and misconceptions have already been laid to rest. Today, men and women who understand the reproductive functions of their bodies have a better chance than ever before to become happy parents of healthy children. The following pages offer a summary of our present biological and medical knowledge in the area of human reproduction. Two special sections deal with contraception and abortion. The various social aspects of these issues are discussed in the third part of this book under "Sex and Society."