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home > sex & society > the sexual system > reproduction
Life could not exist without reproduction. Reproduction in essence means the multiplication of genetic material, DNA. From this point of view, the individual cell is only an instrument for the reproduction of DNA. A complex organism such as a cockroach or a human, is a means of transportation for reproductive cells that seek to be united with reproductive cells in an individual of the opposite sex. The predictable consequence of the sexual fusion is the production of new individuals which carry the genetic characteristics of both parent cells.
Reproduction: reproductive urge
A species that does not reproduce itself does not exist, and humans are no exception. This does not mean that all species reproduce in the same way. Human reproduction is slightly differentent from the reproduction of other species and humans are even capable of controlling reproduction. We are able to control the number of children to be born, improve their health, and increase the potential of their lives. Birth control (including abortion) as an aspect of modern society has existed since the nineteenth century,although it still meets with considerable resistance in many parts of the world.
This resistance is understandable because the reproductive urge is deeply rooted in our individual and social lives. This has not really changed despite the changes of the past centuries. The knowledge and acceptance of contraception and abortion have increased, but they are mainly used within the framework of family planning. Even though this is an important development, the true control of reproduction has other implications as well. The quality of life of the unborn child, for example, will need to receive more and more attention. As a consequence, there will be a shift from the potential parents' choice to have a baby to the perspective of the potential child who may be imagined by us to choose its genital qualities as well as the environment in which it is to grow up.
Reproduction and the sexual system
It is clear that biological reproduction as we know it is closely bound up with the fact that there are two sexes, with sexual attraction or lust, and with the family as the basic form of cohabitation. These four elements together constitute what we call the sexual system. The relevance of each element is clear if we imagine it to be thoroughly revised. Reproduction that is controlled by humans will eventually lead to the disappearance of biological motherhood and the improvement of genetic and environmental conditions in the life of new individuals.
The woman's role in reproduction
In the sexual system, women play the dominant role. In the Christian culture this dominance is represented by the Mother and her Child as the central symbol of life, with the father at some distance. This is characteristic of sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction did not start until approximately 1.8 thousand million years ago. Before that time organisms used to replicate themselves, as single cells do, by means of cloning, which means that a cell splits into two almost identical daughter cells. Cell division was the only form of reproduction during the first three thousand million years since the beginning of life. With sexual reproduction, a separate type of cell came into being, which we call male. Male reproductive cells are small and quick and come in large numbers, whereas the original female cells are relatively large and slow and fewer in number. Male cells only carry their genetic material, whereas female cells contain nutrients for the offspring. It is only after fertilization that the mother cell begins to divide.
Although sexual reproduction is much more complicated than simple cell division, it must have been a boost to survival because it led to untold millions of different species of plants and animals. Humans have existed for a comparatively short time. We underwent our own development and history, but even today our reproductive system is basically the same as it has always been. In sex and reproduction, the female still plays the primary role.
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