The system that controls erection and ejaculation is called the autonomic nervous system. If you read that as automatic instead of autonomic, it’s okay — you’re not far off. In fact, the autonomic nervous system controls your body’s unconscious processes, like breathing. You don’t have to think about breathing; you just do it. It’s automatic, and if you try to hold your breath until you die, you can’t do it. You’ll pass out. The autonomic nervous system will take over, and you’ll start breathing again. This same system controls both erection and ejaculation.
Two Sides of the Same Coin: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems
The autonomic nervous system is made up of two different parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. These two parts are like two sides of the same coin.
Sympathetic Nervous System
Your sympathetic nervous system is your “fight or flight” nervous system. When stimulated, it gets your body ready for action so that you can survive an attack. That means your heart rate increases, as does your breathing rate. There are a number of other physical responses to the hormones released when this system is activated.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
: The parasympathetic nervous system is the other side of the coin. It calms you down after the excitement has passed. You can think of it as your “chill and relax” system. These systems work in co-ordination to produce an erection and ejaculation.
Erection and Ejaculation: A Delicate Balance
When a man is aroused, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated to relax certain muscles. The relaxation of these muscles allows blood to engorge the tissues of the penis, resulting in an erection. The parasympathetic nervous system also sends an excitatory message to the vas deferens, the seminal vesicles, and the prostate gland.
The Role of the Sympathetic Nervous System
When a man has an orgasm, the sympathetic nervous system takes over. It ultimately causes a constriction of the blood vessels that engorge the penile tissues with blood. That cuts off the blood flow into those tissues, resulting in a loss of the erection. But as the orgasm is happening, the sympathetic nervous system also causes a structure called the epididymis to contract and squeeze out those mature sperm cells in the seminiferous tubules. This pushes the sperm into the vas deferens. The vas deferens also contracts to push the sperm outside via the urethra, which is the tube through which urine passes.
Semen: A Mixture of Sperm and Seminal Fluid
Right before the sperm enters the urethra, a ring of muscle (sphincter) contracts to close off the part of the urethra coming from the bladder. That way, sperm can’t travel up into the bladder. When semen is ejaculated, it travels at an approximate velocity of 11 miles per hour. It would be a difficult ride indeed, were it not for the seminal fluid. It is the combination of the sperm and the seminal fluid that is called semen.
Seminal Fluid: The Unsung Hero
The seminal fluid is also what nourishes the sperm and protects them from the acidic environment of the vagina so that they can enter the uterus to seek out an egg. It is because of the seminal fluid that sperm can live for approximately 72 hours after ejaculation.
A Deeper Look at Seminal Fluid Components
Prostate and Cowper’s Glands
Cowper’s gland adds clear, thick fluids that act as a lubricant and help to flush the urethra before the ejaculation of the semen. These fluids make the semen less watery and account for approximately 5 percent of the total seminal fluid. The prostate gland adds fluid secretions to the sperm as it is being ejaculated. The fluid from the prostate, called pre-ejaculate, can be clear or milky-white, and is slightly acidic. The fluid contains citric acid and certain enzymes.
The seminal vesicles produce approximately 65 to 75 percent of the seminal fluid. The fluid they produce and secrete into the ejaculatory tract includes fructose, citric acid, potassium, proteins, phosphorus, and prostaglandins. These components make the cervix’s mucus lining more “welcoming” for the sperm, helping them move towards the egg.
Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Sperm Production
There are several vital nutrients essential for sperm production:
This mineral is crucial for the proper replication of genetic material required for healthy mitosis and meiosis. It is also necessary to maintain good levels of proteins, like the Androgen Binding Protein that keeps testosterone concentration at proper levels. Zinc is found in meat, dairy products, eggs, and legumes.
Selenium is another vital mineral for sperm production, acting as an antioxidant to protect stem cells during cell division. It is found in shiitake mushrooms, oatmeal, tofu, shellfish, and lean pork.
Vitamins such as B12, A, E, and C play important roles in sperm production. These vitamins can be found in various food sources like animal products, vegetables, and fruits.
Understanding these essential nutrients is crucial for maintaining healthy spermatogenesis, or sperm production.