Male is a term descriptive of sexual differentiation within a species. The human male is distinct from the human female in that the type of gametes it (or more properly, he) produces are spermatozoa rather than ova. The successful combination of a spermatozoon (a single sperm cell) and an ovum (a single egg cell) is necessary for fertilization in the reproductive process. The term male is relevant within the field of biology: It indicates a specific chromosomal and physical configuration. It is often seen as related to (and erroneously, interchangeable with) the term masculine, which indicates a gender formation. Whereas there is a significant coincidence of biological maleness with masculine gender traits (as there is between biological femaleness and feminine gender traits), there is also a great variety of possible alignments between and among these categories. The study of the possible manifestations of sex and gender, as well as the cultural expectations of those manifestations, is the realm of gender studies.
MALE CHROMOSOMAL AND EMBRYONIC FORMATION
The human species typically has 46 chromosomes, consisting of twenty-two pairs of autosomes (nonsex chromosomes that appear in both sexes) and one pair of sex chromosomes. The sex of a human is determined by the number and type of sex chromosomes, classified by an XY sex determination system. That is, both males and females have an X chromosome (named for its four-armed shape), but females have a second X chromosome whereas males have a three-armed Y chromosome. The presence of a Y chromosome, then, determines maleness in humans. The chromosomes are made up of genes that are themselves made of DNA and carry all of the genetic material from both parents. The first X sex chromosome is contributed by the mother, whereas the second chromosome (X or Y) is contributed by the father. In humans, a single gene on the Y chromosome (the SRY gene) is thought to trigger the development of male expression (primarily the development of testes). Other genes are necessary for the mature male to be able to produce sperm, to develop physical characteristics of the male, and so on. In humans the Y chromosome contains 78 genes, of which more than 50 are also common to the X chromosome, meaning that the genetic differences between male and female humans are very few in number.
Whereas the type of chromosome (X or Y) can determine the sex of an individual, so can the number of chromosomes. Typically, humans have one pair of sex chromosomes, but there are individuals with only a single sex chromosome (XO) or with three or more: Klinefelter syndrome (XXY), triple X syndrome (XXX), and XYY syndrome (XYY), as well as other possible variations. Klinefelter syndrome and XYY syndrome produce male individuals. XYY syndrome individuals have few or mild physical symptoms and generally are not even diagnosed, whereas Klinefelter syndrome causes sterility and can have physical symptoms ranging from almost unnoticeable to a moderate degree of androgyny or atypical feature formation.
After fertilization male and female embryos develop identically for the first several weeks. By the sixth week, gonads develop in a bipotential state. That is, they may further develop into either testes (male) or ovaries (female), the gonads that produce gametes in the adult. The gonads develop into testes in the XY embryo at about eight weeks of development. Another bipotential structure, the Wolffian duct, develops into the vas deferens, seminal duct, and prostate gland in the male. The Wolffian duct typically disappears in females (as the Müllerian duct does in males), although vestiges of it may remain as Skene's glands in the female. The testes begin to produce testosterone, and by birth, the majority of XY embryos have become recognizably and functionally male.
MALE PHYSICAL STRUCTURES
The primary structures specific to the male are the penis, the testes, and the prostate. The penis, or phallus, is actually less important to reproduction and virility than are the testes, but it is the focus of the most attention. Partly this is because the penis is a highly sensitive apparatus that can bring great pleasure to the male when aroused and partly because it is a particularly visible indicator of maleness. The fact that it can vary in size from individual to individual makes it a focus for potential competition in a way that the testes are not. The penis is a fleshy organ that protrudes from the male body at the groin. It has a shaft and a head, the glans penis. The glans is highly sensitive and contains the urethral opening, through which urine and semen are discharged from the body. It is usually flaccid but when sexually aroused becomes erect. The head of the penis is also covered in a sheath of skin called the foreskin. Although the amount of foreskin can vary considerably, in most cases it will slide back and expose the head of the penis when the penis is erect. If it will not, or if there are religious or other concerns, the foreskin can be surgically removed through circumcision. In the twentieth century, particularly in the United States, it became common practice to circumcise newborn males for reasons of hygiene; the necessity for circumcision has become disputed and the practice, while common, is considered less mandatory in the twenty-first century. The penile erectile tissue comprises three cylinders within the shaft of the penis, two along the top and one on the bottom. During sexual arousal these cylinders fill with blood, causing the penis to increase in length and girth. The penis also rises to an angle similar to that of the vaginal canal in the female, making intercourse both possible and comfortable.
The inability to achieve or maintain an erection is called erectile dysfunction. For most of the twentieth century erectile dysfunction was thought to be a largely psychogenic problem, with only rare cases linked to organic causes. Mechanical remedies were available, such as penis implants, vacuum pumps, or other devices, which could generate an erectile response, but they were costly and unpopular. In the late 1990s the first of a series of pharmaceuticals was developed that could alleviate some of the effects of erectile dysfunction. The medical community responded by treating erectile dysfunction as an organic issue, as it could be treated pharmaceutically, although the psychiatric community maintains that the cause is still likely psychogenic.
The other visible male sexual structure is the scrotum, a fleshy sac that contains the testes. It emerges from the groin along the underside of the penis and is usually covered in pubic hair. The scrotum is rather loose flesh until an erection occurs, and the positions of the two testes can usually be easily seen. In embryonic males the testes are located high in the abdomen, near the kidneys. As development proceeds in utero the testes descend through the abdomen, finally becoming located in the scrotum in about the eighth month of pregnancy. Testicles that do not descend properly can be surgically relocated. The gonadal structures that become the testes in males are the same as those that become ovaries in females; the presence of estrogen or testosterone causes the transformation into the appropriate gonads. The testes produce spermatozoa, which require a temperature slightly lower than core body temperature to survive, which is why the testes are positioned outside of the body proper.
After the spermatozoa are produced they move into the epididymis to mature and acquire the capability to move in the swimming fashion (motility) that helps them progress to the ovum. They are then transferred via the vas deferens, a long muscular tube-like structure, to the seminal vesicle, which stores the spermatozoa until they are ejaculated. This occurs when the seminal vesicle empties into the urethra, the tube through which the bladder empties via the penis. At that point the semen can be ejaculated through the urethra.
The final major male sexual structure is the prostate gland. The prostate is located immediately below the bladder; the urethra bisects the prostate as it leaves the bladder and before entering the penis. The prostate's primary function is to produce a clear seminal fluid that makes up about a third of the volume of semen. It is a highly sensitive region and can be stimulated by rubbing the region between the testes and the anus or by anal stimulation. The rectum abuts the prostate, which means that the prostate can be stimulated through the wall of the rectum, usually digitally, with the use of a toy or implement or through anal sex with a male partner. Much of the pleasure of receptive anal sex for men comes from prostate stimulation.
PUBERTY AND DEVELOPMENT
Puberty is the developmental stage during which a child's body matures into an adult body capable of reproduction. It is largely coincidental with adolescence, a stage of emotional, social, and psychological maturation, but the two are not identical. In the human male the first stage of puberty is generally gonadarche, the enlarging of the testes. The end physical result of male puberty is the ability to ejaculate viable sperm, so the development of the testes is crucial to this goal. Prior to gonadarche the testes cannot produce sperm, thus making it impossible for the male to engage in reproduction. Other physical changes in the male body are triggered hormonally, and the testes are the primary site of production for testosterone and other hormones needed to trigger later stages of puberty.
The penis increases in size during puberty and is more likely to experience erection. Although erections occur prior to puberty, they are generally in response to manual stimulation or are due to a predictable biological cause, such as a full bladder. In puberty erections occur spontaneously, often due to sexual arousal. Males often begin to masturbate at this stage in response to their emerging libido, and also often experience wet dreams or nocturnal emissions, ejaculations that occur while asleep.
The male body changes significantly in puberty. Males usually grow taller as well as developing heavier bones and increased muscle mass. These increase the overall size of the body in general make the male taller, leaner, and stronger than females. The larynx also enlarges causing the adult male voice to become lower that that of the adult female. The male body will also grow hair, particularly at the groin, the underarm area, the face, and the abdominal region, although a wider pattern of hair growth may occur.
MALE CULTURAL FUNCTIONS
Much of male social expectations revolves around the actual or imagined size of the erect penis; it is assumed that the larger the erect organ, the more virile and powerful the man, as well as the better sexual partner. Whereas it is evident that the size of the male's body, or of his penis, has nothing to do with his social or cultural function, this association remains. Masculinity is often assumed to correspond to penis size; this gender construction is likewise not based in fact, yet is commonly held to be true. The length of the erect penis has little to do with bringing pleasure to the female sexual partner or with the ability to impregnate. The majority of nerve endings in the vagina are in the lower third, meaning that only a few inches of erect penis, at most, are needed to fully stimulate the female. Instead, the firmness of erection seems to be a greater factor in that respect. Similarly, the length of the penis does not correspond to any particular success in impregnation. Once the sperm is ejaculated, the vagina pulsates to move the sperm to the cervix, thus making the specific position of the penis within the vagina somewhat irrelevant.
The ability to father offspring is perhaps the most basic function expected of males, and much of an individual male's role in society is determined by his willingness and ability to do so. Human males are capable of having sex and reproducing with multiple female partners. Many researchers have claimed that the stereotypical male desire to have multiple partners is in fact an evolutionary trait designed to spread their genetic material as broadly as possible, thus preventing any community from becoming genetically impaired by a limited gene pool (Bribiescas 2006). Others, of course, have claimed that no such evolutionary predisposition exists, but the stereotype remains. Females are just as capable of having sex and reproducing with multiple partners as males are; the cultural and gender expectations for females may make this a more difficult or less desirable option than it is for males.
Biologically, the male is required only until the moment of ejaculation in order to conceive a child. Unlike the female, who carries the child to term and then possibly nurses the child after it is born, the male plays no necessary physical role in fatherhood after conception. The concept of fatherhood, therefore, is by its nature sex-based yet socially determined. The most common role for a male to play in reproduction is to father one or more children with one woman, with whom he raises the child or children. The vast majority of world cultures expect a male to be a father according to this model, but there are many exceptions (Dowd 2000).
Polygamy is a practice in which an individual has multiple spouses simultaneously. The most common form is polygyny, in which a man has multiple wives, but each wife is monogamous with her husband. This formation has been accepted at some times in some cultures, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives, and the majority of polygynous marriages in the twenty-first century are in Islamic countries, particularly in Iran and sub-Saharan Africa (Afshar 2005, p. 73; Majid 2002, p. 64). The practice was originally associated in the United States with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) but was outlawed by the Church in 1890. Some fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS) still practice polygyny, mostly in the western United States, but it is illegal and remains unrecognized by the LDS Mormons. In most cultures that do or did allow polygyny, it is still not widespread, as the economic reality of one male supporting multiple females and their children puts the practice out of reach of most. Therefore, even in cultures known as polygynous or polygamous, most males probably have no more than one spouse.
Unofficial partners, known as lovers or mistresses, are common and appear to have been so throughout recorded history. This structure allows males to have multiple partners without the strictures of plural marriage. The economic, emotional, and fatherly obligations of such relationships are varied, usually negotiated between a specific male and female. The practice is often seen as one in which males wish to have sexual partners without the need to procreate, but children born outside of wedlock have always been somewhat common, meaning that the reality is that males become fathers regardless of marriage ties.
Homosexual males have a different relationship to the concept of fatherhood than do heterosexual or bisexual males. Many homosexuals do not consider fatherhood to be a necessary or definitive part of maleness (which is true for many heterosexual males, as well), and if they wish to have children, have to adopt or find some means to have a woman conceive and carry their child. Social pressures have often forced homosexual males to marry women and have children, conforming to heterosexual expectations, and those who did not were usually expected to remain childless. As homosexuals have gained increased rights in some countries, including marriage or marriage-like status with their same-sex partners, the possibilities for becoming a father have increased.
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Brian D. Holcomb
See also 153. FATHER ; 255. MANKIND ; 364. SEX ; 424. WOMEN .
- the domination of society and politics by males. —androcratic , adj.
- Biology. the condition of an embryo that contains only paternal chromosomes; male parthenogenesis. —androgenetic , adj.
- in women, an obsession with men; nymphomania.
- a preference for males. —androphilic , adj.
- 1. an abnormal fear of men.
- 2. a hatred of males.
- 1. dedication to the state of being a bachelor.
- 2. behavior typical of a bachelor.
- misandry, misandria
- in women, an abnormal aversion to males.
- 1. a community in which the father or oldest male is the supreme authority, and descent is traced through the male line.
- 2. government by males, with one as supreme. —patriarchist , n. —patri-archic, patriarchical , adj.
- a condition of some animals, and especially of some fowls, in which the female, when old, assumes some of the characteristics of the male of the species. —virilescent, adj.
male / māl/ • adj. of or denoting the sex that produces small, typically motile gametes, esp. spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring: male children. ∎ relating to or characteristic of men or male animals; masculine: male unemployment a deep male voice. ∎ (of a plant or flower) bearing stamens but lacking functional pistils. ∎ (of parts of machinery, fittings, etc.) designed to enter, fill, or fit inside a corresponding female part. • n. a male person, plant, or animal: the audience consisted of adult males the male of the species. DERIVATIVES: male·ness n.
1. Denoting the gamete (sex cell) that, during sexual reproduction, fuses with a female gamete in the process of fertilization. Male gametes are generally smaller than the female gametes and are usually motile (see spermatozoon).
2. (Denoting) an individual whose reproductive organs produce only male gametes. Compare hermaphrodite.