This unit looks at the human being in the context of an individual life cycle, examining some of the processes that contribute to the formation of a new person. After a brief discussion of historical ideas about human conception, and about contraception to the present day, we look at the cells involved in the conception and development of a new individual. Gamete production (that is, production of mature cells able to unite with another in sexual reproduction) in both men and women is introduced and the role gametes in fertility and, when things go wrong, infertility is explained. We then discuss the early development of a new individual, along with some thoughts on women's experience of pregnancy.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this unit you should be able to:

  • Define and use, or recognize definitions and applications of, each of the terms printed in bold in the text.
  • Explain the scientific basis for the main methods of contraception. (Question 1)
  • List the factors affecting fertilization. (Questions 2 and 5)
  • Describe with the help of diagrams the early stages of embryonic development. (Question 3)
  • Describe the main developmental forces at work during early embryonic development. (Questions 3 and 4)
  • Discuss social attitudes towards fertility, and suggest how these can change with culture (including religion) and education. (Questions 5 and 6)