The male genital system of many mammals is quite complex as it contains different glands for the production of semen and secreting lubricating fluid for the passage of semen. One of the most important accessory glands of this system is the bulbourethral gland. In this section, we will study the anatomy of this gland, its location, and functions elaborately. These glands are important for the sexual functioning of male mammals. Keep on reading to find the different sections of this article explaining the features and functions of the gland.
The male genital system of many mammal species contains a pair of pea-shaped glands called the bulbourethral gland. This gland is an accessory part of the male reproductive system as it indirectly aids in the ejaculation of semen by de-acidifying and lubricating the urethra of the penis. The gland is present in both the sides of the penis right beneath the prostate gland in the base region of the penis shaft.
The size of this gland goes up to 1 cm in diameter. It is an exocrine gland in nature as it has ducts to release the inner content. It is also called Cowper's Gland. This gland was identified and analyzed first by William Cowper, a famous anatomist. The same gland can be found in the female genital system performing the same function. This female gland is called Bartholin’s gland. Both Cowper’s gland and Bartholin’s gland are homologous in nature. It means that the function and location of both glands are similar in both genders.
As mentioned earlier, the location of these glands is right at the base of the penile shaft at the posterior side. Both are present at the lateral portion of the membrane of the urethra right in the middle of two fascia layers. These layers are a part of the urogenital diaphragm. Both the glands are protected inside the deep perineal pouch and enclosed by sphincter urethrae muscle fibers.
Now that we know the Cowper's gland location, let us discuss the structure of this gland. These glands are exocrine in nature which means they will have ducts to carry the secretion. As per their anatomy, they are compound tubule-alveolar in nature. It means that these glands contain lobules. These lobules are held together by a covering made of fibres.
Each lobule is made of acini, a cluster of cells, and is surrounded by columnar epithelial cells. Every acinus opens in a duct. All the ducts club together and form a bigger duct where the secretion is passed. Every gland has an excretory duct of size 2.5 cm. Both the ducts open at the bulbar urethral zone. This is where the secretion of this exocrine gland is released. The size of the human bulbourethral gland is 1 cm similar to the size of a pea. Its size reduces with age.
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What is bulbourethral gland function? From the Cowper's gland definition, you have already understood that this is an accessory exocrine gland. The gland has developed to lubricate inside the urethral duct so that the semen can easily pass during ejaculation.
We all know that urine is acidic in nature. The sperm cells will not be able to survive in acidic nature and the semen will coagulate. It means that the urethra needs to be prepared before ejaculation. This is where the bulbourethral gland secretes a transparent yet slimy fluid to neutralize the acidic environment of the urethra and to lubricate its lumen. On average, the glands secrete 4ml of this fluid to prepare the urethra.
This fluid is also called the pre-ejaculatory fluid that secretes during sexual arousal. When the penile shaft erects and becomes bigger in size, the glands start producing this fluid. This fluid does not contain sperm cells. However, research suggests that this pre-ejaculatory fluid might contain sperms leading to conception. The count can range from nominal to almost 50 million. This is the reason why females can get impregnated even if the male has withdrawn at the right time and ejaculated outside. This is why medical practitioners suggest using contraceptive methods to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Study this section properly and understand the Cowper's gland purpose to make your concepts clear.
We have studied and understood the definition, meaning, and the function of Cowper gland. To conclude, this is an accessory gland that indirectly aids in semen ejaculation by neutralizing the acidic environment of the urethral lumen. This pair of small glands are very important for the functioning of the penis and ejaculation of semen. As the male ages, this gland reduces in size and loses its functioning capability. The Cowper's gland secretion helps the male reproductive system to function properly and thus called an accessory gland of the male reproductive system.
1. Why is the Bulbourethral Gland called Cowper’s Gland?
Ans: The bulbourethral gland is also called Cowper’s gland as it was discovered and studied by William Cowper, a famous anatomist. He studied this gland and found the basic function in the male reproductive system. It was his findings that prepared the foundation of this gland. This is why it was named after him.
2. What is the Prime Purpose of Cowper’s Gland?
Ans: The bulbourethral gland or the Cowper’s gland is an accessory endocrine gland of the male reproductive system. It does not particulate directly in the reproductive functioning of sperm production, ejaculation, and fertilization but the bulbourethral fluid helps in neutralizing the lumen of the acidic urethra. Sperms cells are unable to exist in an acidic environment. It also lubricates the internal lumen for easy flow of semen during ejaculation.
3. Why is the Amount of Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid Less?
Ans: As per the bulbourethral gland definition, the pre-ejaculatory fluid is produced to neutralize the acidic environment and to lubricate the lumen of the urethra. This is why only 4 ml of this fluid is enough to do the work. In fact, the size of the gland is 1 cm only which is enough for the production of this amount of fluid.