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Is the Egg more Powerful than the Sperm?

By Jacob Devaney on Tuesday May 17th, 2016

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Understanding the Miracle of Conception

For us humans, there is nothing quite as exciting as the miracle of conception, along with the complex biological processes and cultural practices that lead to the creation of a new life. The relationship between culture and biology yields endless insight for anyone who takes the time to explore and ponder. In a world ruled by force, and power, with a history of war, it is no wonder that our notion of conception would reflect the notion of the sperm penetrating the egg as if invading a foreign land. That’s why recent discoveries about the moment of conception that reflect more on feminine receptivity, cooperation, and choice, as opposed to conquest, may provide a beautiful perspective into how we may want to reshape our culture to reflect our inner biology.

As social beings, most of us spend a chunk of time animated by love, passion, and attraction. Bards would sing a song, or write a poem, bring flowers, duel and more to win the favor of a beautiful maiden. There are biological mechanisms that shape this behaviour that is central to much of our art and cultural treasures. Indeed it is a sacred, mysterious, cultural, and biological, cocktail of endless creative possibilities.

Bards would sing, write a poem, bring flowers, or duel to win the favor of a beautiful maiden.Bards would sing, write a poem, bring flowers, or duel to win the favor of a beautiful maiden.

It Starts with a Kiss

Our nose and mouth are covered with an oily substance called sebum. Research shows that sebum contains pheromones, which are the chemicals that broadcast information about a person’s biological makeup. The exchange of pheromones during a kiss, causes individuals to become more or less sexually attracted to each other, depending on what their biological systems detect. Apparently people prefer the pheromones of individuals who have a different type of immune system than their own. Evolutionary biologists believe that this genetic difference is good for the immune system of offspring.

Today, the most widely accepted theory of kissing is that humans do it because it helps us sniff out a quality mate. When our faces are close together, our pheromones “talk” — exchanging biological information about whether or not two people will make strong offspring.  – Livescience

The exchange of pheromones during a kiss, causes individuals to become more or less sexually attracted to each otherDuring a kiss individuals become more or less sexually attracted to each other.

Conscious Beings are Still Ruled by Biology

The neurobiology of love and relationships shows us that we can become addicts to our own neurotransmitters, yet our neo-cortex allows us to direct our conscious intention. It is this beautiful balance between unconscious drive and conscious intention that makes us humans so interesting (at least to ourselves). This is where cultural practices like sacred sexuality and tantra have become the refined expression of humanity living in harmony with our biological nature.

Sometimes the mind wants what the body doesn’t want, and vice-versa. Sometimes the mind changes with the ebb and flow of hormones. No wonder we humans have developed such elaborate cultural traditions and myths to help us navigate this most primal drama. It can be a struggle, a conquest or even a harmonious dance, depending on how you most enjoy relating to it, but if it is filled with mutual respect it will always yield positive results.

If an egg is broken by outside force, life ends. If broken by inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from inside.  -Jim Kwik

cultural practices like sacred sexuality, and tantra have become the refined expression of humanity living in harmony with our biological nature.Cultural practices express how we live in harmony with our biological nature.

The All-Powerful Egg

Everyone has heard the tired myth of the army of warrior sperm invading the uterus to save the damsel-in-distress (the dying egg), fighting each other along the way to dominate, with the winner penetrating the egg and creating life. The metaphor makes for great fairytales and Monty Python movies, but it is actually not very accurate biologically-speaking. The sperm are actually weak swimmers, and the stronger ones help the weaker ones through the uterine mucous, similar to the way that migrating birds or a team of bicyclists take turns leading the way. As the sperm arrive at the egg, it is the egg that chooses the sperm and pulls it towards her.

Her (Emily Martin’s) efforts to spotlight the male- skewed imagery that permeates our views of reproduction have placed her at the centre of a growing debate about how cultural myths can turn into scientific myths, and vice versa. -Discovery Magazine

 it is the egg that chooses the sperm and pulls it towards her. It is the egg that chooses the sperm and pulls it towards her.

To bust the common myth even more, the selected sperm actually tries to swim away from the egg but is tethered to the egg by female hormones. The membrane around the egg literally opens up and swallows the sperm. Though the fierce battle metaphor always has a winner dominate, it appears that this process is more about cooperation towards a shared desire to create life. It is now widely known and accepted that the womb and birth experience leave emotional imprints for the life of a being, indeed we each have our very own creation story!

Prior to fertilization, a cloud of cumulus cells surrounding the egg release progesterone, the female sex hormone, triggering a calcium influx into the sperm. This flood of calcium causes the sperm to beat their flagella rapidly, an action necessary to penetrate though the egg’s protective jelly-like protein coating. Progesterone has also been implicated in providing a chemical gradient by which sperm can navigate toward the egg. -The Scientist

The process is more about cooperation towards a shared desire to create life.The process is more about cooperation towards a shared desire to create life.

To Conquer or Cooperate?

Manipulating and controlling outcomes is something that humans do quite well. Each gender has it’s own style, strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the lure of romance leading to procreation. How does the myth versus the biological reality shape the way we engage in this dance? The knight in shining armor and damsel in distress myth has been adopted in social dynamics well beyond the movies or fairytales. The world is ruled by stories… How does the world change when our stories for describing it change?

Emily Martin, a Ph.D in Cultural Anthropology, has spent much time exploring this concept and the way it influences scientific inquiry, as well as social beliefs about human biology, our bodies, and the world around us. In her book, The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproductionshe studied the dialectic between medical metaphors for women’s reproductive processes and women’s own views of those processes. Scott Gilbert, a developmental biologist at Swarthmore College “prefers to think of the egg as engaging in a dialog with the sperm rather than gluing it down.”

“Think of the egg as engaging in a dialog with the sperm rather than gluing it down.”

If you don’t have an interpretation of fertilization that allows you to look at the egg as active, you won’t look for the molecules that can prove it. You simply won’t find activities that you don’t visualize.  -Scott Gilbert

We all look to science, yet scientists are also influenced by our cultural myths and attitudes. Humans are being invited to cooperate in unprecedented ways as we address global climate issues. The notion of conquest no longer serves us as a way of relating across genders or in the way we engage with our environment. Biological observation, just like spiritual mindfulness and presence, can show us new ways to shape our lives, culture, and world. It is a subtle and beautiful dance that requires equal parts listening, observing, and action. We are all recipients of this gift called life, how will you give that gift back to the world around you?

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

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Jacob Devaney

Founder and director of Culture Collective, creative activist, musician, and producer.

 

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8 Responses to Is the Egg more Powerful than the Sperm?

  1. I like where this post ends up and like not as much the journey the little wiggly words take to get there. I continue to think that is of value to consider that the Universe can not be broken down into parts, eg, eggs and sperm, organic and inorganic, scientific and spiritual, you and Universe. We play with the ever changing, infinite eternal form of the Universe by playing with some of its infinite properties. To play we must pretend that there are parts that we can put words to, or numbers to, or other symbols to. We pretend that notes can be assigned to parts of sound and we make music. We pretend that numbers can be put to particles and processes and make elegant equations that predict the future and we call that science. We sit by the communal fire or on solitary mountaintop and tell or conceive stories and parables that point to the sacred. If we believe that all are myth and none are REAL, we are united. When we assert that one myth got it wrong and here is the REAL deal, we fall apart. As I write this I believe that I am playing with form. I make no assertion that the Universe cannot be broken into parts and processes is what is REAL and other stories are but myths. I am aware that I am using words as I go along here. I realize that I am engaging in competitive play. I feel that am aware of some of my competitors moves. The most common move is to evoke holy science as the prime arbiter of things. Science suggests little parts, eg, egg and sperm, exhibit actions just like big parts, eg, social interactions between men and women. Another favorite is, scientists independently reach the same conclusions as spiritual traditions, so there you go. When we consider how science story telling takes the form of arbitrarily definitions “predicting” arbitrarily defined phenomena in the terms of probability functions, we come to be more aware of the cause and effect myth. This commentator was never a sperm or an egg, was never waiting for the two waiting to get together. This commentator was never born and never had a moment of becoming self aware. This commentator will never die, because he never lived. This commentator is just a property of the constant flow. This is what is REAL, don’t you know. Just playing.

    • David …i like your thoughts – indeed the breadth and depth of the Universe is the only way to describe the moment in which life is created….

  2. I can relate to this article, and find it very interesting and put in a practical way that is understandable. for those who are spiritual and those who aren’t, really enjoyed it.
    Myself and 3 daughters have all notced the difference in our energies as women in the last year especialy, feeling a new strength and power in our lives, not just in our bilology and spirituality, but in our intellect also, this gives us a great deal more confidence, in being able to create for ourselves, and is a pleasure to be alive at this time.

  3. As I finished reading, my mind wandered to an ovum descending down a curved fallopian tube, and a young woman descending down a curved staircase to meet her date in the foyer on prom night.
    She chose him. He may have asked her, but in my experience, she made it safe for him to do so. She had already chosen him, often, before he asked. A man once said to me, after our first time together, “You knew. The woman always knows.” I wonder about that.
    I know a man, who was his school’s football star. Four girls chose him. He had 4 prom dates, at 4 different schools, in 4 days. 20 years later, I chose him, too. Not sure why. Must be that kiss thing. Yeah, that’s gotta be it. Because my brain knew better, but I chose him anyway.
    These things fascinate me. How we come together, how we drift apart, like bubbly foam at the ocean’s edge. I am reminded that I need to stay in the hub of the wheel, where extremes of happiness and sadness cannot as easily reach me, especially during this ebb of separation from the one I chose. Everything changes. I must place my faith that as he moves away from me, someone I have yet to choose is moving closer. All is well.

  4. The process described (or hypothesized) continues an intelligent path of analysis …but remains scientific and linear. The miracle of conception occurring in Sacred cirumstsnces is one oc the great treasures we are invited to explore and cherish …realigns the dimensionality that once more begins to define our Divinity. I say ‘begins’ …because ee have well lost it. We have been particularly unkind to the family that conceived us for so long now …that deep grief is about all we can bring to witness.

    Yes this is another perspective …indeed it is an attempt to redefine the process by which we live …so yhat we may cause to survive all that is within our respect for divinity …while allowing the entropy that anything less we have expressed in this estranged journey we took …will finally resolve.

    Karma is asolute and inevitable!

    As to what i must do …to live with what i know …i invite you to review the work i am doing at http://www.east-of-eden.org – perhaps it will be meaningful for hou too. I don’t know many others who know the way out of the monumental crisis we are in…

  5. I see little to support your hypothesis. What is disturbing is why you seem so desperate to make the single celled egg with no moving external parts dominant in the process choosing the sperm and bringing it to the egg as it struggle to get away. Much more plausible to say with 10 sperm banging on the outside the egg relents and lets one in. Then you would have a hypothesis that could be tested easily and debunked.

    • Obviously, the sperm wasn’t always struggling to get away from the egg. Quite the opposite, They were madly swimming and struggling to get TO the egg. Last minute cold feet once it was selected by the egg does not negate the sperm’s purpose. With some encouragement to complete the selected sperm’s goal, life is the glorious result.

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