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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Dead or alive?

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Author Topic: Dead or alive?
Executive Director & Founder
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This is mostly about me just being a curious bear.

If you think of sperm as "alive" or "dead," why do you think that is?

And if you do, do you think of say, ova (eggs) the same way? What about viruses or bacteria?

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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What an excellent topic!

Scientifically, defining "life" is a huge challenge. Based on most common understandings of life, sperm and ova are not a "life form" of their own, but are cells of human beings. I suppose they could be considered "living" cells, at least while they are still a part of us.

Most biologists agree that for something to be called life, it needs these things:
Organization (being composed of one or more cells)
Response to stimuli

Sperm and ova do fit a couple of those, but they do not reproduce (ie sperm don't reproduce and make new sperm, ova don't make new ova, HUMAN life forms reproduce new humans), grow, adapt, or metabolize. so based on that, I don't feel sperm or ova are "alive".

Viruses and bacteria fit all of the above, and so I do think they are definitely alive.

[ 05-21-2012, 05:18 PM: Message edited by: Kachina ]

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Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, "We've always done it this way." I try to fight that. That's why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise. - Grace Hopper

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Hey Heather!
I want to answer this question from what I think.

Sperm: Sperm in my opinion are alive and dead, why? Well, there alive in the males penis (place) and I believe they die after a certain amount of time inside the penis, not sure on that... But, yes Sperm are alive once it's ejaculated into/onto anything, depending where the sperm is being *shooted* at, if it get on clothes, body, etc, it dies. Then if it is ejaculated into the females reproductive system again, they may live and may die. Some may not make it up there, from deformity or they die from anything really.

I always thought ova was alive, still do, I see it this way, females carry like what a LOT of ovas when we're born and throughout life, so I see them technically living inside of us all the time. They're just chilling in us until our hormones release another egg.

*If I get any information of my knowledge wrong from any of this, let me know*

About bacteria and viruses; Well, to me they're alive. Like think about it, we have good bacteria in our own food we eat that is healthy for us. Then they're is the bad kind that make us sick if we either eat or swallow or even develop inside of us. I feel we always have some sort of bacteria inside of us, good and bad. I think viruses are different. I think if we don't have a viruses then it is dead, when we do it is fully alive. But then again anyone could have a viruses and not even know it, it may be starting inside of us. It's hard to answer that.

Good question Heather! [Razz]

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Well, since sperm and eggs are animal cells, and cells are alive, I generally tend to think of them as alive.

However, being haploid, I don't think they go through cell division/reproduction like other cells in your body do. So maybe they're a little "less" alive than other cells?

However, they ARE cells, and part of organ systems. Since all living things are made up of cells, and no non-living things are, it kind of makes sense to me that that would mean all cells are living things. So overall, my vote is alive.

One way my Awesome bio Prof differentiated is by weather the thing in question can undergo cellular respiration and reproduce on it's own (or with the help of a member of it's own species).

If you use that definition, bacteria are alive. I'm a biology major, and while I'm not very far in, I don't think it's really been debated whether or not bacteria are alive: We've always been taught that they are.

I have always been taught that Viruses are NOT alive though. They don't reproduce themselves. Instead, they invade the host cell, and force the host cell to reproduce them. They also don't go through cellular respiration.

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Saffron Raymie
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I tend to think culture plays a part in this.

Some Sex Ed groups used to hand out sperm keyrings; colourful sperm cells with smiley faces.

'The Simpsons' famously depicted Homer Simpson and Smithers' sperm cells as having their faces, and behaving like the characters.

In Sex Ed books and videos (especially aimed at children), and merchandise, sperm cells (and sometimes eggs) are pictured with smiling faces.

People talk about how they can 'swim', which gives the impression of them being like tadpoles - which are alive! - and about them as 'little guys' and talk about how they 'made it' as the sperm cell meets with an egg.

I thought they'd look like little fish when I was younger! [Smile]

[ 06-18-2012, 06:27 AM: Message edited by: Rei ]

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Fun topic! I can speculate all day about how I view this stuff!

I think of them as alive, but alive with the intelligence of plant-life, rather than tadpoles... which seem to have quite a bit more character!

So I don't think sperm is very alive, so being dead isn't that clear anyway. Just like a plant can seem pretty dead, but it's no major miracle when a dried out plant starts sprouting again when it gets wet. So really for me sperm isn't really THAT living to begin with and when it sort of dries and goes inanimate, it doesn't really warrant a great deal of mourning, it's just a sort of mechanical breakdown rather than death.

Eggs I think of in the same way...

But I guess, also I think of them both as parts of the human who they're in at the time... (maybe the homer's head analogy ain't so bad! as they're sort of representatives of him, rather than individuals with their own feelings/identities!)

So they're also part of something which/someone who, is alive. And importantly, who's conscious and has rights etc.

And my body sustains all sorts of bacteria and viruses, most of which are harmless, some of which might make make me a bit sick and many of whom are actually good for me.

But on their own, they're all pretty simplistic and plantlike, or mechanical in how I think of them... I guess even limbs, or organs (or even bits of my brain)... I could donate a kidney, and it would be alive, but not mine, once it was in another persons body.

So yeah I think I'm ambiguous about whether something can be alive on it's own, or if it's just part of something that's alive as a whole. And about whether if something is no-longer alive whether it's dead, or just inanimate. Which seems more to me about the end of consciousness than the end of 'being alive'. Ambiguous ambiguous ambiguous.

But hey - 'that's life'. (Terrible pun, apologies)

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I think of sperm and ova as being alive, but not "living beings". They're cells, so to me that means they can be alive, as I would think of any other plant or animal cell (but then, I'm not a biologist). To me, they're definitely not life forms/living beings, because I think I'd define that category as "is an organism", which I Think?? is described/defined by the things Kachina listed above.

Cells "dying" is a whole other tricky question. Do cells even die? What do we call the outcome of a cell that no longer exists/is no longer in any way functional? I think the outcome of individual cells is clearly a whole different matter to organism death, and maybe it doesn't make sense to use the same word or concept for it. Does that then make a difference to me thinking of both cells and organisms as "alive", even if I think of organisms as "living beings" too and cells not?

(Thank you all for the very cool thoughts above which kind of triggered my own wonderings!)

And yes to the culture thing. I think people often try to understand things by relating it to human-like things, maybe particularly for things that are harder to grasp or things we can't see/perceive.

... has anyone ever come across anyone referring to their (or someone else's, I suppose) eggs as "girls" or some such thing? (as sperm are sometimes indeed referred to as "little guys", and that would seem to be the equivalent?)

The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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I think that sperm and eggs are alive. Ironically, I tend to think of sperm being more lively, because they move around and look like tadpoles! Eggs just float around our lady parts, sit in our uteruses for a little while, then fall out of our vaginas. Much less animated. But alive non the less!

There is my very un-scientific answer. [Smile]

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Is it just me, or is anyone else thinking Schrodinger's Cat?
I can only answer for bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are living organisms. Viruses are technically not alive, but there's still a lot of debate over this due to some of the ways they behave.

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I'd like to add that in multi-cell organisms every cell (I mean, every cell that doesn't end up killed prematurely) dies a pre-programmed death, so the ideal speed of tissue replacement can be maintained. Generally our cells commit suicide. And that's what makes cancer exceptional: they are cells behaving like they were real organisms instead of members of a multicellular lifeform, reproducing more than they should and refusing to die when they should.

so when cells get individualists instead of the little subordinated building blocs, that can kill the multicell organism they are part of.

Good thing normal cells aren't that alive, then.

(good this felt strange to write, because a lot of dictatorial states have used this as a metaphor for the good of the state being above the life of the individual. But just because something has been used as a manipulative analogy, it doesn't mean that it isn't true in itself. Human beings are valuable and must not be killed for the "greater good"; cells are mindless organisms whose death is normal.)

ps: I think I also read that sperm can be reabsorbed when it doesn't manage to get out of the body? If yes, this might be another helpful hint for imagining them less independent.

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