During the seventeenth century a raft of men, primarily in Holland and Italy, gradually uncovered the anatomy of human and animal reproduction – the ovaries, the uterus, the Fallopian tubes and the true structure of the vagina. At a time when all matters sexual were carefully regulated by the church, this was no small achievement. And this puts into context Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of spermatozoa. In his letters from Delft to the Royal Society in London, explaining his experiments, he took care to point out that the semen he examined, his own, ‘was not obtained by sinful contrivance on my part,’ but was ‘the excess which Nature provided me in my conjugal relations.’ What he meant was that, a few moments before making one of the most surprising discoveries in the history of science, as Matthew Cobb tells the story, he had been making love to his wife, Cornelia. As Leeuwenhoek put it in his letter, fewer than ‘six beats of the pulse’ after ejaculation, he took some of his semen, squeezed it into a capillary tube fitted to his microscope and moved to a window.’ As Cobb dryly observes: ‘Cornelia’s opinion is not recorded.’ What men do for science.

My source: My source: Matthew Cobb, The Egg and Sperm Race: Free Press, 2006