What is the Female Reproductive System?
The reproductive system of women is situated in the pelvis and consists of a series of organs that work together to make menstruation, conception, pregnancy and birth possible.
The female reproductive system consists of internal and external structures. The internal reproductive organs include the vagina, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. The external reproductive organs include the labia majora, labia minora, Bartholin’s glands and clitoris.
Internal reproductive organs:
- The vagina is a muscular tube-like structure that is approximately 3 to 5 inches long and connects with the uterus at the cervix. It serves as the point of entry for the penis during sexual intercourse, acts as the pathway through which a baby during childbirth and is also the passageway for menstrual blood to leave the body during the menstrual cycle. The walls of the vagina are lined with mucous membranes which keep it moist and protected. These walls also have the ability to expand and contract which allows the baby to be pushed out during labor
- The uterus is a hollow, upside down pear-shaped organ with thick muscular walls. It is about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. It is often referred to as the womb and is where the baby grows and develops inside the mother. The uterus expands and grows with the fetus during pregnancy while women who are not pregnant will shed their endometrium lining once a month if an egg has not been fertilized.
- The ovaries are two small, oval-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus. Each ovary is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches in size in an adult woman. Ovaries produce, store and release eggs into the fallopian tubes during ovulation. They also produce female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone which are essential for reproduction.
- The fallopian tubes are two narrow-shaped tubes that are attached to the upper part of the uterus. They are often referred to as the uterine tube or oviducts. These tubes are approximately 4 inches long and open up very close to the ovaries. They play a very important role in conception, and fertilization of an egg by sperm. The fallopian tubes act as passageways for the egg cells or ova to be transported from the ovaries to the uterus.
- The external part of the female reproductive organs is collectively known as the vulva and is situated between the legs and in front of the anus. It consists of the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris and the glands of Bartholin. It covers the opening to the vagina and other reproductive organs.
- The labia majora or "large lips" are two fleshy folds of skin that surround and protect the other external reproductive organs. They contain sebaceous glands, the outer sides are covered with pigmented skin and after puberty, course hair develops.
- The labia minora or "small lips" are two smaller folds of skin located inside the labia majora and surround the vagina. The skin contains sebaceous and oil glands, and is smooth, pink and moist.
- The two Bartholin’s glands are located on each side of the vaginal opening and secrete a mucous. Each gland is approximately 0.4 inches in diameter but slowly start to decrease in size when you reach your thirties.
- The clitoris is located above the entrance of the vagina and consists of erectile tissue, muscles, ligaments, glands, nerves and blood vessels. Its primary function is to bring pleasure to a woman and create orgasms.
The functions of the female reproductive system include:
- Produce female egg cells (ova)
- Enable sexual intercourse
- Provide a suitable environment for fertilization of the egg and sperm
- Protect and nourish the baby during the period of gestation
- Enable childbirth