Overview of the Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive system, also known as the female genital system, is made up of external and internal sex organs.  These sex organs and their complex functions work together to provide the female body sexual pleasure and reproductive abilities.  This article offers an overview of the female sex organs and their functions beginning with external anatomy before moving on to internal anatomical structures.

1. Vulva

The vulva refers to a female’s external genitalia. The vulva consists of the following structures: a. Mons Veneris, b. Vestibule, c. Pubic Hair, d. Labia Majora, e. Labia Minora, f. Vaginal Opening, g. Hymen, h. Clitoral Glans, i. Clitoral Hood, and the j. Urethral Opening. (Items f through j will also be discussed in other sections of this article.) 11

A. Mons Veneris -- The mons veneris, also called the mons or mons pubis,is the fatty layer of skin that covers the pubic bone. During puberty, the mons becomes covered with hair.11

B. Vestibule -- The vestibule is a surface area inside the labia that is smooth. The vaginal opening and urethral opening lie on the vestibule.18

C. Pubic Hair -- Pubic hair grows on the mons during puberty in females. The coarse hairs that grow on the mons and between the labia majora and minora protects the vagina from bacteria and unnecessary pathogens. It also serves as a layer of cushion that protects the pubic bone and mons from friction and injury.19

D. Labia Majora -- The two outer folds of fatty skin that lay on the exterior of the vulva are called the labia majora. The labia majora serve as padding and a physical barrier to protect the more sensitive parts of the inner vulva. During puberty, these skin folds develop pubic hair on them in order to further protect the vulva.  During sexual arousal, the labia majora swell and become darker through a process called vasocongestion.12

E. Labia Minora -- The labia minora are small folds of skin located between the labia majora. These hairless flaps of tissue serve to protect the vaginal opening. They are erotically sensitive because they contain more nerve endings than most skin tissue. The labia minora have blood vessels throughout the tissue that allow blood flow to increase during arousal. The tissue darkens and increases in size during arousal due to vasocongestion and can be stimulated for sexual pleasure. Depending on the female, the labia minora can be many different shapes, sizes, and colors.13

F. Vaginal Opening -- The opening of the vagina is also known as the “introitus.” The vaginal opening is the entrance of the vagina into the vaginal canal.1 The vaginal opening is located between the labia minora. The opening is usually in a closed state, which means that it will only open when penetrated.

G. Hymen -- The hymen is a thin flap of mucosal tissue that covers, or partially covers, the vaginal opening. Each hymen is different and comes in various forms: some are perforated, some are fully intact, and some are entirely stretched open. The hymen can stretch due to a range of activities that are nonsexual (such as inserting tampons, horseback riding, or extraneous exercise) and sexual (such as penetrative intercourse, inserting sex toys, or inserting fingers).2

H. Clitoral Glans -- The clitoral glans is the visible portion of the clitoris. It is located near the top of the vulva. It is partially covered by the clitoral hood, which can retract and expose more of the clitoris during arousal. The clitoral glans is the most sensitive part of the clitoris and can be sexually pleasurable when stimulated. It contains as many nerve endings as the glans of the penis. When aroused, the clitoral glans stiffens and becomes red due to increased blood flow into the erectile tissue that makes up the clitoris.15

I. Clitoral Hood -- The clitoral hood is a small flap of tissue created by the connection between the two the labia minora that covers a portion of the clitoris. Like the foreskin of a penis, it protects the glans and retracts during arousal. 15

J. Urethral Opening -- The urethra is located between the clitoris and the vaginal opening. The urethral opening allows urine to exit from the body. Females and males both have urethral openings. In females, the urethra’s main purpose is urination; however, some females experience a phenomenon known as “squirting” during or before orgasm in which some fluid is released through the urethral opening.16

These are the structures that make up the Vulva.

 

2. Clitoral Structures

The clitoral structures refer to all of the organs that make up the clitoris. The clitoris is made up of the: a. Clitoral Glans, b. Clitoral Hood, c. Clitoral Shaft, d. Corpus Cavernosa, e. Crura.

A. Clitoral Glans -- Refer to part 1 h.

B. Clitoral Hood -- Refer to part 1 i.

C. Clitoral Shaft -- The clitoral shaft is a small one-inch organ that is attached to the glans and is located under the clitoral hood. It is less sensitive than the glans, but still extremely sensitive. This structure is the female’s equivalent to the shaft of the penis.15

D. Corpus Cavernosa -- The corpus cavernosa are a pair of sponge-like tissues. This sponge-like flesh fills up with blood during the clitoral erection. The corpus cavernosum is the female equivalent to the corpus spongiosum in males.20

E. Crura -- The crus are the internal organs of the clitoris, located near the vestibular bulbs. They contain two corpus cavernosa, which are made up of erectile tissue. During sexual arousal, the crus fill up with blood and become firm. Both crus extend back toward the pubis on either side of the clitoral glans and wrap around a portion of the urethral opening. 16

These are the structures that make up the Clitoris.

 

3. Vagina and Related Structures

The Vagina extends from the vulva to the cervix. The vagina includes the following structures: A. the Vaginal Opening, B. the Hymen, C. the Vagina, D. the Vestibular bulbs, E. the G-spot, F. the Paraurethral gland, and G. the Bartholin’s gland.

A. Vaginal Opening -- Discussed in part 1-f.

B. Hymen -- Discussed in part 1-g.

C. Vagina -- The vagina is a muscular canal that ranges from around 3 to 4 inches deep when not aroused, and from 5 to 7 inches deep when aroused. During sexual arousal, blood flows to the vagina and the vagina expands to allow for insertion.3

D. Vestibular Bulbs -- Vestibular bulbs are located underneath the labia minora on the interior of the vagina. During sexual arousal, the bulbs become engorged with blood and as a result, the vagina lengthens and the vulva expands outward.16

E. G-spot (Gräfenberg spot) -- The G-spot, or Gräfenberg spot is usually located about two inches into the vagina. When the G-spot is properly stimulated, it can be sexually pleasurable and may even lead to ejaculation in some females. There are many disagreements regarding the existence of the G-spot because many females are unable to experience orgasms through penetrative sex alone.15

F. Paraurethral Gland (Skene’s Gland) -- The paraurethral glands, or the Skene’s glands, are located on the vaginal walls next to the urethra. The paraurethral glands may also be a part of the G-spot. The paraurethral glands also include the clitoris and swell up with blood during sexual arousal. Female ejaculation may occur in the paraurethral glands. The paraurethral glands are incredibly sensitive and, when stimulated properly, can produce an orgasm in some females. 16

G. Bartholin’s Glands -- The Bartholin’s glands are located to the right and left of the vaginal opening. The purpose of these glands is to secrete mucus onto the vulva and into the vagina in order to lubricate the vagina when sexually aroused. 15

These are the structures that make up the Vagina and related structures.

 

4. Uterus and Related Structures

The uterus is the portion of the female anatomy where fertilization occurs. The following structures make up the reproductive part of the female anatomy: a. Uterus, b. Os, c. Cervix, d. Endometrium, e. Myometrium, f. Perimetrium, g. Fallopian Tubes, h. Fimbriae, i. Ovary, j. Eggs, and k. Corpus Luteum.

A. Uterus -- The uterus is a pear-shaped organ located between the bladder and the rectum. The lower region of the uterus is the cervix. A fertilized egg normally implants on the uterine wall. The inner lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. The endometrium nourishes the fertilized egg and provides a suitable environment for it to develop into a fetus. During sexual arousal, the uterus lifts or rises to create more space. After either orgasm is reached or stimulation ends, the uterus lowers and returns to its original position.6

B. Os -- The cervical os is a small hole at the top of the cervix. The os is the opening of the cervix that leads into the vagina.5

C. Cervix -- The cervix is a small round structure at the end of the uterus that protrudes downward into the vagina. It serves as a boundary between the vagina and the endometrium. During childbirth, the cervix dilates (10 centimeters) to allow the baby to pass from the uterus and into the vagina, where the baby will exit the mother’s body.4

D. Endometrium -- The endometrium is a single-layered mucosa of the uterine body. It is the innermost layer of the uterus. It contains three different types of cells: secretory cells (glycogen), cells with cilia, and basal cells. During each menstruation cycle, the top layer of the endometrium, which is rich in blood vessels, sheds itself. The endometrium is vital to the menstruation cycle; it alters the uterine glands by shedding its top layer in order to prepare for implantation. Additionally, in the endometrium, the blastocyst normally implants and the placenta develops. 18

E. Myometrium -- The myometrium is the middle wall that lines the uterus. It is located between the endometrium and the perimetrium. The myometrium is made of uterine smooth muscle cells along with stromal and vascular tissue, and it makes up most of the volume of the uterus. During pregnancy, the myometrium expands in order to make room for and support the fetus. The myometrium’s main purpose is to induce uterine contractions during labor. After the baby is delivered, the myometrium continues contracting in order to push the placenta out (otherwise known as the afterbirth). The contractions also compress the blood vessels, which helps to minimize blood loss after labor. 10

F. Perimetrium -- The perimetrium is the outermost layer of the uterine wall. The purpose of the perimetrium is to secrete fluid along the outside of the uterus in order to protect the uterus from other organs that may bump into or rub against it. 21

G. Fallopian Tubes -- Females have two fallopian tubes in their reproductive systems. The fallopian tube, or uterine tube, carries the egg from the ovary to the uterus. After ovulation occurs during the menstruation cycle, ova are carried to the uterus by way of the fallopian tubes.6 The fertilized egg may occasionally implant in the fallopian tube, causing an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are extremely dangerous and require immediate medical assistance. One in every 50 pregnancies will result in an ectopic pregnancy. Individuals with a history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are at a higher risk of experiencing ectopic pregnancies.7

H. Fimbriae -- Fimbriae tubae are small hair-like extensions that are attached to the end of fallopian tubes. The fimbriae, which are connected to the ovaries, help transport eggs from the ovaries to the uterus. 8

I. Ovary -- The ovaries are almond-sized organs located in a female’s pelvis. The ovaries produce eggs. During the menstruation cycle, an egg is released from the ovary and sent through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The ovaries are the primary source of female hormones, which allow females to produce key characteristics like body shape, breasts, and body hair. 9

J. Egg (Ovum) -- The egg, or ovum, is the female reproductive cell that develops into a fetus during reproduction. The egg caries a set of the female’s genetic information. During ovulation, an ovary releases an egg. The egg then travels into the fallopian tubes. A sperm cell can fertilize the egg in the outer third of these tubes. If fertilized, the egg moves down the fallopian tubes and implants on the wall of the uterus. The implanted fertilized egg will develop further into an embryo and then a fetus during pregnancy10

K. Corpus Luteum -- The corpus luteum is a gland in the part of the ovary where the egg sits. When an egg becomes fertilized, the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone, which helps the uterine lining grow and helps house the growing egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum disappears and allows for menstruation to occur. A new corpus luteum appears during the next menstrual cycle.10

These are the structures that make up the Uterus.

 

5. Structural Organs

The structural organs hold the entire reproductive system in place. These structures include the: a. Pubic Bone and b. PC Muscle.

a. Pubic Bone -- The left and right hip bone connect to the pubic bone, which is part of the pelvis. The pubic bone is covered in a layer of fat and skin; after puberty, pubic hair forms on this layer. The pubic bone serves as protection for the reproductive organs. The pubic bone’s hard shell protects any internal organs while also playing an instrumental role in ensuring that the structure and placement of all internal reproductive organs stay in place. During pregnancy, the pubic bone becomes more flexible to allow the fetus to turn over and fit its head in the lower abdomen. 12

b. PC Muscle -- The PC muscle, or pubococcygeus muscle, is the muscle of the pelvic floor that spans from the pubic bone to the tailbone. In females, it surrounds the vagina. It is possible to exercise these muscles by doing Kegel exercises in order to maintain a strong PC muscle which increases sexual stimulation.17  

The structures help maintain the structure of the female reproductive system.

 

6. Related Non-Reproductive Structures

The following structures are located in the female anatomy, but do not have reproductive purposes. The Non-reproductive structures include: a. Urinary structures, b. Perineum, c. Anus, d. Anal Sphincter, and e. Rectum.

A. Urinary structures

i. Bladder -- The urinary bladder is located just under the pubic bone. It connects to the urethral sphincter muscles, which open up when urine needs to pass through the urethra and exit the body. After urine is made in the kidneys, it travels down tubes called ureters and makes its way into the bladder. The bladder, which is lined by muscles that can expand and contract, holds urine until urination occurs. When the bladder is empty, it is approximately the same size as a pear.16

ii. Urethra -- The urethra is located between the clitoris and the vaginal opening. The main purpose of the urethra is to allow urine to pass from the bladder out of the body. The urethra is located near the clitoris and the vaginal opening.16

iii. Urethral opening -- The urethral opening allows urine to exit from the body. Both females and males have urethral openings. In females, the urethra’s main purpose is urination; however, some females experience a phenomenon known as “squirting” during or before orgasm in which some fluid is released through the urethral opening.16

B. Perineum -- In females, the perineum is the area between the vaginal opening and the anus. This area is hairless and can be sexually stimulated. 17

C. Anus -- The anus is located just beneath the perineum. It is an opening which allows feces to exit the body. The anus can be stimulated for sexual pleasure in both males and females. 17

D. Anal sphincter -- The anal sphincter is located around the anus. Its function is to hold the anus in a closed position. The anal sphincter opens which allows for the passage of feces.17

E. Rectum -- The rectum is the large intestine that connects the colon to the anal canal. The rectum serves as a temporary holding place for feces before it exits the body. When the rectal walls expand, the expansion signals to the brain that feces must exit the body. 15

These structures make up the part of the female anatomy that do not partake in the reproductive process.

Concluding Remarks

It is important that one is aware of all parts of the female anatomy so that both males and females have the ability to make knowledgeable choices about their own body. For the sake of one’s health and protection, one should always be aware of how a healthy reproductive system works.

 

References

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  4.  “Pregnancy and Signs of Labor.” WebMD, 28 Nov. 2016.
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  13. "What Is the Function of the Labium Minora?" Reference. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
  14. "Clitoris." InnerBody. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  15. "The Clitoris and Female Orgasm — All Things Vagina." All Things Vagina. N.p., 22 Jan. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  16. "Sign up for Our Newsletter Get Health Tips, Wellness Advice, and More." Healthline : Power of Intelligent Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
  17. “The Perineum.” Teach Me Anatomy. N.p., n.d. Web 27 Feb 2017.
  18. “Vulvar Anatomy.” Improving Women’s Health. N.p., n.d. Web 20 May 2017.
  19. “Doctor: Pubic Hair Exists for a Reason.”Alternet. N.p., n.d. Web 20 May 2017.
  20. “Corpus Cavernosum of Clitoris.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web 20 May 2017.
  21. “Uterus.” InnerBody. N.p., n.d. Web 20 May 2017.

Last Updated: 6 June 2017.