Female Anatomy and Physiology

femaleExternal Parts and Functions

  • Vulva:  External genital organs of the female, including the labia majora and minora, clitoris and vaginal opening
  • Labia majora and labia minora:  Outer and inner folds of skin and fatty tissue on either side of the vaginal opening which provide protection to the clitoris and the urethral and vaginal openings; sometimes referred to as vaginal lips
  • Clitoris: A highly sensitive structure located above the urethral opening at the point where the inner labia meet; only function is for sexual stimulation
  • Urethral Opening:  A small opening above the vaginal opening for the passage of urine (not a part of the reproductive system)
  • Vaginal Opening:  Located between the urethral opening and the anus; usually covered by a thin membrane (hymen) prior to first experience of intercourse; outlet for menstrual flow
  • Anus: The opening for the expulsion of feces from the body (not a part of the reproductive system)

Internal Parts and Functions

  • Pelvis:  The basin-shaped bone structure that provides support and protection to the internal reproductive organs
  • Bladder:  A sac-like structure in the pelvic region; responsible for storing urine (not a part of the reproductive system)
  • Urethra:  A tube through which urine passes from the bladder to outside the body (not a part of the reproductive system)
  • Vagina:   Passageway for the menstrual flow from the uterus to outside the body; the primary place where intercourse occurs; canal through which a baby passes from the uterus to outside the body during delivery; capable of expanding during intercourse and childbirth; becomes lubricated during sexual arousal; girls often experience vaginal lubrication and, at times, orgasm during sleep
  • Cervix:  The opening into the uterus; protrudes into the uppermost part of the vagina; produces mucus that assists sperm in reaching the egg at the time of ovulation; especially susceptible to STD infection while not yet mature during the teen years
  • Uterus:  A pear-shaped muscular organ located in the pelvic region; beginning at puberty, the lining is shed periodically (usually monthly) during menstruation; the fetus develops in the uterus during pregnancy
  • Fallopian tubes:  Passageways for the egg from the ovary to the uterus; primary place where fertilization (conception) occurs
  • Ovaries:  Almond-shaped structures in the female pelvic region; contain 300,000 to 500,000 egg cells at birth; produce the two female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone; begin releasing eggs, one each month, at puberty.
  • Ovum or egg:  Female sex cell; about the size of a pinhead; if not fertilized, dissolves and is absorbed into the bloodstream; usually one egg is released monthly; if more than one is released, twin or multiple births may result

Menstruation (Period)

Function:  Monthly shedding of the uterine lining formed in preparation for a fertilized egg

Age of onset and termination:  Onset varies from age 9-17; termination occurs at menopause, about 45-55 years of age

Length of cycle:  Varies, average being 28 days; length of cycle may be irregular in young girls

Duration of flow:  Varies, average being 2-7 days; amount of flow also varies; some females experience cramps caused by uterine contractions

Reproductive Process

Ovulation:  Approximately every 28 days, an ovary releases a mature egg, which then becomes available for fertilization; occurs about 14 days before the next menstrual period begins, but the menstrual cycle is often irregular in young women; a girl’s first ovulation may or may not coincide with her first period; a girl may begin to ovulate before, at the time, or sometime after she first menstruates

Fertilization: The union of an egg with a sperm cell (usually in the fallopian tube); sperm are capable of fertilizing an egg up to 3-7 days following intercourse

Click here for an interactive diagram of the female reproductive system