What is the female reproductive system?
The female reproductive system includes the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Unlike the male, this system of women is located entirely in the pelvis. The external part of the female reproductive organs is called the vulva, which means covering. Located between the legs, the vulva covers the opening to the vagina and other reproductive organs located inside the body.
The fleshy area located above the top of the vaginal opening is called the mons pubis. Two pairs of skin flaps called the labia surround the vaginal opening. The clitoris, a small sensory organ, is located toward the front of the vulva where the folds of the labia join. Between the labia are openings to the urethra and vagina. Once girls become sexually mature, the outer labia and the mons pubis are covered by pubic hair.
The vagina is a muscular, hollow tube that extends from the vaginal opening to the uterus. The vagina is about 8 to 12 centimeters long in a grown woman. Because it has muscular walls, it can expand and contract. This ability to become wider or narrower allows the vagina to accommodate something as slim as a tampon and as wide as a baby. The vagina’s muscular walls are lined with mucous membranes, which keep it protected and moist. The vagina has several functions such as sexual intercourse, the pathway that a baby takes out of a woman’s body during childbirth, and the route for the menstrual blood to leave the body from the uterus.
A thin sheet of tissue with one or more holes, called the hymen partially covers the opening of the vagina. Hymens are often different from person to person. Most women find their hymens have stretched or torn after their first sexual experience, and the hymen may bleed a little. Some women who have had sex , do not have much of a change in their hymens.
The vagina connects with the uterus, or womb, at the cervix. The cervix has strong, thick walls. The opening of the cervix is very small, which is why a tampon can never get lost inside a girl’s body. During childbirth, the cervix can expand to allow a baby to pass.
The uterus is shaped like an upside-down pear, with a thick lining and muscular walls. In fact, the uterus contains some of the strongest muscles in the female body. These muscles are able to expand and contract to accommodate a growing fetus and then help push the baby out during labor. When a woman is not pregnant, the uterus is only about 7.5 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide.
At the upper corners of the uterus, the fallopian tubes connect the uterus to the ovaries. The ovaries are two oval-shaped organs that lie to the upper right and left of the uterus. They have a mission to produce, store, and release eggs into the fallopian tubes in the process called ovulation. Each ovary measures about 4 to 5 centimeters in a grown woman.
There are two fallopian tubes, each attached to a side of the uterus. The fallopian tubes are about 10 centimeters long and about as wide as a piece of spaghetti. Within each tube is a tiny passageway no wider than a sewing needle. At the other end of each fallopian tube is a fringed area that looks like a funnel. This fringed area wraps around the ovary but does not completely attach to it. When an egg pops out of an ovary, it enters the fallopian tube. Once the egg is in the fallopian tube, tiny hairs in the tube’s lining help push it down the narrow passageway toward the uterus.
The ovaries are also part of the endocrine system because they produce female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
What does female reproductive system do?
The female reproductive system enables a woman to:
- Produce eggs (ova);
- Have sexual intercourse;
- Protect and nourish the fertilized egg until it is fully developed;
- Give birth.
Sexual reproduction could not happen without the sexual organs called the gonads. Although most people think of the gonads as the male testicles, both sexes actually have gonads. But for females, the gonads are the ovaries. The female gonads produce female gametes (eggs), the male gonads produce male gametes (sperm). After an egg is fertilized by the sperm, the fertilized egg is called the zygote.
What is menstruation cycle?
The menstrual cycle happens when girls begin to release eggs as part of a monthly period. In ovulation, an ovary sends a tiny egg into one of the fallopian tubes. Unless the egg is fertilized by a sperm, the egg dries up and leaves the body about 2 weeks later through the uterus. This process is called menstruation. Blood and tissues from the inner lining of the uterus combine to form the menstrual flow, which in most girls lasts from 3 to 5 days.
Before this period, girl and women usually have both physical and emotional symptoms, called premenstrual syndromes (PMS) such as acne, bloating, fatigue, backaches, sore breasts, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, food cravings, depression, irritability, or difficulty concentrating or handling stress.
What are fertilization and pregnancy?
If a female and male have sexual intercourse within several days of the female’s ovulation, fertilization can occur. When the male ejaculates, between 1.5 to 6.0 milliliters of semen is deposited into the vagina. Between 75 and 900 million sperm are in this small amount of semen, and they “swim” up from the vagina through the cervix and uterus to meet the egg in the fallopian tube.
About a week after the sperm fertilizes the egg, the fertilized egg has become a multi-celled blastocyst. A blastocyst is about the size of a pinhead, and it is a hollow ball of cells with fluid inside. The blastocyst burrows itself into the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The hormone estrogen causes the endometrium to become thick and rich with blood. Progesterone, another hormone released by the ovaries, keeps the endometrium thick with blood so that the blastocyst can attach to the uterus and absorb nutrients from it. This process is called implantation.
When cells from the blastocyst take in nourishment, the embryonic stage begins. The inner cells form a flattened circular shape called the embryonic disk, which will develop into a baby. The outer cells become thin membranes that form around the baby. The cells multiply thousands of times and move to new positions to become the embryo. After approximately 8 weeks, the embryo is about the size of an adult’s thumb, but almost all of its parts such as the brain and nerves, the heart and blood, the stomach and intestines, and the muscles and skin, have formed.
During the fetal stage, which lasts from 9 weeks after fertilization to birth, development continues as cells multiply, move, and change. The fetus floats in amniotic fluid inside the amniotic sac. The fetus receives oxygen and nourishment from the mother’s blood via the placenta, a disk-like structure that sticks to the inner lining of the uterus and connects to the fetus via the umbilical cord. The amniotic fluid and membrane cushion the fetus against bumps and jolts to the mother’s body.
Pregnancy lasts an average of 9 months. When the baby is ready for birth, its head presses on the cervix, which begins to relax and widens to get ready for the baby to pass into and through the vagina. The mucus that has formed a plug in the cervix loosens, and with amniotic fluid, comes out through the vagina when the mother’s water breaks.
When the contractions of labor begin, the walls of the uterus contract as they are stimulated by the pituitary hormone oxytocin. The contractions cause the cervix to widen and begin to open. After several hours of this widening, the cervix is opened enough for the baby to come through. The baby is pushed out of the uterus, through the cervix, and along the birth canal. The baby’s head usually comes first, the umbilical cord comes out with the baby and is cut after the baby is delivered.
The last stage of the birth process involves the delivery of the placenta, which is now called the afterbirth. After it has separated from the inner lining of the uterus, contractions of the uterus push it out, along with its membranes and fluids.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Female reproductive system. http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual_health/girls/female_repro.html#. Accessed August 26, 2016
Your guide to the female reproductive system. http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/guide/your-guide-female-reproductive-system. Accessed August 26, 2016