Female Reproductive Anatomy

Females, unlike males, have a largely hidden reproductive system.  It can be helpful to compare a woman’s anatomic structures to the male anatomy that simply develop differently in women than men although they serve comparable functions.

Let’s start with the structures in females that are visible from the outside.  The outer lips of the vulva (the outside of the vagina is called the vulva) are called the labia majora.  They are the part that protrudes slightly on the sides of the opening of the vagina, and usually have hair on the outside aspects in women after puberty.  They contain some fat and structural tissues and serve to protect the woman’s genitals. The labia majora are the female equivalent of the male scrotum.   Just inside the labia majora are more delicate structures that are called the labia minora.  They are sometimes described as looking like the petals of a flower.  They vary a great deal in size from woman to woman, and may be quite small, or quite large and floppy.  Any of these variations are normal.   The labia minora do not have hair, and are more sensitive to touch than the labia majora in most women.

At the top, or front of the vagina are two important structures.  One is the opening of the urethra, called the urethral meatus, where urine comes out from the bladder.  Just above the urethra is the clitoris.  This is the equivalent of the male’s glans penis, and is sensitive to touch.  It serves primarily to give pleasure to women during intercourse and sex play.  It is the area usually rubbed or touched by women when they masturbate, and is usually the structure that leads to orgasm in many women when stimulated.  Different women find different means of stimulation pleasurable, but most find the clitoris to be important in sexual pleasure.

The opening of the vagina is called the introitus, and in young girls may be partly or mostly covered by a thin membrane called the hymen.  In some girls the hymen may remain intact until first intercourse, although it is often broken or partly broken by normal physical activity, by masturbation, or by incidental trauma.  In some girls the hymen may be a very minimal structure and appear to be absent or broken even if they have never has sex or anything in the vagina.

The vagina is primarily a tube like structure that functions as the place a male inserts the penis during sexual intercourse as well as the birth canal that a baby passes through in childbirth.  There are several glands that produce moisture to keep the vagina moist.  These glands tend to produce more moisture with sexual excitement making the vagina moister and allowing less friction and more pleasure with intercourse.  Some females, especially some women on hormonal contraception or after menopause may not produce as much moisture and they may prefer to use lubricants to reduce friction during intercourse.  If a lubricant is used it is important to use a water soluble lubricant that the body can get rid of and not to use Vaseline or oils which are more difficult for the body to naturally clear from the vagina.

The uterus is the structure that functions as the organ where a fertilized egg can be implanted and a pregnancy can develop, mature, and grow.  It is a muscular organ with a lining called the endometrium that changes throughout each menstrual cycle to prepare for the implantation of a fertilized egg.  If no fertilized egg implants and starts to grow, the lining loses its hormonal support and is shed as the menstrual bleeding each month.

Each female has two ovaries that are located inside the abdominal cavity on the sides of the uterus.  Off the upper corners of the uterus are tubes called fallopian tubes that function to capture an egg and transport the egg down the tube and into the uterine cavity.  The ovary in the female is the equivalent of the testis in the male, and the fallopian tube functions like the vas deferens in men, as a tube to transport the germ cell (sperm in men, egg in women). The ovary is where the egg (germ cell)  develops and matures prior to being released in a process called ovulation.  It is also where most of the estrogen and progesterone, the primary female hormones are produced.

As in men the brain is the other key component to the sexual organs.  The brain sends stimulus to the ovaries each month to produce the egg, and to produce hormones.  Hopefully this summary of the female reproductive anatomy will benefit your pursuit of knowledge about sex education.