There are different organ systems in the body, and each has its own function. The reproductive system is responsible for reproduction, a natural process in which an offspring is born from its parents. Human beings reproduce through sexual reproduction, which involves male and female gametes.
The female reproductive system is responsible for producing the female gamete, also known as the ovum or egg cell (1). Learn about the different parts of the female reproductive system, their functions, and some interesting facts about this organ system in this post.
Parts Of The Female Reproductive System
The female reproductive system or sexual organs can be divided into external parts (parts outside the body) and internal parts (parts inside the body) (2).
Below are the external parts of the female reproductive system and their functions (3).
Vulva is the term for the collective external parts of the female reproductive system. The parts found in the vulva include the mons pubis, the labia, clitoris, and glands, such as Bartholin’s glands and Skene’s glands, which help in lubrication. These parts perform a variety of functions, such as protecting the internal sexual organs and facilitating intercourse.
The following are the various parts of the vulva.
1. Mons pubis: It is a fleshy area located over the pubic bone and above the vagina. Mons pubis is prominent in females and usually covered with pubic hairs after puberty.
Function: Cushioning the pubic bones
2. Labia: These are often referred to as the lips of the vagina and consist of two parts, labia majora and labia minora.
- Labia majora: These are the larger outer prominent pair of lips that cover the labia minora. It is a cutaneous skin fold.
Function: Protection of delicate inner components
- Labia minora: These are a pair of inner smaller lips below the labia majora. It encircles the clitoris and the vulval vestibule.
Function: Protection of clitoris, urethra, and the vaginal opening
3. Clitoris: It is a sensory sexual organ similar to the penis in males. Clitoris is made up of erectile tissues, which cause it to become erect and swollen during sexual arousal. Vestibular bulbs are two band-like tissues related to the clitoris and present on either side of it.
Function: Acts as a pleasure center
4. Vulval vestibule: The openings to the urethra and the vagina are contained in the vulval vestibule, which is outlined by the labia minora. The edge of the vulval vestibule is also referred to as the Hart’s line.
Function: Protects the urethral and vaginal openings
5. Bartholin’s glands: These are also known as the greater vestibular glands and are located posterior to the vaginal opening, one each on either side of the vagina. The pair of glands produce a secretion, which lubricates the vagina during sexual arousal. The secretion also moisturizes the vulva (4). The glands are homologous to bulbourethral glands found in males.
Function: Secretion of a lubricating fluid
6. Skene’s glands: These are also known as the lesser vestibular glands and are located on either side of the urethra. These glands secrete fluid to lubricate the urethra opening and the vulva during sexual arousal.
Function: Secretion of a lubricating fluid
Below are the internal parts of the female reproductive system and their functions.
1. Vagina: It is a muscular canal, anteriorly connected to the vulva, and posteriorly connected to the cervix. The vaginal opening is surrounded by a membrane called the hymen.
Function: It functions as the recipient of the male penis and the sperms (male gametes) during sexual intercourse. The vagina acts as a discharge tract for menstrual flow and also functions as the birth canal for the newborn during vaginal birth.
2. Uterus: It is a pear-shaped organ, also known as the womb, and is located in the pelvis between the bladder and the rectum. Once an egg or ovum is fertilized, it implants into the wall of the uterus. The fertilized egg forms an embryo and then a fetus.
Function: The uterus protects and nourishes the fetus through a specialized tissue called the placenta. The fetus stays in the uterus throughout the pregnancy (gestation) until it is ready to be delivered.
The uterus consists of the following parts (5).
- Cervix: It is also known as the neck of the uterus and is part of the uterus that lies between the vagina and the corpus (body) of the uterus.
- Cervical canal: It is a canal that runs through the cervix.
- Corpus: This is the central body of the uterus. It is located behind the cervix and below the fallopian tube openings. Corpus is the part of the uterus where a fertilized egg implants to form an embryo and later develop into a fetus.
- Fundus: This is the uppermost rounded portion of the uterus and lies opposite the cervix.
3. Fallopian tubes: These are also known as the uterine tubes and are long slender tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus.
Function: The ovum (egg) passes from the ovaries to the uterus through the fallopian tubes. Fertilization of the egg usually takes place in these fallopian tubes.
4. Ovaries: These are the primary reproductive organs in the female body. There are two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus (6). Ovaries have an ovoid shape.
Functions: Ovaries are responsible for the productions of the ovum, which is the female gamete. It contains several structures called follicles, which produce an egg that matures during each menstrual cycle. The ovaries also secrete essential hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone.
5. Fimbriae: These are finger-like structures that catch or collect the ovum when released by the ovaries and transfer it to the fallopian tube with a pushing motion.
Function: Unlike sperms (male gametes), the ovum is non-motile, and the fimbriae help provide the necessary motility to the ovum by pushing it towards the uterus.
What Is The Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle, also called periods, is a 28-day cycle of hormonal changes, uterine tissue growth, tissue breakdown, and tissue removal that occurs in a woman’s body. The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of a period to the first day of the next period (7).
The following are some salient events of the menstrual cycle.
- The secretion of estrogen and progesterone prepares the uterus for the implantation of a fertilized egg. The endometrium layer, a layer of cells inside the corpus of the uterus, begins to thicken and develop a rich supply of blood vessels.
- If implantation of the fertilized egg does not occur, the levels of estrogen and progesterone start falling. It indicates to the body that pregnancy has not happened.
- The decline in the levels of hormone signals the uterus to discard the upper layer of the endometrium, along with the mucosal tissue. The discarded tissue flows through the cervix and then through the vagina as red blood cell-rich fluid known as menses.
A menstrual cycle is typically 28 days long. However, every woman’s body is different, and so is their menstrual cycle. It is considered a normal menstrual cycle if the periods come every 24 to 38 days.
Below are the key events and their day of occurrence in a typical 28-day menstrual cycle.
- Day 1: First day of the period.
- Day 1 to 7: Follicles develop in the ovary and prepare for the secretion of an ovum.
- Day 8: Menstruation stops. The estrogen and progesterone levels rise to prepare a new lining inside the uterus.
- Day 14: The uterus lining is ready for implantation. Ovaries release the egg, and ovulation occurs.
- Day 15 to 24: The egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The uterine lining thickens further.
- Day 24 to 28: If fertilization does not occur by day 24, that is, by the time the egg reaches the uterus, the egg disintegrates. The estrogen and progesterone levels decline, and the excess blood-rich uterine lining sheds and flows out of the vagina as menses.
The cycle is marked by the fluctuation of various hormones, which may affect mood and temperament.
The menstrual cycle begins at puberty and ends at menopause. Menopause usually occurs around the age of 50 years and is a natural process that marks a decline in the ovaries’ ability to secrete reproductive hormones.
Functions Of The Female Reproductive System
The following are the key functions of the female reproductive system (8).
- Production of the egg: This process is called oogenesis, in which a female gamete (egg) is produced in the follicles of the ovary. A fertilized egg eventually develops into a fetus.
- Ovulation: This is the process of releasing the egg from the ovaries and transporting it to the uterus.
- Uterine preparation: The uterus prepares for the possible implantation of the fertilized egg every month.
- Pregnancy: It is also known as gestation and is the process of nourishing the fetus till birth.
- Childbirth: It is also known as parturition and is the process of giving birth to a baby.
- Production of female sex hormones: The ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone hormones, which are called female sex hormones.
20 Facts About The Female Reproductive System
- The ovum is the largest cell of a female body.
- The ovum is about 30 times larger than a sperm cell.
- The female ovaries contain about 300,000 eggs at puberty, of which only 300–400 eggs are ovulated before menopause.
- The lifespan of the ovum is 12–24 hours after it is released from the ovary.
- The zygote is a single-cell entity formed by the fusion of the ovum and the sperm.
- A normal uterus is about three inches long and two inches wide but expands by several times during pregnancy.
- The muscles of the uterus are one of the strongest in the body since they need to contract to push the baby outwards during childbirth.
- The pH of the vagina is acidic and is usually between 3.8 and 4.5 on the pH scale.
- There is no correlation between the hymen “being intact” and virginity, unlike popularly believed.
- A pregnancy can’t be confirmed until the embryo implants on the uterus wall.
- The menstrual cycle of a woman is usually the most regular during her 20s and 30s.
- The fallopian tube is as wide as a piece of noodle or spaghetti.
- Ovaries are part of the reproductive system and the endocrine system since they secrete hormones, too.
- Uterine didelphys is a rare disorder in which a girl is born with two uteruses.
- A woman can get pregnant during her periods, too, if the other ovary ovulates at that time.
- Each ovary is about the size of an almond.
- There are tiny hair-like structures inside the fallopian tube that gently sway and push the egg towards the uterus.
- The cancer of the ovaries is called ovarian cancer, which is hard to detect in the early stages since it may cause no symptoms or mild symptoms.
- Many women develop ovarian cysts, which are fluid-filled pockets on ovaries. This is known as polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), which usually needs treatment.
- Some women may have such regular periods that they may predict the precise day and time for the periods to begin.
The female reproductive system is responsible for reproduction and also plays an essential role in the secretion of hormones. It is essential to keep the reproductive organs healthy, just like any organ system of the body. Eating healthy and regular exercise can benefit the system. If you have irregular menstrual periods, do not hesitate to speak to a doctor.