The female reproductive system differentiates women from men. Because of these organs, the female body has the ability to produce an egg, develop a fetus and nourish a baby. The female reproductive organs are located within the pelvic cavity and include internal and external structures. The external structures include mons veneris, labia majora, labia minora and clitoris. The external structures collectively are called the vulva. The internal structures include vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and breasts.
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Also known as the pubic area, the mons veneris is the soft, padded area of tissue above the vulva covered by pubic hair.
Labia Minora and Labia Majora
The labia minora and majora are the folds of skin surrounding the vaginal opening. Their function is the protect the vaginal opening, clitoris and urethral opening (which leads to the bladder).
The clitoris is a small, ball-like structure above the vaginal opening, partially hidden behind the labia minora. The clitoris is highly sensitive and, when aroused, can produce an orgasm.
The vagina is an internal cavity of the body that extends from the opening of the vulva to the uterus. It is shaped like a tube and usually collapsed, with the vaginal walls touching. It is also known as the birth canal.
Uterus and Cervix
The uterus is a pear-shaped muscle. Its primary function is to house a developing fetus during pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, the lining of the uterus sheds, causing the woman to have her period. The neck of the uterus is called the cervix, which lies in the back of the vagina. When a pap smear is performed, cells are taken from the cervix. In the middle of the cervix is a small opening, leading into the uterus. This opening allows menstrual blood to flow from the uterus and sperm to migrate into the uterus, and will dilate to 10 cm at the end of a pregnancy to allow the birth of a baby.
The ovaries are almond-shaped structures. There are two, one on each side of the uterus. The primary function of the ovaries is to develop and release a mature egg for potential fertilization. They also release estrogen and progesterone, which are the main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle.
The fallopian tubes extend from the upper end of the uterus on both sides toward the ovaries. They have finger-like projections that sweep the released egg from the ovary, allowing it to enter the uterus. Fertilization (when the egg and sperm meet) occurs in the fallopian tubes.
The primary function of breasts is to produce milk to nourish a baby. They are made of mammary glands and fatty tissue. The darker area of the face of the breast is called the areola and consists of the nipple and Montgomery glands. Breasts undergo the majority of changes in size and development during puberty and pregnancy.