Anatomic Structures of Female Reproduction

Whether you’re dealing with fertility concerns or just interested in the field of female reproduction, it can be incredibly difficult to understand the processes behind female reproduction if you don’t understand the structures involved. Here is a basic breakdown of all of the structures involved in female reproduction and neighboring structures.

Round Ligament
The round ligament is a band of connective tissue that extends from the uterus to the inner labium majus. The round ligament is what supports the uterus as it grows and expands. These ligaments, much like muscles, contract and relax. Sudden movements, or changes in position that cause these ligaments to contract and relax too quickly, may cause a woman to experience what is known as “round ligament pain.” Round ligament pain is most commonly experienced during the second and third trimester, although it is not uncommon for women to experience this pain in the first trimester.

The uterus is a thick muscle that opens into the vaginal canal through the cervical opening, also known as the cervix. The top of the uterus, which can be palpated externally, is known as the fundus, while the body of the uterus is known as the corpus and the neck of the uterus located at the top of the vaginal canal is known as the cervix.

The function of the uterus is to contain a pregnancy, and provide the optimal environment for a fetus to gestate in. If a woman has never been pregnant before, her uterus is roughly the size of a pear, but if she has been pregnant, it may be slightly larger. During pregnancy, the uterus expands roughly 1,000 times it’s original size before the delivery of the child.

Urinary Bladder
The urinary bladder is a muscular sac located toward the bottom of the abdominal cavity, behind the pubic symphysis. The urinary bladder inflates as it fills with urine, passed from the kidneys through tubes known as the ureters. Urine accumulates in the bladder until the bladder is fully, or near-fully distended (approximately 350 milliliters in the average adult). The urine is then passed through the urethra and is expelled from the body.

Pubic Symphysis
The pubic symphysis, unknown to most, is a joint. The pubic bone is split down the middle, filled in with cartilage. This cartilage holds together the left and right sides of the frontal pelvis. The joint area, where the cartilage and bone connect, is known as the pubic symphysis. Although the pubic symphysis does not allow for a wide variety of movement, it allows for the shifting of the pubic bones during walking and other physical activity. During pregnancy, a hormone known as relaxin is secreted in the mother’s body. This hormone helps soften and loosen the cartilage of the pubic symphysis. This softening allows the slight expansion of the pelvic outlet, making it easier for the child to pass through the birth canal.

The urethra is a three to four centimeter long tube that begins at the bladder, and ends externally, between the vagina and the clitoris. Urine is passed from the bladder to the urethra, and is then expelled from the body.

The clitoris is a sensory organ; its only purpose centers around erotic stimulation. When stimulated, the clitoris can trigger an orgasm in the woman. The clitoris is located between the inner folds of the vagina, also known as the labium minus.

The external female genetalia, such as the labia and clitoris, are collectively referred to as the vulva.

Labia Minora
The labia minora are the smaller, thinner, innermost, folds of skin on the vulva.

Labia Majora
The labia majora consists of the larger, fattier folds of skin on the outermost area of the vulva. These folds may or may not have pubic hair, and surround the labia minora.

Uterine (Fallopian) Tubes
The uterine tubes (also known as the fallopian tubes) are long, thin tubes extending from the uterus to the ovary on both the left and right sides. These tubes are approximately ten centimeters long, and fluted on the upper end, closest to the ovary. The fluted ends contain numerous thin, feather-like projections known as fimbriae. The uterine tubes are responsible for the transport of the egg from the ovary to the uterus. The uterine tubes are also the location where sperm meet up with the egg for fertilization.

The fimbriae are small, thin, feather-like projections extending from the fluted end of the uterine tubes closest to the ovaries. These thin, feather-like projections are lined with millions upon millions of hair-like structures known as cilia, which beat in rhythmic waves to “catch” the egg released from the ovaries at the time of ovulation, and pull it into the uterine tubes.

The ovaries are the primary sex organs, about the size of an almond, found on the left and right sides of the uterus, near the uterine tubes. The ovaries are responsible for the development, maturation and release of eggs, also known as ova. Eggs are matured within a bubble-like structure, known as a follicle. The egg is released during ovulation, when the bubble bursts or ruptures, and the egg is drawn into the uterine tubes by the fimbriae.

The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus that opens up into the vaginal canal. The cervix acts as a passageway from the vaginal canal to the uterus. The cervix allows for the discharge of menstrual blood, as well as the receipt of semen during sexual intercourse. During pregnancy, the cervix remains tightly closed until labor and delivery, at which time, it opens widely enough allow the baby’s body passage into the birth canal.

The rectum is located on the inner side of the anus, and extends approximately five inches. The rectum is where solid wastes collect, just prior to excrement.

The anus is the opening through which solid wastes exit the body. Solid waste accumulates in the rectum just prior to excrement and are then propelled through the anus and eliminated from the body.

The vagina is an eight to ten centimeter long tube that begins on the outside of the body within the folds of the labia, and extends up towards the lower neck, or cervix, of the uterus. The vagina is responsible for the elimination of menstrual fluids, and receives the penis and semen during sexual intercourse. The vagina, made of muscular folds, also acts as the birth canal through which a baby passes through during birth.

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