The Female Reproductive System

Everything You Need to Know

Cancer of the uterus, illustration
SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / Getty Images

The female reproductive system is a well-coordinated group of organs that exist for the sole purpose of preparing for and maintaining a normal pregnancy. 

The Female Menstrual Cycle

Under usual circumstances for women in the child-bearing years, the body goes through a series of monthly hormonal changes that cause an egg follicle to develop in the ovary, and the uterine lining to prepare for a potential pregnancy.

 If pregnancy does not occur, however, the lining and egg are removed through menses, or a woman’s period. If pregnancy does occur, the reproductive system is responsible for maintaining the pregnancy throughout the 9 months.

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) typically do not have regular menstrual cycles and often need assistance in getting pregnant.

Organs of the Female Reproductive System

Here are the major organs that make up the internal anatomy of the female reproductive system:

Vagina

The vagina is an elastic, yet muscular canal that is approximately 9 to 10 centimeters in length. The upper part of the vagina connects to the cervix, which opens into the uterus, and the lower part opens to the outside of the body. It lies between the urethra (which connects to the bladder) and the rectum.

During sexual intercourse, the vagina lengthens, widens and engorges with blood as it prepares to accept the penis.

 Additionally, the vagina serves as a passageway for cervical mucus, menstrual fluid and other secretions out of the body. During childbirth, the baby is pushed from the uterus out of the body, also through the vaginal canal.

Cervix

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects the vagina to the uterus.

It is a small tubular structure that protects the uterus from infection and facilitates the passage of sperm into the uterus. For most of the month, the external opening is covered with a thick, sticky mucus, which is inhospitable to bacteria.

Around the time of ovulation, the mucus thins out and forms watery strands, called spinnbarkeit, which make it easier for sperm to enter the uterus.

Uterus

The uterus is a small, hollow pear-shaped organ found in women. Sitting between the bladder and rectum, the lower end of the uterus opens into the cervix, which then opens into the vagina.

The uterus has many important and crucial functions in the reproductive capacity of women, the most important role of which is housing a developing fetus.

During a normal menstrual cycle, the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, to thicken with blood in preparation for a pregnancy. If a pregnancy does not take place, the lining is shed as a menstrual period.

Fallopian Tubes

Fallopian tubes are the two long, thin tubes that connect to a woman's uterus (one on each side).

The other ends of the tubes flare open with several long fringes, called fimbrae, on the end that connect to the ovaries.

After ovulation, these fimbrae beat back and forth to help guide the egg into the fallopian tube. Once inside the tube, tiny hairs called cilia push the egg along and toward the uterus. Fertilization typically occurs in the fallopian tube if the egg encounters a sperm.

Ovaries

The ovaries are a pair of glands approximately the size and shape of an almond where eggs are stored and estrogen is manufactured. They are held in place by several ligaments on either side of the uterus.

In a normal menstrual cycle, the ovaries release an egg every month, which can be fertilized resulting in pregnancy. In women with PCOS, however, ovulation does not typically occur on a regular basis.

In addition, PCOS is part of a hormonal imbalance that often results in decreased estrogen and increased testosterone. Women with PCOS often have multiple cysts in their ovaries.

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