The female reproductive system has an intricately complex interplay of hormones which makes the continuation of our species possible, yet it is simple and straightforward in its design. Like men, women have both internal and external parts to their reproductive system; however, unlike men, females are unable, with the exception of their breast, to see even their external parts unaided.
The external parts of the female reproductive system serve two purposes: to provide a pathway for sperm to begin their journey in search of an egg and to protect itself from infection. With a mirror and some contorting these external parts of the system can be seen.
Labia majora: Latin for large lips, this part of a woman’s body is comparable to the male scrotum and is comprised of two parts or ‘lips’. This is the easiest part for a woman to see; this is where a woman develops pubic hair after puberty.
Labia minora: These ‘small lips’ are inside the labia majora and provide a border inside of which are the vagina and urethra openings.
Clitoris: The labia minora converge at one end: This is the location of the clitoris. In male embryos the clitoris becomes a penis; like the penis, the clitoris is extremely sensitive to stimulation. A fold of skin, very much like the penile foreskin covers the clitoris and is called the prepuce.
The Bartholin’s glands are located outside of a woman’s body but usually can not be seen. They are located on either side of the vaginal entrance and secrete mucus. Hidden inside a woman’s body, the other parts of the female reproduction system follow.
Vagina: This is the entrance from the outside to the uterus or womb. Sperm enter the body through the vagina, and this is the canal the baby travels through to exit the body. It is through the vagina that menstrual fluids leave the body each month during a woman’s reproductive years, if she isn’t pregnant.
Uterus: The uterus is also known as the womb and is a balloon-like structure with an incredible capacity for expansion. This organ is the size of a fist and comprised of two parts: the cervix and the corpus. The cervix opens into the vagina, and is a conduit for either a baby or menses to exit into the vagina and from there outside the body. This is also where the sperm enter into the uterus on their way to the fallopian tubes. The corpus, which is the upper part of the uterus, contains the baby during pregnancy and contains the uterine lining which is dispelled during menstruation.
Ovaries: An ovary sits on either side of the uterus producing various hormones and containing a life time full of eggs. The ovaries generally alternate readying an egg for ovulation and sending it down the connecting fallopian tube. Sometimes both ovaries send an egg, and sometimes one ovary may send more then one egg. This oval shaped organ produces four major hormones: follicle-stimulating, luteinizing, estrogen, and progesterone.
Fallopian Tubes: These very narrow tubes connect each ovary to the uterus. Despite their small size, it is here that sperms find and fertilize an egg, initiating a pregnancy. The fertilized egg will divide on its way down the tube to its destination in the upper uterus where it will implant and continue to grow.
Although there is little that can go wrong with the external parts of a woman’s reproductive system, the internal parts can each succumb to several conditions and diseases some of which are minor while others can be quite serious. Thankfully, medical science has made incredible progress in diagnosing and treating the ills that can strike the female reproductive system. What was once impossible to treat is now treatable, if not left too long, and what was once difficult to treat is now easily and routinely treated.