The female reproductive system is composed of several organs located within and outside the body. These organs are adapted to perform several functions related to reproduction and these include the production of an ‘egg’, transportation of the ‘egg’ to a site where it is fertilized with male reproductive cells, implantation of the fertilized egg, growth and development of the fetus, delivery of the fetus during childbirth, and hormone secretion.
In order to perform these functions, the female reproductive system consists of the following organs.
The ovaries are paired structures located in the pelvis on either side of the uterus. It produces the ‘female egg’ or the ‘ovum’ and sheds the ovum when it matures enough to be fertilized by male reproductive cells or ‘sperms’. Apart from producing ‘eggs’, the ovaries also function as an endocrine organ, meaning that they produce hormones which will regulate the menstrual cycle of females. Ovaries are small and can be seen as oval shaped structures although the shape may be distorted due to cyst formation in some women.
Two fallopian tubes extend from the upper portion of the uterus and extend towards the ovaries. These are hollowed structures which function as a tunnel for the ‘eggs’ to reach the uterus. The fimbrial end (so named due to the presence of ‘fingers’ like structures) of the fallopian tube can collect the ‘eggs’ shed by the ovaries and the body of the fallopian tube provides a location for the ‘egg’ to be fertilized by an incoming ‘sperm’. Thus, if fertilized, the ‘egg’ that reaches the uterus would be ready for ‘implantation’.
The uterus is a small pear shaped structure with a lumen and a relatively thick muscular wall. It can adjust its size when the fetus grows within the uterus and after delivering the baby, the uterus will shrink towards its usual state. It is lined within by a surface epithelium known as the ‘endometrium’, and is the tissue layer which gets expelled as the menstrual flow. The uterus can be divided into two segments, which becomes apparent in the latter part of the pregnancy, and these are the ‘cervix’ and the ‘corpus’. The cervix is the segment which connects the uterus with the upper portion of the vagina whereas the ‘corpus’ refers to the segment which holds on to the developing fetus and the place where implantation of the fertilized egg takes place.
The vagina represents the canal which links the outside world with the uterine cavity and it is the place where the male reproductive cells land following ejaculation during sexual intercourse. Furthermore, the vagina provides protection from infections to other internal organs of the reproductive system through various means. During the birth of a child, it contributes to form the birth canal and is susceptible to tearing during labor.
These are fleshy coverings for the external genital organs and they contain oil and sweat secreting glands. The labia majora resides externally covering the labia minora and is the larger covering among the two. The labia minora covers the entrance to the vagina and the urethra while it resides enclosed by the labia majora. The labia minora terminates at the site of a protrusion which is given the name ‘clitoris’. The clitoris contains highly sensitive skin resembling the male reproductive organ, the penis.
Located on either side of the entrance to the vagina, the bartholin’s glands secrete a liquid which assists the reproductive functions by various means.
All the organs mentioned above perform vital functions at some stage of the female reproductive cycle and most of these organs function under hormonal control, which is also an important determinant of the fertility of a female individual.