If it’s been a long time since the anatomy section of Sex Ed (or were never even offered it), you may be a bit unclear on what’s up with the female reproductive system. But whether you have one, or love somebody with one, it’s important to understand the reproductive system. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to give or receive pleasure and prevent or achieve pregnancy. Knowledge is power! Here, we cover some key female body parts to help you better understand your body.
The vulva consists of the external female sex organs, in other words, everything that can be seen if you gently spread the labia majora of your genitals in front of a mirror. The vulva includes the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vulvar vestibule, urinary opening, the vaginal opening, and the opening of the Bartholin’s and Skene’s vestibular glands. The labia minora, within the labia majora, protects the head of the clitoris and the opening of the vagina.
Clitoris and vestibular bulbs
The “internal clitoris” is a recent concept in the anatomical discoveries. Picture a wishbone structure: the clitoris is where the top can be seen outside and vestibular bulbs are the rest which extend internally under the labia majora. When stimulated, it can increase in size internally and/or externally because the tissues engorge during sexual arousal. These parts are two very erogenous zones. In response to pleasure, the vestibular bulbs swell and the clitoris hardens. It becomes erect, much like the male penis (the head of the clitoris is also called the glans). This erection (yes, you have erections) isn’t necessarily seen because it’s hidden inside.
The vagina is the channel that connects the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) to the outside of the body. In response to sexual arousal, it self-lubricates to make penetration easier; as it wraps the penis in its elastic muscles, almost like a moistened glove. Its outer part, closest to the vaginal opening, is sensitive to pleasure. Just inside the vagina lies the hymen, a membrane that may tear the first time you have sex. Note that not all women have a hymen nor does everybody’s tear or bleed when they first have penetrative sex, so this body part has nothing to do with “virginity” (which is just a construct anyway).
This hollow, pear-shaped organ is divided into two parts: the main part, which is the body of the uterus with the uterine cavity at its center, and the lower part, the cervix, which opens into the vagina. The uterus is made up of an elastic muscle that adapts with the growth of a fetus as it develops. The uterine cavity extends through the cervical canal that runs through the cervix. It’s through this passage that the sperm attempts to reach the uterus and the fallopian tubes during ovulation – this is also allows how the blood from your period flows out.
These two small, oval-shaped glands are located on either side of the uterus. The ovaries have a dual function: to produce an egg cell per cycle and to produce the estrogen and progesterone hormones that are released into the bloodstream. This dual action aims to provide all that’s necessary for a pregnancy to begin. The egg, once released by the ovary, will have 12 to 24 hours to meet a sperm in one of the two fallopian tubes. Hormonal birth control prevents an egg from being released, and the morning-after pill may too if you take it after you have sex but before ovulation has occurred.
The fallopian tubes
During ovulation, the egg is released by the ovary. It moves into one of the two fallopian tubes that lead to the uterus. It’s in one of these two narrow tubes that the sperm will fertilize the egg. Once the egg is fertilized, it continues its journey into the tube to reach the uterus where it implants itself in the lining, that’s when pregnancy occurs. If the egg isn’t fertilized, it doesn’t implant and exits the body during menstruation.
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