In male and female anatomy, many bodily functions are similar. The circulatory system and digestive system, for example, function in much the same ways in both male and female bodies. The biggest differences between male and female anatomy are in the reproductive system. The female sexual anatomy and its composite parts allow women to become pregnant and bear children.
The female reproductive system actually is designed to carry out several functions. It produces the female egg cells necessary for reproduction, called the ova or oocytes. The system is designed to transport the ova to the site of fertilization. Conception, the fertilization of an egg by a sperm, normally occurs in the fallopian tubes. The next step for the fertilized egg is to implant into the walls of the uterus, beginning the initial stages of pregnancy. If fertilization and/or implantation does not take place, the system is designed to menstruate (the monthly shedding of the uterine lining). In addition, the female reproductive system produces female sex hormones that maintain the reproductive cycle.
Female External Genitalia
The function of the external female reproductive structures (the genitals) is twofold: To enable sperm to enter the body and to protect the internal genital organs from infectious organisms. The proper name for the outer female genitals is the vulva.
The main external structures of the female reproductive system include:
The mons veneris, Latin for "hill of Venus" (Roman Goddess of love) is the pad of fatty tissue that covers the pubic bone below the abdomen but above the labia. The mons is sexually sensitive in some women and protects the pubic bone from the impact of sexual intercourse.
The labia majora are the outer lips of the vulva, pads of fatty tissue that wrap around the vulva from the mons to the perineum. These labia are usually covered with pubic hair, and contain numerous sweat and oil glands, and it has been suggested that the scent from these are sexually arousing. Literally translated as "large lips," the labia majora are relatively large and fleshy, and are comparable to the scrotum in males.
Literally translated as "small lips," the labia minora are the inner lips of the vulva, thin stretches of tissue within the labia majora that fold and protect the vagina, urethra, and clitoris. The appearance of labia minora can vary widely, from tiny lips that hide between the labia majora to large lips that protrude up to 2 inches wide. The most common metaphor for the labia minora is that of a flower. Both the inner and outer labia are quite sensitive to touch and pressure.
The clitoris is a small body of spongy tissue that is highly sexually sensitive. Only the tip or glans of the clitoris shows externally, but the organ itself is elongated and branched into two forks, the crura, which extend downward along the rim of the vaginal opening toward the perineum. Thus the clitoris is much larger than most people think it is -- about 4" long, on average. The clitoral glans or external tip of the cltoris is protected by the prepuce, or clitoral hood, a covering of tissue similar to the foreskin of the male penis. During sexual excitement, the clitoris may extend and the hood may retract to make the clitoral glans more accessible. On some women the clitoral glans is very small; other women may have large clitoris that the hood does not completely cover.
The opening to the urethra is just below the clitoris. It is not related to sex or reproduction, but is instead the passage for urine. The urethra is connected to the bladder. Because the urethra is so close to the anus, women should always wipe themselves from front to back to avoid infecting the vagina and urethra with bacteria.
The hymen is the area between the labia minora, a membrane that partially covers the opening. The hymen is the traditional "symbol" of virginity, although being a very thin membrane, it can be torn by vigorous exercise or the insertion of a tampon.
The perineum is the short stretch of skin starting at the bottom of the vulva and extending to the anus. The perineum in women often tears during birth to accommodate passage of the child, and this is apparently natural. Some physicians may cut the perineum preemptively on the grounds that the "tearing" may be more harmful than a precise scalpel, but statistics show that such cutting in fact may increase the potential for infection.
Key organs for female reproduction are protectively located deep within the body. These include:
A woman normally has a pair of ovaries that resemble almonds in size and shape. They are home to the female sex cells, called eggs, and they also produce estrogen, the female sex hormone. Women’s ovaries already contain nearly 400,000 undeveloped eggs at birth, but the eggs are not called into action until puberty. Those are all ova female will ever have, but that is far more than she will need, since during an average lifespan she will go through about 500 menstrual cycles. Roughly once a month, starting at puberty and lasting until menopause, the ovaries release an egg into the fallopian tubes a journey of three or four days - this is the period during which a woman is fertile and pregnancy may occur. When fertilization does not occur, the egg leaves the body as part of the menstrual cycle.
These are narrow tubes that are attached to the upper part of the uterus and serve as tunnels for the ova (egg cells) to travel from the ovaries to the uterus. Conception, the fertilization of an egg by a sperm, normally occurs in the fallopian tubes. The fertilized egg then moves to the uterus, where it implants into the lining of the uterine wall.
The uterus is located in the pelvis of a woman’s body and is made up of smooth muscle tissue. Commonly referred to as the womb, the uterus is hollow and holds the fetus during pregnancy. Each month, the uterus develops a lining that is rich in nutrients. The reproductive purpose of this lining is to provide nourishment for a developing fetus. Since eggs aren’t usually fertilized, the lining usually leaves the body as menstrual blood during a woman’s monthly period. The uterus is lined with powerful muscles to push the child out during labor.
The lower part of the uterus, which connects to the vagina, is known as the cervix. Often called the neck or entrance to the womb, the cervix lets menstrual blood out and semen into the uterus. The cervix remains closed during pregnancy but can expand dramatically during childbirth.
The vagina extends from the vaginal opening to the cervix, the opening to the uterus. The vagina serves as the receptacle for the penis during sexual intercourse, and as the birth canal through which the baby passes during labor. The average vaginal canal is three inches long, possibly four in women who have given birth. This may seem short in relation to the penis, but during sexual arousal the cervix will lift upwards and the fornix (see illustration) may extend upwards into the body as long as necessary to receive the penis. After intercourse, the contraction of the vagina will allow the cervix to rest inside the fornix, which in its relaxed state is a bowl-shaped fitting perfect for the pooling of semen.
At either side of the vaginal opening are the Bartholin's glands, which produce small amounts of lubricating fluid, apparently to keep the inner labia moist during periods of sexual excitement. Further within are the hymen glands, which secrete lubricant for the length of the vaginal canal.
The word is in quotes because there is still some debate as to the existence or purpose of the G-spot. In the illustration above, what is indicated as the g-spot in fact points to a region known as the Skenes glands, the purpose of which are unknown. Despite the controversy, one fact remains - there are many women who claim that pressure on this region of the vagina is extremely pleasurable. Also, because the Skenes glands are alongside the bladder, some women may found that the increased pressure makes them feel as if they need to urinate.
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