- Describe human female reproductive anatomies
A number of reproductive structures are exterior to the female’s body. These include the breasts and the vulva, which consists of the mons pubis, clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, and the vestibular glands, all illustrated in Figure 1. The location and functions of the female reproductive organs are summarized in Table 1.
The vulva is an area associated with the vestibule which includes the structures found in the inguinal (groin) area of women. The mons pubis is a round, fatty area that overlies the pubic symphysis. The clitoris is a structure with erectile tissue that contains a large number of sensory nerves and serves as a source of stimulation during intercourse. The labia majora are a pair of elongated folds of tissue that run posterior from the mons pubis and enclose the other components of the vulva. The labia majora derive from the same tissue that produces the scrotum in a male. The labia minora are thin folds of tissue centrally located within the labia majora. These labia protect the openings to the vagina and urethra. The mons pubis and the anterior portion of the labia majora become covered with hair during adolescence; the labia minora is hairless. The greater vestibular glands are found at the sides of the vaginal opening and provide lubrication during intercourse.
|Table 1. Female Reproductive Anatomy|
|Mons pubis||External||Fatty area overlying pubic bone|
|Labia majora||External||Covers labia minora|
|Labia minora||External||Covers vestibule|
|Greater vestibular glands||External||Secrete mucus; lubricate vagina|
|Breast||External||Produce and deliver milk|
|Ovaries||Internal||Carry and develop eggs|
|Oviducts (Fallopian tubes)||Internal||Transport egg to uterus|
|Uterus||Internal||Support developing embryo|
|Vagina||Internal||Common tube for intercourse, birth canal, passing menstrual flow|
The breasts consist of mammary glands and fat. The size of the breast is determined by the amount of fat deposited behind the gland. Each gland consists of 15 to 25 lobes that have ducts that empty at the nipple and that supply the nursing child with nutrient- and antibody-rich milk to aid development and protect the child.
Internal female reproductive structures include ovaries, oviducts, the uterus, and the vagina, shown in Figure 1. The pair of ovaries is held in place in the abdominal cavity by a system of ligaments. Ovaries consist of a medulla and cortex: the medulla contains nerves and blood vessels to supply the cortex with nutrients and remove waste. The outer layers of cells of the cortex are the functional parts of the ovaries. The cortex is made up of follicular cells that surround eggs that develop during fetal development in utero. During the menstrual period, a batch of follicular cells develops and prepares the eggs for release. At ovulation, one follicle ruptures and one egg is released, as illustrated in Figure 2a.
The oviducts, or fallopian tubes, extend from the uterus in the lower abdominal cavity to the ovaries, but they are not in contact with the ovaries. The lateral ends of the oviducts flare out into a trumpet-like structure and have a fringe of finger-like projections called fimbriae, illustrated in Figure 2b. When an egg is released at ovulation, the fimbrae help the non-motile egg enter into the tube and passage to the uterus. The walls of the oviducts are ciliated and are made up mostly of smooth muscle. The cilia beat toward the middle, and the smooth muscle contracts in the same direction, moving the egg toward the uterus. Fertilization usually takes place within the oviducts and the developing embryo is moved toward the uterus for development. It usually takes the egg or embryo a week to travel through the oviduct. Sterilization in women is called a tubal ligation; it is analogous to a vasectomy in males in that the oviducts are severed and sealed.
The uterus is a structure about the size of a woman’s fist. This is lined with an endometrium rich in blood vessels and mucus glands. The uterus supports the developing embryo and fetus during gestation. The thickest portion of the wall of the uterus is made of smooth muscle. Contractions of the smooth muscle in the uterus aid in passing the baby through the vagina during labor. A portion of the lining of the uterus sloughs off during each menstrual period, and then builds up again in preparation for an implantation. Part of the uterus, called the cervix, protrudes into the top of the vagina. The cervix functions as the birth canal.
The vagina is a muscular tube that serves several purposes. It allows menstrual flow to leave the body. It is the receptacle for the penis during intercourse and the vessel for the delivery of offspring. It is lined by stratified squamous epithelial cells to protect the underlying tissue.