Discussing women’s reproductive systems is still considered taboo or embarrassing by many people. However, it’s important to be familiar with the anatomy of the female reproductive system, especially so that women can take good care of their reproductive and sexual health.
Female reproductive organs
The largest organ in the female reproductive system is the uterus. It is very elastic and measures approximately 7.5 by 5 cm in women who are not pregnant, and then expands to accommodate a growing fetus during pregnancy. By around 20 weeks gestation, the uterus is stretched far enough to reach the umbilical cord, and by 36 weeks, the outside of the uterus may reach the lower part of the ribcage. It is located in the pelvis of the female body and is made of smooth muscle tissue.
The ovaries, the female gonads, are connected to the uterus by the Fallopian tubes. Fertilization usually occurs in the Fallopian tubes, and then the fertilized egg makes its way to the uterus. If fertilization does not occur, the woman gets her period. Every month, the uterus develops a nutrient-rich layer filled with blood; if a pregnancy occurs, this layer provides nutrients to the developing embryo and later fetus. If there is no pregnancy, this layer will leave the body as menstrual blood.
The lower part of the uterus is connected to the cervix. Sometimes called the neck of the uterus, the cervix allows menstrual blood out and semen into the uterus. The cervix is normally closed, including during pregnancy, but then can dramatically expand during childbirth to fit a baby’s head and shoulders.
The processes of an egg being released from the ovaries, the uterus thickening, and later shedding if the egg is not fertilized by a sperm cell, are all under the control of several hormones, primarily luteinizing hormone, progesterone and estrogen. Because the ovaries produce sex hormones as well as gametes (egg cells), they are considered part of the endocrine system as well as the reproductive system.