The Female Reproductive System Part I
Womens Health > Female Reproductive System
All of us learned about the female reproductive system in school and yet when dealing with issues regarding fertility, it’s good to refresh our knowledge.
The human species is divided into male and female and each has its own unique reproductive system. Although different in structure, both the reproductive systems are designed specifically to produce, nourish and transport either the ovum (egg) or the sperm.
Unlike the male, the female’s reproductive system is entirely located in the pelvic region and includes the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes and the ovaries.
The Vagina is a muscular canal lined with mucus membranes that protect it and allow it to stay moist. It is around 8 cms long in a grown woman and extends from the neck of the uterus (cervix) to the external genitalia. Unlike the male, the female has a separate opening for the urinary tract and for the reproductive system. Both these openings are situated next to each other and are externally covered by two sets of skin folds the labia minora and the labia majora.
The vagina itself is fairly thin walled and has the capacity to expand as required. It plays an important role in the mating process and is where the penis is inserted and where the sperm is deposited during intercourse. It also serves as a birth canal. A thin membrane called the hymen partially covers the vaginal opening. The hymen gets torn at the first sexual encounter or sometimes due to other causes like vigorous exercise or injury.
The vagina connects to the uterus through a neck like structure called the cervix which has a small hole called os. Although it has just a small opening, the cervix has thick, strong walls that can expand from being a tiny hole the size of a straw to being big enough to allow a baby through.
Next comes the uterus or womb which is shaped like an inverted pear and in a grown, non-pregnant woman, it measures around 3 inches in length and is about 2 inches wide. The uterus is a muscular organ, in fact it has some of the strongest muscles in the female body and has a thick lining called endometrium. The uterus is where the fertilized egg gets implanted and the strong muscles are able to expand to accommodate the growing fetus and to contract when it is time to push the baby out.
On either side of the top of the uterus is a tube about 4 inches long and as wide as a spaghetti that connects the uterus to the ovaries. These are the fallopian or uterine tubes and the passageway inside the tube is very, very narrow – about as wide as a sewing needle. The fallopian tubes transport the egg from the ovaries to the uterus.
The ovaries are two oval shaped glands that contain the eggs. A woman is born with all the potential eggs she will ever have (around 400,000) and only several few hundreds of these get released during her reproductive years. At puberty, one egg per cycle matures and the ovary releases it into the one of the fallopian tubes. If an egg is not fertilized, it disintegrates. The ovaries also produce female sex hormones namely estrogen and progesterone.
The female reproductive system is a wondrous thing. Did you know that after conception, for around the first 40 days or so, the embryonic gonads of males and females are similar? As a result of this, the embryo can develop either testes or ovaries. What determines the sex of the embryo is the presence or absence of the Y chromosome.