Your Reproductive System
You may know quite a bit about the emotional side to womanhood but are you knowledgeable about the important role of the female sex organs? A true medical wonder, your reproductive system operates with the help of a complex cocktail of hormones and chemicals. While you are busy working, looking after children or watching television, your reproductive organs are busy harvesting and releasing eggs, preparing your womb for pregnancy and menstruating in a continuous monthly cycle. In the same amount of time it takes for the moon to revolve around the earth, your reproductive system has completed one reproductive cycle.
Where is the Female Reproductive System?
The female reproductive system is located in the pelvis area and regulates the monthly menstrual cycle. Your reproductive organs consist of your external genitals and internal organs. Your external genitals are the mons pubis, labia major, labia minor, clitoris, Bartholins glands and hymen. The labia, clitoris and vagina can also be referred to as the vulva. Your internal organs consist of your vagina, uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Your brain and reproductive organs regularly release hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone, to signal to your organs to perform their various duties. If you have a hormone imbalance or damage to your organs, your menstrual cycle may be disrupted and you may not be able to become pregnant.
So you know the names, but just where are the different parts of your reproductive system and what do they do?
- Mons Pubis: Latin for "pubic mound," the mons pubis the layer of fat on the pubic bone above the vagina.
- Vulva: This is the collective name for the labia major and minor, clitoris and vaginal opening and the urethra.
- Labia Major: A Latin term for the two outside lips of the vagina on either side of the vulva.
- Labia Minor: The Latin term for the two inside lips of the vagina on either side of the vaginal opening and the urethra.
- Clitoris: This organ is located where the labia minor meet at the top of the vagina.
- Bartholins Glands: Below and to the right and left of the vaginal opening, the Bartholins glands release moisture when a woman is sexually aroused.
- Hymen: The Greek term for "membrane", it is the tissue that sometimes covers the vaginal opening. Many women’s hymens are broken through sports, gymnastics and active lifestyle.
Your Inner Woman-The Parts of a Whole
Your reproductive organs don’t stop on the outside, though. Inside your pelvis is an intricate system that does so much for your body.
- Vagina: Latin term meaning "sheath." The vagina is a tubular organ that connects the uterus and cervix to the outside of the body. The vagina is about three inches long and is where the penis enters during intercourse, menstrual blood leaves the body and a baby exits during childbirth.
- Uterus: Also known as the womb, the uterus is the organ that plays a major role in the female reproductive system. It is connected to the cervix at the bottom and the left and right fallopian tubes at the top. There are three layers to the uterus: the peritoneum, myometrium and endometrium. During conception, a fertilized egg will implant itself in the endometrium. Only three inches in length, the uterus can expand many times its size to accommodate a fetus.
- Fallopian Tubes: Small tubes that connect the uterus to the ovaries. About four inches in length, the fallopian tubes transport eggs from the ovaries into the uterus during ovulation.
- Cervix: Latin for "neck," the cervix forms the bottom part of the uterus that opens into vagina. About one and a half inches in length, the cervix stretches to allow blood to flow through during menstruation and releases mucus that accommodates or hinders sperm during sexual intercourse. The cervix can dilate to be very wide in order to accommodate a baby during childbirth.
- Ovaries: Found on the top left and right sides of the uterus underneath the fallopian tubes. Their primary function is to produce eggs and the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. About three centimeters in length, the ovaries release one egg into the fallopian tubes during ovulation.
The Chemicals that Make it all Happen
In addition to these organs, there are a number of hormones that contribute to everything running smoothly from month to month.
- Oestrogen: A sex hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle, helps develop breasts in women and other female features. The reproductive organs produce oestradiol and androgen to assist in reproduction. Oestradiol prepares the endometrium in case of a pregnancy and releases mucus that accommodates sperm during sexual intercourse. Androgen is a sex hormone made from estradiol and eliminates old ovarian follicles.
- Progesterone: A hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the brain and the reproductive organs. Progesterone primes the endometrium for pregnancy; if pregnancy does not happen then progesterone levels drop resulting in menstruation. It also inhibits the development of egg follicles.
- Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH): A peptide hormone released by the hypothalamus in the brain. GnRH controls the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland that regulate reproduction.
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): FSH is released by the pituitary gland and stimulates follicles to create eggs and release estradiol.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A hormone released by the pituitary gland that stimulates ovulation, follicular growth and helps reproductive organs release estradiol, progesterone and androgens for reproduction.