There are a lot of names out there that people use to describe their reproductive organs. I have heard women talk about their "lady bits", "hooha", "cookie", "vajayjay", "vajean", "bajingo", "beaver", "fanny", "bathing suit area", "private parts", "box", "snatch", "junk" and more. The closest we usually come to hearing correct terminology is the use of the word "vagina", but interestingly enough, it is most commonly misused. I have posted a few blogs about menstruation that explain a little bit about the our reproductive organs, but as I was working on another post today, I realized that with so much uncertainty about what is going on in our reproductive systems, some terms may be a bit confusing. So today, we are going to look at the female reproductive system, learn the names for each organ and structure, and what they do. We will start from the outside and work our way in.
What do you call your outer genitalia? If you said "vagina", that is technically incorrect. What you see on the outside of your body, is in fact, called the vulva. Every vulva is unique, but most of them consist of the same several parts, and if you have one but don't know what it looks like, now would be a great time to take out the mirror and take a look. If you are not quite comfortable looking at your vulva, you can follow along with your hands, or consult the handy diagram to the right, or the video below.
So, if what we are used to seeing is the vulva, what exactly is the vagina? The vagina is a canal located inside of the vestibule (see above), and is used for vaginal sex, menstruation, and childbirth. Every vagina is a slightly different shape and size and will change a bit throughout your menstrual cycle. It will also get larger with arousal, so you may have noticed that a penis or toy fits nicely when you are aroused, but some of you may only be able to fit a finger or two in there at any other time. For some people the change is drastic, for others (particularly those who have given birth vaginally) the change is much less pronounced. The vagina also contains some other important structures. We discussed the clitoris in the section above, but you also have some important glands known as the greater vestibular glands. As the name suggests, they are located just inside of the vestibule, and their job is to secrete a fluid to lubricate the vagina during sex, and prevent the delicate tissue from tearing. This fluid also helps to nourish and protect sperm and help them move toward their goal of finding an egg. Thus, the closer you are to ovulation, the more fluid these glands will secrete. Your vagina is also full of good bacteria and is lined with a mucous membrane. These two things combined help to keep your vagina clean so that you never have to wash it out (blog about douching is in the works), and to help prevent infection. It should be noted that although your vagina will naturally protect you from many infections, there are still several varieties of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are resistant to the good bacteria in your vagina, so it is important to practice safe sex unless you are in a completely monogamous relationship.
The uterus, or womb, is the organ in which a fetus (what we call a baby before it is born) develops to maturity. It is held in place by eight ligaments; the two broad ligaments which stretch from your uterus to the sides of your pelvis, two round ligaments which connect the uterus to the pelvic floor, two sacro-uterine ligaments which connect your uterus to your sacrum (the broad, flat bone just above your tailbone), and 2 other small ligaments which connect your uterus to your bladder in front and rectum in back. It is made up of three layers including an outer protective layer (perimetrium), a muscular layer (myometrium), and an inner lining (endometrium). The uterus itself can be divided into 3 sections; the cervix (neck), the body, and the fundus (top).
Fallopian Tubes (AKA Oviducts or Uterine Tubes)
Our fallopian tubes are attached to our uterus and extend to open just above our ovaries. They do not actually connect to the ovaries, and are held in place by the broad ligaments. The opening closest to the ovary has several wavy, fingerlike projections called fimbriae, and when the egg is released during ovulation, the fimbriae will begin to wave, creating a current to pull the egg into the tube. If fertilization occurs, it most commonly happens just inside of this opening at the upper curve. If fertilized, the egg will then travel along the tube to the uterus where it will implant into the lining of the uterus. This process may take about a week.
The ovaries are the female gonads. They are our counterpart to the male testes. Gonads is the proper name for an organ that produces sex hormones and gametes. Gametes are sexual reproductive cells also known as spermatozoa (male) and eggs (female). Ovaries are the places where our eggs develop, mature, and then are released to either become a baby or not. A baby girl's ovaries begin to develop in utero, and by the time she is born, she has all of her primitive eggs already inside of her. The primitive egg cells begin to mature when we reach puberty, at which time we begin producing larger amounts of hormones which help the eggs to mature and be released during ovulation. Starting with a girl's first menstrual cycle, her ovaries will release one or two eggs each month or so. Around the age of 35, we begin to release more eggs each cycle increasing the likelihood of pregnancy, particularly with multiples. Our ovaries are located just below our fallopian tubes and to the sides of our uterus, and are held in place by the broad ligaments.
That pretty much sums up all of the parts of the female reproductive system. If you have anything to add, or any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.