The female reproductive organs are the vulva, vagina, uterus (womb), fallopian (uterine) tubes, ovaries and breasts. Most of the female reproductive organs are inside the body.
The internal female reproductive organs
The vagina is a muscular canal about 10 centimetres long that extends from the cervix (neck of the uterus) to the vaginal entrance. The vagina has three functions:
it is where the menstrual blood leaves the body during a period
- it is where the penis is inserted during sexual intercourse
- it is the birth canal (where a baby comes out of the woman’s body during childbirth)
Because of its muscular walls the vagina can expand and contract. This allows it to become narrower (to hold a tampon in place) and wider (to allow a baby to pass through during childbirth). The vagina's muscular walls are lined with mucous membranes, which keep it protected and moist.
The uterus is a muscular organ, shaped like a small upside down pear and can stretch a great deal to accommodate a growing baby. Its lining is called the endometrium. The cervix (bottom part of the uterus) is connected to the vagina.
The Fallopian tubes extend from the top of the uterus, one on each side and open near an ovary. They are about 10 centimetres long and carry the ovum (egg) from the ovary to the uterus.
The ovaries, one on either side of the uterus, are two small almond-shaped glands that contain ova (eggs). The ovaries also produce the female sex hormones.
The main function of the breast is to feed a baby. They are also important because they can give a woman pleasure when touched and for many women they are an important part of their sexual activity.
The external female reproductive organs
The genital area on the outside of the female body is called the vulva. At the top of the vulva is a mound of fatty tissue called the mons pubis. This area becomes covered with hair at puberty.
Below the mons pubis there are two folds of skin called the labia majora (outer lips) and labia minora (inner lips). The labia majora are also covered with hair after puberty. The labia minora are thinner than the labia majora, sensitive to touch and moist because of lubricating fluid produced by glands in the labia.
At the top of the labia minora is the clitoris. The clitoris has many nerve endings and is the most sensitive part of the genital area. The labia minora form a fold of skin or hood over the clitoris. When a female is sexually aroused the clitoris becomes more exposed and firm.
Inside the labia minora there are two openings. The opening at the front is the urethral opening (the urethra is a small tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside). The other opening is the vaginal opening and leads to the vagina.
The hymen is a piece of tissue that lines the vaginal opening. During puberty the vagina grows and the hymen may stretch and tear. It may also stretch and tear when a girl plays sport, masturbates or uses tampons. Even if it doesn’t tear before puberty small holes in the hymen allow menstrual blood to come out. When a women has sexual intercourse for the first time the hymen may tear and even bleed a little. If this happens the woman may experience slight pain and tenderness.
The perineum is the area between the anus and the vulva. During child birth the perineum stretches and in some cases may need to be cut to widen the birth canal to help the delivery of the baby and avoid a jagged tear of the perineum. This procedure is called an episiotomy.