The female genital system is the complex of organs and anatomical structures, which – in women – have the purpose of controlling the mechanism of reproduction, from the production of egg cells to that of sex hormones .
In describing the organization of the female reproductive system, anatomists divide the organs and anatomical structures into two categories, depending on whether they are inside or outside the human body .
The organs and anatomical structures located inside are: the vagina, the cervix , the uterus , the fallopian tubes and the ovaries .
The organs and anatomical structures placed on the outside, on the other hand, are: the mount of Venus, the labia majora, the labia minora, Bartolini’s glands and the clitoris .
What is the female reproductive system?
The female genital system is the set of organs and anatomical structures which, in women, are responsible for the production of egg cells and female sex hormones and, in general, for the whole mechanism of reproduction (from mating to maturation of the fetus ).
Anatomists divide the organs and anatomical structures of the female reproductive system into two categories: the internal female genital organs and elements and the external female genital organs and elements.
The internal female genital organs and elements include: the vagina, the uterine cervix, the uterus, the fallopian tubes and the ovaries.
The external female genital organs and elements , on the other hand, include: labia majora, labia minora, Bartolini’s glands, the mount of Venus and the clitoris (less common, the clitoris). Taken together, all these elements take the anatomical name of vulva .
The vagina is the fibro-muscular channel that connects the uterus with the outside.
To be precise, it is in connection with the uterine cervix, which represents the lowest part of the uterus.
From a functional point of view, the vagina is the anatomical area responsible for hosting male sperm after ejaculation , during sexual intercourse.
The term “vagina” comes from the Latin word “vagina”, which means “sheath” or “sword sheath”.
Representing the largest organ of the female reproductive system, the uterus is a pear- shaped anatomical element whose purpose is to house the fetus during its pre-natal life.
Anatomically, the uterus is an organ with a strong muscular component, equipped with three important suspensory ligaments , known as: uterosacral ligament, round ligament and cardinal ligament.
In general, the role of the three ligaments is to keep the uterus in place and limit its range of motion.
Specifically, the uterosacral ligament serves to prevent excessive up and down displacements of the uterus; the round ligament serves to avoid excessive backward movements of the uterus; finally, the cardinal ligament serves to prevent excessive forward and downward movements of the uterus.
In the uterus, anatomists recognize two parts: an upper one , which takes the name of the body and has the task of accommodating the future unborn child, and a lower one , which is the previously mentioned cervix.
It is in the body of the uterus that the future unborn takes place.
From a functional point of view, the uterus provides:
- Provide mechanical protection and nutrients to the embryo, first (from the 1st to the 8th week), and then to the fetus (from the 9th week to delivery ).
- Eliminate waste products, produced by the future unborn, throughout its pre-natal life.
- Ensure the delivery of the fetus at the end of the pregnancy. This is possible thanks to the muscular component that characterizes the uterus and that allows the so-called contractions.
The cervix , also known as the cervix , is the narrow hollow portion that ends the uterus and connects it to the vagina.
The uterine cervix has a cylindrical or conical shape.
Typically, about half of the cervix is visible to the naked eye, through the external opening of the vagina.
In number of two and symmetrical, the fallopian tubes are the tubular anatomical structures, which connect the ovaries to the uterus (precisely to the body of the uterus).
Predominantly muscular in nature, they host and direct the egg cells released by the ovaries towards the uterus; moreover, if the conception takes place when an egg cell is still inside them, they ensure the transit of the fertilized egg from where it resides to the uterus.
In each fallopian tube, anatomists recognize 4 sections or areas:
- The infundibulum. It is the region closest to the ovaries and in close relationship with the so-called fimbria. The fimbria is a fringe of tissue, equipped with cilia, which facilitates the movement of egg cells towards the fallopian tubes.
- The ampullary region. With its 6-7 centimeters of extension, it is the longest region of the fallopian tubes. Thanks to the cilia present on the inner wall, it facilitates the transit of egg cells or fertilized eggs from the ovaries to the uterus
- The Isthmian region. It represents the narrowest portion of the fallopian tubes and typically measures about 2-3 centimeters. It has a straight course.
It too is equipped with cilia, for the passage of egg cells or fertilized eggs.
- The intramural region. Terminal region of the fallopian tubes, it is also the shortest section.
It makes contact with the uterus, entering the myometrium (ie the uterus muscle).
At this level, the so-called utero-tubal junction takes place, i.e. the opening of the fallopian tubes at the level of the uterus.
The fallopian tubes have several synonyms. They are, in fact, also known as: salpingi, oviducts or uterine trumpets.
The ovaries (in the singular ovary , but also ovary or ovary) are the female gonads .
In human anatomy, the term gonads refers to the glands that produce gametes , i.e. the sex cells.
Two in number and similar in shape to a bean, the ovaries fulfill two functions of extreme importance:
- They produce the egg cell(or oocyte or oocyte ), which is the female gamete .
As will be seen, for about half of the so-called menstrual cycle, each egg cell remains in the ovary and undergoes a fundamental maturation process.
At the end of the maturation phase, the so-called ovulation takes place , i.e. the release of the oocyte into the fallopian tubes.
- They secrete the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone , which play an essential role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics and in reproduction.
Together with the uterus, the ovaries can be considered, by right, the main organs of the female reproductive system.
MONTE DI VENERE
Triangular in shape and with the apex facing downwards, the mount of Venus is a rounded mass of adipose tissue , located at the pubis and limited above by the hypogastrium and laterally by the inguinal folds. Compared to the other structures of the vulva, it dominates the labia majora.
Generally, the epidermis of the mount of Venus is thick and has sebaceous and sweat glands.
In the prepubertal age, the mount of Venus is a hairless anatomical region, that is, devoid of hairs ; with the onset of puberty and until the end of this begins to gradually cover with long hair.
The labia majora (or labia majora ) are two evident longitudinal skin folds, which extend downwards and backwards, starting from the mount of Venus up to the perineum .
- At the level of the mount of Venus, they form the so-called anterior vulvar commissure(NB: in anatomy, commissure identifies a point of conjunction between two parts of a structure).
- At the level of the perineum, exactly a few centimeters from the anus , they form the so-called lower vulvar commissure (vulvar fork).
Composed mainly of fibro-elastic connective tissue and rich in fat, the two labia majora each have two faces: one lateral (external) and one medial (internal).
The medial face of each large lip adjoins the lateral face of the small ipsilateral lip; at the connection point, there is a groove known as the interlabial groove.
In adult women, the labia majora measure on average 7-8 centimeters in length, 2-3 centimeters in width and 15-20 millimeters in thickness.
More pigmented than other parts of the body, they are home to sweat and sebaceous glands, whose secretion acts as a sexual attraction.
With the onset of puberty, the labia majora begin to become covered with hair: the precise area in which these hairs grow is on the lateral face (therefore the medial face is hairless).
After menopause , they become thinner, losing much of the fat component and becoming thinner and more limp.
The function of the labia majora is to offer protection to the labia minora, the vaginal meatus and the external urethral orifice.
In humans, the labia majora correspond to the scrotum .
The labia minora (or nymphs or minor lips ) are the two thin pink skin folds, which reside inside the two labia majora (remember that the point of separation between the labia majora and labia minora is the so-called interlabial sulcus).
They begin just below the clitoris: here they give rise to two particular structures, known as the frenulum of the clitoris and the hood (or foreskin ) of the clitoris.
Continuing downwards, the labia minora tend to become thinner until they flow into the labia majora and thus disappear or until they rejoin, giving rise to the so-called frenulum of the labia minora.
Like the labia majora, they have an external (lateral) face and an internal (medial) face.
Generally, the free margin of the labia minora has a somewhat irregular indentation and floats freely.
With their inner face, they delimit an anatomical area called the vulvar vestibule .
In adult women, the labia minora measure 30-35 millimeters in length, 10-15 millimeters in width and 4-5 millimeters in thickness.
Besides being pink, they tend to have a mucous and moist appearance; they are also hairless.
The conformation of the labia minora varies in a very sensitive way from woman to woman and on the basis of racial characteristics: for example, in some subjects they are almost absent, while, in others, they are definitely marked.
The labia minora lack sweat glands, but have a rather extensive network of sebaceous glands (including the Fordyce granules ).
Until puberty begins, the labia minora are small in size; with the advent of puberty, they begin to gradually enlarge to adult size.
Made up of fibro-elastic tissue and richly vascularized, the labia minora have the task of protecting the urethral orifice and the vaginal meatus. In addition, they seem to play a decisive role in the sensation of pleasure experienced by women during sexual intercourse.
GLANDS OF BARTOLINI
The Bartholin’s glands , or vestibular glands more , are two large glands located in the lower part of the labia majora, next to the vaginal meatus.
The excretory duct of each Bartholin’s gland flows between a small lip and the external opening of the vagina.
The function of Bartholin’s glands is to secrete a viscous liquid, which serves for vaginal lubrication, during sexual arousal.
In adult women, Bartholin’s glands can be comparable in size to a pea or almond .
The clitoris is an erectile organ, which takes place:
- In the front and upper part of the vulva, at the junction of the labia minora.
- Just above the external opening of the urethra, an opening which, in turn, resides above the vaginal meatus.
From a morphological point of view, the clitoris resembles a Y: it has, in fact, two upper oblique portions, called roots, and a single structure projected downwards, known as the body of the clitoris.
The body of the clitoris ends with a free, swollen, conical end, which anatomists refer to as the glans .
Image taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clitoris
Two other anatomical peculiarities of the clitoral body, which deserve a particular mention, are: the so-called elbow of the clitoris (it is a fold of the body) and the so-called rod of the clitoris (it is the area between the elbow and the glans of the clitoris).
The clitoris is rich in nerve endings: these endings give it an extreme sensitivity, so much so as to be, from the point of view of sexual pleasure, the most important anatomical element of the external female genital system.
In men, the clitoris corresponds, in part, to the penis (NB: the penis also has other functions, while it seems that the clitoris is linked only to pleasure).
The dense network of nerve endings in the clitoris causes many women to reach orgasm with just its manipulation.
The role played by the female genital system has already been discussed at the beginning of the article.
In this section, therefore, we will focus on the menstrual cycle and some of its characteristics.
WHAT IS THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE?
The menstrual cycle is the period of time in which the female genital system produces an egg and prepares the uterus for eventual fertilization of the latter.
Usually about 28 days long, the menstrual cycle is repeated continuously starting from puberty (10-12 years, age of the first menstrual flow or menarche ) to menopause (45-50 years).
Starring fundamental of the menstrual cycle, for the fact that they affect the organs and female genital tract structures, they are known as hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone , luteinizing hormone , estrogen and progesterone .
PHASES OF THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE : HOW TO DESCRIBE THEM AND WHAT ARE THEY?
There are two ways to describe the salient moments of the menstrual cycle, depending on whether we refer to the ovary or the uterus.
Taking into consideration the ovary ( ovarian menstrual cycle ), the phases of the menstrual cycle are three and consist of:
- Follicular phase
- Ovulatory phase(or ovulation phase)
- Luteal phase
Referring instead to the uterus ( uterine menstrual cycle ), the phases of the menstrual cycle are 5 and consist of:
- Menstrual phase
- Proliferative phase
- Ovulatory phase
- Initial secretory phase
The difference between these two ways of describing the menstrual cycle essentially lies in the moment of menstruation , that is, the loss of vaginal blood from the uterine cavity (in the absence of fertilization).
In the case of the ovarian menstrual cycle, menstruation characterizes the very last moment, therefore the luteal phase.
In the case of the uterine menstrual cycle, however, menstruation marks the very first moment (not surprisingly it is called the menstrual phase).
To know in detail the phases of the uterine menstrual cycle, readers can consult the article here .
Conversely, a description of what happens in the three phases of the ovarian menstrual cycle is present in the table below.
|Follicular phase||The brain releases the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which, through the bloodstream, reaches the ovaries and stimulates them to produce a series of primitive oocytes (or ovarian follicles).
Of these follicles, only one survives and becomes the actual egg cell, ready for fertilization (if it encounters a sperm ).
FSH also stimulates the secretion of estrogen: these are essential for regulating the production of the follicles.
|From 1st to 14th day|
|Ovulatory phase||This is the time that coincides with the release of the mature egg cell into the fallopian tubes.
The release of the oocyte occurs upon stimulation of the luteinizing hormone (LH).
In this phase of the menstrual cycle, the uterine cervix produces large quantities of mucus , which has the purpose of capturing the man’s sperm, during sexual intercourse.
|Between the 14th and the 15th day|
|Luteal phase||It is the time when the ovarian follicle transforms into the so-called corpus luteum.
The formation of the corpus luteum promotes the secretion of progesterone, while reducing that of FSH and LH.
Towards the end of the luteal phase, the corpus luteum tends to progressively regress and progesterone levels decrease.
If the egg cell has not fertilized, the most superficial layer of the uterus ( endometrium ) becomes necrosis and flakes off. This starts menstruation.