Sexual Organs

September 27, 2011

The female sexual or reproductive organs may be categorized into the internal pelvic organs, the external genitalia, and the outside organs. Changes in the size and function of these organs occur throughout a woman’s reproductive life. The most dramatic changes in the size and function of the female reproductive organs occur at puberty and during pregnancy.

The internal female reproductive structures are well protected by the bony pelvis. These structures include the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix. The vagina connects the uterus to the external genitalia.

OVARIES

The ovaries are responsible for hormone production and ovulation. They are normally about 3-5 cm in length, and shrink to the size of an almond after menopause. One ovary is usually adequate for normal hormonal production. surgical removal of both ovaries results in the vasomotor symptoms, or “hot flashes,” that are common in menopausal women. Menopause occurs when the ovaries cease producing estrogen.

FALLOPIAN TUBES

The fallopian tubes arise from the uterus and reach toward the ovaries. After ovulation, the egg is picked up into the tube. Sperm are transported through the uterus into the fallopian tubes. Fertilization of the egg occurs in the tube. The tube moves the fertilized egg to the uterus for implantation. If a pregnancy implants in the fallopian tube, an ectopic pregnancy results. If this pregnancy grows, the tube may rupture, which can be life threatening.

UTERUS

The uterus, or womb, is normally the size of a small pear, and expands up to 20 times its size during pregnancy. The uterus is composed of several layers of tissue. The innermost layer is called the endometrium. The surface layer of the endometrium sloughs during normal menstruation. Much of the body of the uterus is composed of the myometrium. The myometrium is composed of smooth muscle tissue, which contracts during “menstrual cramps,” and is also responsible for contractions during labor. The uterus is covered with a thin layer of tissue called the serosa. Benign conditions, such as fibroids, can dramatically alter the size of the uterus.

CERVIX

The cervix is the opening to the uterus and is the structure that is sampled during a Pap test. The opening of the cervix is referred to as the cervical os. In a woman who has never had children, this often looks like a pin point. Once a woman has given birth, however, the os actually resembles a “smile” or fish mouth. A normal cervix has a consistency of your nose, and is about 3-4 cm in length. During pregnancy, it softens and shortens and eventually dilates until it is 10 cm open during labor. After menopause, the opening to the cervix may become small, narrow, and even stenotic.

VAGINA

The vagina is a tubular, muscular structure, which is sometimes referred to as the “birth canal.” It expands up to four times its size during childbirth. After menopause, the tissue of the vagina usually becomes very thin, and may cause dryness and discomfort with sexual intercourse.

The external female genitalia include the mons pubis, clitoris, introitus, labia majora and minora, and the urethra.

MONS

The mons pubis, which overlies the pubic bone, is an area of fatty tissue which is covered with skin and pubic hair.

CLITORIS

The clitoris is an extremely sensitive mound of tissue that is responsible for orgasm. The homolog, or similar structure in the male, is the penis.

LABIA MAJORA AND MINORA

The labia majora and minora surround the vaginal introitus, or opening of the vagina. They are often referred to as the “lips.” There is a great variety of size and shape of the labia majora and minora, and this variation among women is normal.

URETHRA

The urethra is the opening to the bladder, located below the clitoris and above the vaginal opening. Its shorter length and close proximity to the vagina is thought to be one of the reasons that cystitis, or urinary tract infections, are so common among young sexually active women.

SKENE’S AND BARTHOLIN’S GLANDS

The Skene’s and Bartholin’s glands produce mucus and secretions, and are located around the vaginal opening. The Bartholin’s gland can form a cyst, which may be asymptomatic, or may become infected. Infection results in a Bartholin’s abscess, which is very painful and may require surgical drainage.

See Also: Ectopic pregnancy, Menopause, Menstruation, Pelvic examination, Puberty, Urinary tract infections, Uterine fibroids

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