Matthew Prior
Matthew Prior
MBBS, PhD, MRCOG, Newcastle Hospitals

Women’s reproductive anatomy – A simple guide

Talking about sex can be embarrassing and many men, and indeed women don’t know the proper names when talking about female anatomy. This is probably one of the reasons why they are reluctant to go and see a doctor when there are problems.

This is a basic guide to female anatomy covering the proper name and description for each organ and what it does.

Ovary

What is it?

  • The ovary is about 3-5cm long, roughly the size of a walnut. They come in pairs

What does it do?

  • Produce eggs. In fact, girls are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their lifetime, about 2 million in total. When a girl’s periods start, an egg is released each month
  • Makes hormones. Mainly oestrogen and progesterone. Read more about it in this article

Fallopian Tube

What is it?

  • A small tube that comes of either side of the uterus and ends near the ovaries. One either side

What does it do?

  • Sperm wait in the fallopian tube for up to a few days waiting for an egg to come along

  • Fallopian tubes are incredibly mobile and pick up eggs from the ovary. They are so mobile that even with one tube, it can pick up eggs from the other ovary

  • The tubes are lined with little finger like brushes called cilia. These sweep the egg, (or if the egg is fertilised, the embryo) along the tube to the uterus where it can implant
Female anatomy - Ovary

Uterus

What is it?

  • Also known as the womb, the uterus is pear shaped muscle roughly the size of your fist.

What does it do?

  • The uterus acts as a passage for sperm to enter and for menstrual blood, or babies to exit. When pregnant the uterus will grow and stretch to carry a pregnancy to term. In labour, the uterus contracts to push the baby out.

Endometrium

What is it?

  • The womb lining. Thinnest just after a period and gradually thickens throughout the menstrual cycle.
What does it do?

  • If an embryo comes along it can implant into the endometrium. If pregnancy doesn’t happen that month, the endometrium is shed as a period.

Cervix

What is it?

  • The neck of the womb.

What does it do?

  • It protects a pregnancy in the womb until ready to go into labour. The cervix also produces discharge to prevent infection and to help sperm get into the uterus during the fertile window.

Vagina

What is it?

  • The canal between the vulva and the cervix. The vagina can’t be seen from the outside and is about 7-9 cm long.
    What does it do?
What does it do?
 
  • The vagina contains very stretchy elastic tissue. It can stretch in all directions to allow the birth of a baby.
Female anatomy - vagina

Vulva

What is it?

  • Many people do not know the difference between the vulva and vagina. The vulva is the term used to refer to a woman’s external genital area.

What does it do?

The vulva consists of the:

  • Mons pubis – the area of fatty tissue which covers the pubic bone and is covered in hair

  • Clitoris and clitoral hood – the clitoris is about the size of a pea and consists of spongy tissue equivalent to the penis in a man but contains about 2 to 3 times the amount of nerve endings. As it is so sensitive, the clitoris is covered by a hood for protection

  • Urethral opening – where you urinate from

  • Vagina – the muscular tube connecting the vulva from the outside to the cervix

  • Labia majora – the larger skin-covered outer lips of the vulva

  • Labia minora – the inner lips of the vulva

  • Perineum – the area between the back of the vaginal opening and the anus

Some women worry they don’t look normal down there. The commonest cause for concern is the labia minora. Like men, women’s genitals come in all shapes, sizes and colours. So it’s normal for the labia minora to be visible below the labia majora, and it’s also common for them to be asymmetrical.

Pelvic floor muscles

What are they?

  • Behind the skin of the vulva are a whole host of muscles that surrounding the entrance to the vagina, bladder and anus

What does they do?

  • Basically, they stop all the pelvic organs falling out

  • Some women find vaginal examinations, internal scans and sex painful because their pelvic floor muscles contract inappropriately. This can be managed by telling the clinician so they can tailor their examination appropriately

So now you should know your (or your partners) vulva from the vagina and the right names for the rest of the female anatomy and reproductive system. Especially for you as a woman, this can be helpful when discussing things with your GP or family practitioner who will be more than happy to answer any concerns.