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Anatomy: The Female Reproductive System

Let’s learn about our bodies!

female reproductive system
Welcome to the female reproductive system! We’re going to explore our reproductive system, including our vulva, vagina, and uterus. By the end of our exploration, you will have a basic understanding of the approximate location, size, shape, and the functions of each part.

By becoming more familiar with the your body and anatomy, you will gain a better understanding of your reproductive and menstrual health.

For many girls this may be your first time seeing your genitals and that’s okay! Don’t be afraid to look and learn about your body. Use a mirror, touch, and feel. It is your own body! But if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, that’s okay too. follow along in whichever way you feel comfortable.

So let’s begin our exploration! Grab a mirror, get yourself some real privacy, and take the time to explore your body. At any time if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section.

On the right we see where the female reproductive system is located in our body.

Learn & Explore
The Vulva

Vulva 
The vulva is everything you see on the outside. This includes: the pubic hair, outer labia, inner labia, clitoris, clitoral hood, and vaginal opening.

The Vagina

Vagina
Located inside the body, the vagina is a flattened muscular tube connected to the uterus. The vagina is highly elastic and serves many purposes.

The Hymen

hymen_square
The hymen is a stretchy tissue that surrounds or partially covers the vaginal opening.

The Uterus

uterus_square
Located in your lower abdomen, the uterus is about the size of your fist and is connected to many other reproductive parts.

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The Vulva

Let’s learn about our bodies!

Vulva diagram

The vulva is everything you see on the outside. This includes: the pubic hair, outer labia, inner labia, clitoris, clitoral hood, and vaginal opening. Colloquially, this part is known as the vagina but it’s proper name is the vulva (vuhl-vah).

In the diagram shown above, the girl is laying down with her legs and vaginal lips spread apart. When your legs are together, your vaginal opening is hidden between your outer and inner labia.

Let’s start our tour, starting at the top and working our way towards the vaginal opening.

Parts of the Vulva
Mons pubis
Mons pubis (Mahns) or simply mons is the area above your pubic bone. It is a pad of fatty tissue covered with pubic hair and it serves as a cushion for a woman’s pubic area during intercourse.

 

Pubic hairs
The pubic hairs act as a barrier against germs and bacteria (kind of like what your nose hairs does for your nose and what your eyelashes does for your eyes). It also helps vaporize odors similar to what your armpit hairs do. Pubic hair also grows on your outer labia and some pubic hair leading to the anus. It is usually longer and fuller than what I have shown in this diagram. Every girl has pubic hair and it is completely normal and natural.

 

Anus
The anus isn’t part of the vulva but I wanted to show it so you get an idea of where everything is located. Notice how far away it is from the vulva.

 

Parts of the Vulva: Up Close

vagina parts

This is a close up view of the vulva. I know it looks like there are a lot of parts but I promise it’s not as confusing as it looks! Let’s go through each part in detail starting with the outer labia.

Outer Labia
The outer labia (lay-bee-ah), also known as the outer lips, are the two folds of skin that extend down from the mons on either side of your vulva. Like the mons, it is also padded with fatty tissue and grows pubic hair.
 
Do you see how your outer labia opens to reveal your vulva and closes to hide everything when you put your legs together? That’s the purpose of the outer labia, to conceal and protect the vaginal opening.

 

Inner Labia
The inner labia, also known as the inner lips, are the two thin folds of hairless skin in that lie between the outer labia and surround the vaginal opening. It’s purpose is to protect the vaginal opening.
 
Inner labia come in a huge variation of sizes, shape, asymmetry, and colour. Just think of how many different looking sets of eyes we see from person to person. There are as many different looking inner labia as there are different looking eyes.
 
Some inner labia are long and flappy, some stick out, and some are hidden inside the outer labia. Some are longer and some are shorter. They are all completely normal so don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like the diagram. (That’s like saying your face doesn’t look like this :-) smiley face!)

 

Vaginal Opening
The vaginal opening is the hole that leads to your vagina inside your body.
 
Your vaginal opening may not look like an open hole like it is in this diagram. That’s because the vaginal opening isn’t just an open hole you can see. Think of your vaginal canal as a flattened muscular tube that can stretch to open up.
 
When you look at your vaginal opening, it probably looks like there is something blocking the opening. Your vaginal opening leads to the vaginal canal and what you see blocking your opening is just your vaginal canal in its relaxed state.
 
If you’re having trouble finding your vaginal opening, follow our tutorial: How to find your vaginal opening.

 

Hymen
The hymen is a stretchy tissue that surrounds or partially covers the vaginal opening. It really doesn’t have a purpose except that it’s there.
 
The hymen can be torn by intercourse, exercise, self-exploration, and tampon insertion. But because the hymen is also capable of stretching so it can even remain in tact after the first instance of intercourse.
 
In many cultures, an intact or unbroken hymen is considered evidence of virginity. Since there are many activities that can tear your hymen, a torn hymen doesn’t mean you’ve lost your virginity. The only way to lose your virginity is to have sex.

 

Urethral Opening
The urethral opening is your pee hole. Unlike the vaginal opening, the urethral opening does not stretch. See how small it is? It is impossible to put a tampon in there.

 

Clitoral Hood
The clitoral hood is a loose fold of skin that covers and protects the clitoris. You can retract or pull back your clitoral hood to reveal the clitoris. The clitoral hood retracts when you become sexually aroused or turned on.

 

Clitoris
The clitoris is a small but highly sensitive knob of tissue. It’s about the size of a pea and is jam packed with nerves making it highly sensitive. That’s why it has a clitoral hood to protect it. The sole purpose of the clitoris is to provide sexual pleasure.

 

Those are all the parts of the vulva! If you have any questions, post a comment below.

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The Vagina

Let’s learn about our bodies!

Located inside the body, the vagina is a flattened muscular tube connected to the uterus. For now, we’ll be focusing on the vagina only.

The walls of the vaginal are muscular, highly elastic, and serves many purposes. It’s the birth canal for when you deliver a baby, the canal for sexual intercourse, and the canal for your period to leave your body.
 
It is divided into two parts, the outer third that is closest to the opening and the inner two thirds. Before we explore that, let’s take a closer look at the vaginal environment because it is pretty special and different!

vagina_uterus

vagina diagram
The Vaginal Environment

The environment inside the vagina is unique. It is warm and moist feels kind of like the inside of your mouth.
 
This unique environment is home to a large number of vaginal flora: a variety of friendly bacteria and friendly fungal organisms. Our vaginal flora keeps our vagina happy and healthy.
 
One of the ways these friendly bacteria keep our vagina happy is by converting sugars into lactic acid. This makes the vagina mildly acidic with a pH of around 4.0 to 5.0 and this actually helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
 
It may be weird to think there are bacteria and fungal organisms living in our vagina but they actually live in symbiosis with us and are crucial for keeping our vagina healthy.
 
The vagina is also self-cleaning meaning you don’t need to use vaginal douches to clean your vagina. Every day, your vagina releases vaginal discharge that cleanses the vagina while still keeping all your vaginal flora happy and balanced!

Parts of the Vagina
Outer Third of the Vagina
The outer third of your vagina is the part closest to the vaginal opening.
 
This part is tighter, more muscular , and has more nerves than the inner two thirds making it more sensitive to touch. This is why sometimes it hurts to insert or pull out a dry tampon.
 

 

Inner Two Thirds of the Vagina
The inner two thirds of your vagina is the part farthest from the vaginal opening and closest to the cervix.
 
This part is less muscular and has fewer nerves sensitive to touch than the outer third but this part is more sensitive to pressure. When you wear a tampon, this is the part where the tampon is worn.
 

 

That’s all you have to know about the vagina! If you have any questions, post a comment below.

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The Hymen

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closeup_big
The hymen (high-men) is a stretchy tissue that surrounds or partially covers the vaginal opening. The hymen doesn’t serve any real purpose and is considered a remnant from our evolutionary past. In other words, it’s just there.

Some cultures may refer to the hymen as the “virginal tissue”. These cultures hold the view that virgin girls will still have their hymen in tact and non-virgins will not. But there are many activities that can tear your hymen so a torn hymen doesn’t mean you’ve lost your virginity. The only way to lose your virginity is to have sex.

The hymen can be torn by intercourse, exercise, self-exploration, and tampon insertion. The hymen is also capable of stretching so it can even remain in tact after the first instance of intercourse!

When the hymen tears, some girls may notice a slight pain and some girls may not feel anything at all.

A vagina works completely fine whether the hymen is torn or in-tact.

Hymen Shapes

The hymen comes in a variety of shapes. All shapes are normal, however there are a couple hymen shapes that can block the passage of menstrual blood. In these diagrams, the shaded portions represent the vaginal opening.

normal hymen shape

Normal Hymen

The normal hymen is the most common shape. It’s in the shape of a moon and leaves most of the vaginal opening uncovered, allowing menstrual fluid to pass through.

Girls with a normal hymen should have no problem inserting a tampon and removing a tampon.

annular hymen shape
Annular Hymen

Another common shape, the annular hymen takes on a ring like shape, partially covering the vaginal opening and allows menstrual fluid to pass through.

Girls with a normal hymen should have no problem inserting a tampon and removing a tampon.

septate hymen shape
Septate Hymen

The septate hymen has a band of hymen tissue in the middle that crosses the vaginal opening like a little bridge, creating two small openings instead of one. This shape still allows for menstrual fluid to pass through.

If this band of tissue is very thin, tampon use may tear this tissue. If it is thicker, it may stretch to accommodate the tampon but you may have a bit of trouble getting the tampon in and out.

Girls with septate hymens can go through a simple surgery to remove the extra band of tissue to create a normal sized vaginal opening.

cribiform hymen shape
Cribiform Hymen

The cribiform hymen is a rare hymen shape that has many small holes. A cribiform hymen typically allows menstrual fluids to pass with no problem but will not allow for tampon insertion.

Girls with cribiform hymens are usually diagnosed and treated at birth with a simple procedure. Teens can also go through a simple surgery to create a normal hymen shape.

imporforate hymen shape
Imporforate Hymen

The imporforate hymen is a rare hymen shape that fully covers the vaginal opening. It does not allow menstrual fluid or vaginal discharge to pass through. This usually causes the menstrual blood to collect in the vagina and can cause abdominal pain, back pain, pain passing bowel movements, and difficulty peeing. It will also not allow for tampon insertion or intercourse.

Girls with imporforate hymens are usually treated at birth with a simple procedure. Teens can also go through a simple procedure to create a normal sized hymen and the backed up menstrual fluid is drained from the vagina.

That’s all there is to the hymen! If you have any questions, post a comment below.

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Hymen diagrams courtesy of: Wikimedia

The Uterus

Let’s learn about our bodies!

parts of the uterus

The uterus, also known as the womb, is where a baby grows.
 
Located in your lower abdomen, the uterus is about the size of your fist and is connected to many other reproductive parts.
 
By the end of this post, you will be able to identify the parts of the uterus and what they each do.

Parts of the Uterus
In this section, we will explore the parts of the uterus and the parts connected to it. We’ll start from the bottom at the cervix and work our way up from there.

Cervix
The cervix is like the neck of the uterus. It is the lowermost portion of the uterus that connects with the vagina.

 

Uterus
The uterus is where a lining develops and sheds every cycle.
 
It is located in your lower abdomen region or below your tummy and about the size of your fist. When a woman is pregnant, the uterus becomes much bigger as it grows to support a developing fetus.

 

Endometrium
Located inside the uterus, the endometrium is a layer that lines the uterus. The endometrium is where the endometrial lining develops and sheds every cycle.

 

Myometrium
The myometrium (not labeled in the diagram), is a layer of smooth muscle that lines the uterus and lies under the endometrium. These are the muscles that contract to push out your period and the muscles that cramp up during your period.

 

Fallopian Tubes
The fallopian tubes, also known as the oviducts, are tubes that lead from the uterus towards the ovaries. The fallopian tubes carries the ovum from the ovaries towards the uterus.

 

Ovaries
The ovaries is the organ that produces ova. The ovaries also produce most of the sex hormones that drive our menstrual cycle.

 

Ovum
Produced by the ovaries, an ovum or egg is released every cycle by the ovaries and sometimes more than one is released. If fertilized, the ovum will develop into a baby.
 
Since we have two ovaries, a common question is “Do our ovaries take turns releasing ova?” We’re not exactly sure how the body decides which ovary releases an ovum but we know that the ovaries do not take turns releasing ova. For now, it looks like it is random.

 

Those are all the parts of the uterus! If you have any questions, post a comment below.

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