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Female reproductive organs: want to learn more about it?

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Female reproductive organs

The female sex organs consist of both internal and external genitalia. Together they comprise the female reproductive system, supporting sexual and reproductive activities. The external genital organs, or vulva, are held by the female perineum. These are the mons pubis, labia majora and minora, clitoris, vestibule, vestibular bulb and glands. The vagina, uterus, ovaries and uterine tubes compose the internal genital organs.

Female reproductive organs undergo substantial structural and functional changes every month. These changes are not only there to make women’s lives miserable, they also have a crucial function in the initiation of pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the proliferated endometrial lining breaks down and sheds, passing through the vagina as menstrual blood. These activities occur under the influence of hormones secreted by female sex organs (ovaries), as determined by the endocrine system. The female sex hormones also have a major role in sexual maturation.

Key facts about the female reproductive organs
Internal genitalia Vagina, uterus, ovaries, uterine tubes
External genitalia Mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vestibule, vestibular bulb, vestibular glands
Blood supply Internal genitalia: uterine artery, ovarian artery, vaginal artery, internal iliac artery
External genitalia: internal pudendal artery, external pudendal artery
Innervation Internal genitalia: thoracolumbar nerves, lesser splanchnic nerves, hypogastric nerve (sympathetic), pelvic splanchnic nerves, vagus nerve (parasympathetic)
External genitalia: ilioinguinal nerve, genitofemoral nerve, pudendal nerve, posterior cutaneous nerve of the thigh (sensory), uterovaginal nerve plexus (parasympathetic)
Lymphatics Internal genitalia: para-aortic, iliac (internal and external), superficial inguinal, lumbar, and sacral lymph nodes
External genitalia: superficial and deep inguinal lymph nodes, internal iliac lymph nodes
Clinical points True hermaphroditism, Pseudohermaphroditism

This article describes the complex, yet fascinating female reproductive anatomy, its blood supply and innervation.

Internal genitalia

Internal genitalia are the female reproductive organs that are located inside the pelvic cavity. They include the following:

Recommended video: Reproductive system
Overview of the different organs of the male and female reproductive systems.

Vagina

The vagina is the outermost internal female sex organ. It extends from the uterus to the vulva (external genitalia). Functionally, it facilitates menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth. The vagina is located posterior to the urinary bladder and urethra, and anterior to the rectum.

Vagina: Diagram

The upper end of the vagina is attached to the cervix of the uterus. These structures form a pouch (vaginal fornix) which has anterior, posterior, and lateral parts. The lower end of the vagina (vaginal orifice) opens into the vaginal vestibule just behind the urethral orifice. The vaginal orifice may be partially covered with a membrane called hymen.

The vagina is supplied by branches of the internal iliac artery; uterine, vaginal and internal pudendal arteries. Venous drainage of the vagina is provided by the vaginal veins which flow into the internal iliac veins. Nervous supply is derived from the: 

  • Inferior hypogastric plexus via the uterovaginal plexus - the sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers are conveyed by the thoracolumbar (T12-L1) and pelvic splanchnic nerves (S2-S4), respectively.
  • Pudendal nerve via the deep perineal nerve.  

Lymph is drained from the vagina into the iliac and superficial inguinal lymph nodes.

For more details about the vagina, its anatomy, blood supply and innervation, check out the following article and video:

Uterus

The uterus (womb) is a hollow muscular organ located deep within the pelvic cavity. Anterior to the rectum and posterosuperiorly to the urinary bladder, the uterus normally sits in a position of anteversion and anteflexion. The endometrial lining of the uterus proliferates each month in preparation for embryo implantation. If fertilization occurs, the uterus acts to house the growing fetus and its placenta. If pregnancy does not occur, the endometrial lining is shed during menstruation.

Female anatomy diagram: Uterus and ovaries

The uterus is divided into three parts:

  • Body (corpus) - the main part of the uterus, connected to the uterine (fallopian) tubes via the uterine horns. The body has a base (fundus) and an internal chamber (uterine cavity). 
  • Isthmus - the constricted part of the uterus, located between the body and the cervix.
  • Cervix - the inferior portion of the uterus. It consists of two parts (supravaginal, vaginal), two openings (internal os, external os) and a cervical canal.

The uterus is partially covered by peritoneum. As it reflects from the uterus to the rectum and urinary bladder, two folds are formed: the rectouterine pouch (of Douglas) and the vesicouterine pouch, respectively. Several peritoneal ligaments support the uterus and hold it in place: broad ligament, round ligament, cardinal ligament, uterosacral ligament and pubocervical ligament.

The uterus is supplied mainly by the uterine artery which arises from the internal iliac artery. The superior branch of the uterine artery supplies the body and fundus, while the inferior branch supplies the cervix. The venous blood of the uterus is drained via the uterine venous plexus into the internal iliac vein.

Uterus in a cadaver: The uterus is tilted 90 degrees to the axis of the vagina, placing it in anteversion. However, its exact location depends on the expansion of the urinary bladder or a pregnancy. The fundus is located superior to the attachments of the uterine tubes. The body of the uterus is located between the rectouterine pouch (posteriorly) and the vesicouterine pouch (anteriorly).

The uterus receives innervation from the inferior hypogastric plexus via the uterovaginal nervous plexus, similar to the vagina. Lymphatic drainage of the uterus is into the lumbar, superficial inguinal, iliac (internal, external) and sacral lymph nodes.

To wrap your head around these seemingly complicated structures and their relations, take a better look at the uterus, its ligaments and related structures with the following video tutorials and articles:

Ovaries

The ovaries are bilateral female gonads and the equivalent of the male testes. They release the ovum (egg) for the purpose of fertilization. In addition, they act as endocrine glands, secreting various hormones necessary for fertility, menstruation and sexual maturation of the female.

Each ovary is located in the ovarian fossa of the true pelvis, adjacent to the uterus and below the fallopian tubes. The ovary contains four surfaces (anterior, posterior, medial, lateral) and two poles (superior, inferior). It is held in its normal position by several paired ligaments: suspensory ligament of the ovary, proper ovarian ligaments (ligament of ovary) and mesovarium. 

Ovaries receive arterial supply from the ovarian arteries, which arise from the abdominal aorta. These blood vessels reach the gonads by traveling within the suspensory ligaments. 

Venous blood of the ovaries is drained by the pampiniform plexus. These veins later coalesce and form the ovarian veins. The right ovarian vein drains into the inferior vena cava, whereas the left ovarian vein flows into the left renal vein.

The ovaries are innervated by the ovarian nervous plexus which receives fibers from the aortic, renal and hypogastric (superior, inferior) plexuses. Sympathetic fibers are derived from the lesser splanchnic nerves (T10-T11). Parasympathetic innervation arises from the pelvic splanchnic nerves (S2-S4). Lumbar lymph nodes are responsible for lymphatic drainage of the ovaries.

Nerves of the female pelvis: Diagram


To find out more about the anatomy and neurovasculature of the ovary, watch the following videos and read these articles:

Uterine tubes

The uterine (fallopian) tubes are bilateral muscular organs that extend from the uterine horns to the superior poles of the ovaries. The fallopian tubes represent the usual site for ovum fertilization. They also transport the resulting zygote into the uterus for implantation.

The uterine tubes are intraperitoneal organs, covered completely by a part of the broad ligament of the uterus called the mesosalpinx. They consist of four main parts: 

  • Infundibulum - the distal part of the uterine tube that opens into the peritoneal cavity via the abdominal ostium. The infundibulum contains finger-like projections called fimbriae which extend over the medial surface of the ovaries.
  • Ampulla - is the longest and widest part of the uterine tube. It is the most common site of fertilization.
  • Isthmus - is the narrowest part of the uterine tube
  • Intramural (uterine) part - it communicates directly with the uterine cavity via the uterine ostium

The uterine tube receives arterial supply from the uterine and ovarian arteries. The former is a branch of the internal iliac artery, and the latter arises from the abdominal aorta. Venous drainage of the uterine tubes is mediated by the tubal veins. These drain into the uterine and pampiniform venous plexuses.

The uterine tube receives sympathetic innervation from the superior hypogastric plexus (T10-L2) via the hypogastric nerve. Parasympathetic innervation stems from the pelvic splanchnic nerves and the vagus nerve. Lymph is drained from the uterine tubes to the para-aortic, internal iliac and inguinal nodes.

For more details about the uterine tubes, their embryology, histology, blood supply and innervation, check out the following article!

External genitalia

The external genitalia (vulva) are the organs of the female reproductive system located in the perineum, outside the pelvis. They include the following:

  • Mons pubis
  • Labia majora
  • Labia minora
  • Clitoris
  • Vestibule
  • Vestibular bulb
  • Vestibular glands

Perineum and vulva: Diagram

Mons pubis

The mons pubis is a mass of subcutaneous adipose tissue located anterior to the pubic symphysis. The skin overlying the mons pubis is covered with a triangular patch of pubic hair.

Labia majora

Labia majora are two longitudinal skin folds covered with pubic hair. They are the most lateral part of the vulva, extending from the mons pubis to the perineum. The cleft between the labia majora is called the pudendal cleft. It contains the labia minora and the vestibule. The two labia majora merge anteriorly (anterior commissure) and posteriorly (posterior commissure). The labia majora are homologous to the scrotum of the male.

Labia minora

Labia minora are two longitudinal, thin and hairless skin folds found between the labia majora. They surround the vaginal vestibule and its urethral and vaginal orifices. The labia minora contribute to the formation of the prepuce and frenulum of the clitoris.

Clitoris

The clitoris is an erectile organ responsible for sexual sensations. It is analogous to the male penis. Located at the most superior part of the vulvar vestibule, the clitoris is surrounded by the anterior part of the labia minora. It has three parts: root, body and glans. The body consists of two corpora cavernosa and two attachment points (crura). 

Vestibule

The region between the labia minora is called the vestibule. This perineal area contains the vaginal orifice, opening of the female urethra and the openings for the excretory ducts of the greater and lesser vestibular glands.

Vestibular glands

There are three types of glands that open into the vestibule:

  • The greater vestibular (Bartholin's) glands are found on each side of the vestibule. They are homologous to the bulbourethral glands in the male and serve to lubricate the vulva during sexual intercourse
  • The lesser vestibular glands are located between the urethral and vaginal orifices. These glands are homologous to the male prostate.

Vestibular bulb

The bulbs of vestibule are a pair of subcutaneous erectile tissues analogous to the penile bulb and corpus spongiosum in males. They extend on each side of the vestibule and join in front of the urethral orifices.

Blood supply and innervation

The external genitalia are supplied by the pudendal arteries (internal, external) which are branches of the internal iliac and femoral arteries, respectively. Venous drainage is mediated by the internal and external pudendal veins.

The anterior aspect of the vulva receives sensory innervation from the ilioinguinal nerve and genitofemoral nerve. The posterior aspect is supplied by the pudendal nerve and the posterior cutaneous nerve of the thigh. The bulb of the vestibule and the clitoris receive parasympathetic innervation from the uterovaginal nerve plexus.

Lymph from the external genitalia is drained by the superficial and deep inguinal lymph nodes, or directly into the internal iliac lymph nodes.

Want to know more about the female external genitalia? Check out the articles below including a clinical case about female genital mutilation!

Menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle is a series of hormonally-induced monthly changes to the female reproductive organs. It involves two cycles that interact and overlap; the ovarian cycle and the uterine cycle. The ovarian cycle goes through three phases; follicular, ovulation and luteal. Together these allow for the maturation and release of the ovum.

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The uterine cycle also has three phases; menses, proliferative and secretory. The uterine phases act to prepare the uterus for potential fertilization and impending pregnancy.

  • Follicular phase - (Days 1-14) The ovarian follicles mature and prepare for ovulation. This phase overlaps with the proliferative phase of the uterine cycle which prepares the lining of the uterus for implantation.
  • Ovulation - (Typically day 14) The ovarian follicle ruptures and releases an ovum. 
  • Luteal Phase - (Days 14 - 28) The ovarian follicle is transformed into a hormone secreting corpus luteum. This phase corresponds to the secretory phase of the uterine cycle in which the endometrium becomes a nutritionally rich environment for the implantation of the fertilized egg. 
  • Menstruation - If no ovum is fertilized, the endometrial lining is shed, which signifies the beginning of menses, the first phase of the uterine cycle. If an ovum is fertilized the pregnancy will be maintained by a series of hormonal cascades.

To find out more details about the menstrual cycle, check out the following articles. After that, you can read the article about menorrhagia to see what happens if something in this process goes wrong. 

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Clinical relations

Hermaphroditism is a disorder of sexual differentiation characterized by the existence of both female and male genitalia in one individual. True hermaphroditism is the condition in which an individual contains both female and male reproductive organs, either by having both the ovary and the testis separately, or combined in the form of ovotestis. At birth, these individuals are typically regarded as males. However, in puberty they develop breasts and start menstruating.

Pseudohermaphroditism is a condition characterized by a discrepancy between the internal and external genitalia. In female pseudohermaphroditism, the individual contains a female chromosomal constitution (46, XX), female internal genitalia, and male external genitalia. In male pseudohermaphroditism, the individual contains a male chromosomal constitution (46, XY) male internal genitalia, and female or ambiguous external genitalia. 

Female reproductive organs: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,199,914 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Drake, R. L., Vogl, A. W., & Mitchell, A. W. M. (2015). Gray’s Anatomy for Students (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Moore, K. L., Dalley, A. F., & Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically Oriented Anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Article, review, layout:

  • Gordana Sendic
  • Nicola McLaren
  • Adrian Rad

Illustrators:

  • Vagina (diagram) - Samantha Zimmerman
  • Female anatomy  (uterus and ovaries) - Samantha Zimmerman
  • Nerves of the female pelvis (diagram) - Irina Münstermann
  • Perineum and vulva (diagram) - Paul Kim
  • Uterus in a cadaver - Prof. Carlos Suárez-Quian
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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