The Female Reproductive System
The organs of the female reproductive system produce and sustain the female sex cells, transport these cells to a site where they may be fertilized by sperm, provide a favorable environment for the developing foetus, move the foetus to the outside at the end of the development period, and produce the female sex hormones. The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, accessory glands, and external genital organs.
A female's internal reproductive organs are the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The vagina is a muscular, hollow tube that extends from the vaginal opening to the uterus. The vagina is about 3 to 5 inches long in a mature woman. Because it has muscular walls it can expand and contract. The vagina's muscular walls are lined with mucous membranes, which keep it protected and moist.
A thin sheet of tissue with one or more holes in it called the hymen partially covers the opening of the vagina. The vagina connects with the uterus, or womb, at the cervix. The cervix has strong, thick walls. The opening of the cervix is very small. During childbirth, the cervix can expand to allow a baby to pass.
The uterus is shaped like an upside-down pear, with a thick lining and muscular walls - in fact, the uterus contains some of the strongest muscles in the female body. These muscles are able to expand and contract to accommodate a growing foetus and then help push the baby out during labor. When a woman isn't pregnant, the uterus is only about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide.
At the upper corners of the uterus, the fallopian tubes connect the uterus to the ovaries. The ovaries are two oval-shaped organs that lie to the upper right and left of the uterus. They produce, store, and release eggs into the fallopian tubes in the process called ovulation. Ovulation is a cyclic process and occurs once a month. This cyclic process is known as the menstrual cycle or ovarian cycle. The cycle stops during pregnancy and starts again soon after the baby is born. During menstruation the uterus loses its lining along with blood and the unfertilized egg cell. Menstruation lasts for 4-5 days and is repeated after 27-28 days. Menstruation is also known as a 'period'.
There are two fallopian tubes, each attached to a side of the uterus. The fallopian tubes are about 4 inches long. Within each tube is a tiny passageway no wider than a sewing needle. At the other end of each fallopian tube is a fringed area that looks like a funnel. This fringed area wraps around the ovary but is not completely attached to it. When an egg pops out of an ovary, it enters the fallopian tube. Once the egg is in the fallopian tube, tiny hairs in the tube's lining help push it down the narrow passageway toward the uterus.
The ovaries are also part of the endocrine system because they produce female sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone.
Both the male and female reproductive systems play a role in pregnancy. Problems with these systems can affect fertility and the ability to have children. There are many such problems in men and women. Reproductive health problems can also be harmful to overall health and can impair a person's ability to enjoy a sexual relationship.
One's reproductive health is influenced by many factors. These include one's age, lifestyle, habits, genetics, use of medicines and exposure to chemicals in the environment. Many problems of the reproductive system can be corrected. Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.
Implicit in this are the rights of men and women to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice, and the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.
Some Interesting Facts
- Throughout the living kingdom it is the male gamete which has to travel to reach the female gamete. In nature a large variety of devices have been evolved to achieve this purpose.
- Human testes produce 500 million sperms a day.
- The human female has more than a million eggs at birth most of which degenerate.
- Insects reproduce so quickly and in such large numbers that if countless millions were not eaten by their enemies they would soon strip the world bare of plants and most other forms of life.