The female reproductive system includes several parts that allow a woman to conceive, carry, and give birth to children. The vulva, labia majora and labia minora, and vagina are the outermost parts of the system, while the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes make up the largest part of the female reproductive system. The ovaries also play a large role, although they are considered a part of the endocrine system as well.
As the outermost part of the female reproductive system, the vulva is often mistakenly referred to as the vagina. The vulva serves as a cover for the rest of the system and the clitoris, a sensitive nerve ending. The labia minora, small folds of skin on either side of the vulva, and the labia majora, larger folds of skin that surround the entire outer area, help to protect the entrance to the vagina.
Located inside of a woman’s body, the vagina is often referred to as the birth canal. It is shaped like a cylinder and capable of expanding enough to accommodate the head of a newborn child. The vagina also acts as a passageway for sperm. It extends between the opening at the vulva all the way to the cervix.
The next part of the female reproductive system is the cervix. It connects the vagina and the uterus, and has an extremely small opening at the point where it connects with the uterus. This opening allows sperm to enter while also keeping a growing fetus inside. Once the cervix begins to stretch open, often referred to as dilating, it can become wide enough to allow a child to pass through into the vagina.
The uterus is one of the strongest smooth muscles in the female body. When a woman is not pregnant, it is about the size of a pear. Even so, this portion of the female reproductive system is capable of expanding enough to accommodate a full-term baby. The lining inside of the uterus allows for an egg to implant after fertilization. If fertilized, the egg typically begins to form into a fetus; if it is not fertilized, the uterus sheds the lining surrounding the egg and the egg itself, resulting in menstruation.
At the two uppermost corners of the uterus are the fallopian tubes. These work in conjunction with the ovaries to allow passage for eggs into the uterus for implanting. The tubes are very thin, and contain millions of tiny hairs that help to push an egg from the ovaries into the uterus.
The final part of the female reproductive system is the ovaries. One is attached to each fallopian tube, and is used to produce, hold, and release eggs for fertilization. The ovaries, while a part of the female reproductive system, are also a part of the endocrine system, as they create estrogen and progesterone.