How it Works: The Female Reproductive System
The Greeks thought the womb wandered around the body, making women crazy. Lucky for us, most of us understand broadly how the female reproductive system works, but some of the details can still feel a bit murky. Even those of us with wombs aren’t entirely sure what happens between our periods. If we get to know our bodies from the inside out, we find new ways to respect the genius of our female anatomy.
Your reproductive system sits in your pelvic bowl, between the hips and below the naval. It’s connected to the brain via the bloodstream, which provides the hormonal super highway that keeps you fertile. Everything your body does, from ovulation to orgasm, plays a part in your overall and intimate health.
What Are Ovaries?
Ovaries are the size and shape of almonds. They sit above the uterus to the left and right of your pelvic bowl. These petite glands produce the sex cells and hormones that enable both ovulation and menstruation.
Each ovary is full of follicles, which contain oocyte cells that mature into eggs (ovum) after puberty. These are released one at a time on a monthly basis, or at longer intervals, depending on the rhythm of your cycle. Once the ovum leaves the follicle, it passes into the fallopian tube, and ovulation has begun.
What Are Fallopian Tubes?
Fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus. Their funnel-shaped ends are covered in small fingers (fimbriae), which sweep up the released ovum. Tiny hairs (cilia) on the inner surface pulse and propel it towards the womb. Meanwhile, the egg secretes progesterone, alerting the uterus to prepare for its arrival, but this journey can take days, so fertilization happens inside the tube.
What Is a Uterus?
The uterus, or womb, is a hollow muscular organ shaped like a pear. It sits behind and slightly above the bladder. When it receives the egg’s signal, it builds a nutrient-rich lining (the endometrium) that can support a growing fetus.
If the egg is unfertilized when it arrives, this lining is shed as menstrual blood. If fertilization has taken place, however, the womb will expand as the fetus grows, reaching as far as the rib cage. Its muscular walls then contract during childbirth to push the baby through the cervix into the birth canal.
What Is a Cervix?
The cervix is the neck of the womb. It sits at the base of the uterus and provides a narrow entrance to the vagina. The cervix allows semen to swim up through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes. Progesterone stimulates the release of cervical mucus to help them reach their destination. Menstrual blood also passes out of the uterus through the cervix, before exiting the body via the vagina.
What Is a Vagina?
The vagina is a passageway that connects your reproductive system to your external genitals, but its exposure to the outside world leaves it vulnerable to infection. A team of microbes work to cultivate vaginal acidity, maintaining a pH balance similar to tomatoes. This provides a layer of protection that’s supported by the external genitalia, otherwise known as the vulva.
Your vulva includes the two sets of lips on either side of the vaginal opening. Labia majora are on the outside, and labia minora are tucked inside. The lips vary from body to body, and often look different on each side.
Next comes the clitoris, a super-sensitive bump that sits beneath the labia minora. This comes in all sizes too; and what we see externally is just the tip of the orgasmic iceberg. The clitoris is a mass of nerve endings that extends into the walls of your vagina like a wishbone. It’s responsible for the majority of your sexual pleasure, which brings us to another feminine mystery: the G-spot.
This is a patch of spongy tissue located on the front of the inner vaginal wall, sitting about two inches up. It swells when aroused, and has the capacity to enhance sexual climax over and over again. Orgasm increases estrogen levels, which are essential to our menstrual health, and stimulates the release of oxytocin, one of our happiness hormones. So, what’s not to love?
We can become so hung up about the way we look on the outside, we forget about the miracles happening on the inside. Understanding our internal anatomy can boost our body image (and body love) to no end. Your reproductive system is your epicenter; it’s the point from which your feminine strength radiates. So now that you know how it works, don’t underestimate its potency.