Each ovary is attached to several ligaments that help to
hold it in position. The largest of these, formed by a fold
of peritoneum, is called the "broad ligament." It is also
attached to the uterine tubes and to the uterus. At its
upper end, the ovary is held by a small fold of peritoneum,
called the "suspensory ligament," which contains the ovarian
blood vessels and nerves. At its lower end, it is attached
to the uterus by a rounded, cord-like thickening of the
broad ligament, called the "ovarian ligament." The
"peritoneum" is a two-layered membrane that supports the
abdominal organs, produces lubricating fluid that allows the
organs to flow smoothly over each other, and protects
Uterine Tube and Ovary with Ligaments
The uterus or "womb" is a hollow, muscular organ in which a
fertilized egg, called the "zygote," becomes embedded and in
which the egg is nourished and allowed to develop until
birth. It lies in the pelvic cavity behind the bladder and
in front of the bowel. The uterus usually tilts forward at a
ninety degree angle to the vagina, although in about 20%% of
women, it tilts backwards. The uterus is lined with tissues
which change during the menstrual cycle. These tissues build
under the influence of hormones from the ovary. When the
hormones withdraw after the menstrual cycle, the blood
supply is cut off and the tissues and unfertilized egg are
shed as waste. During pregnancy, the uterus stretches from
three to four inches in length to a size which will
accommodate a growing baby. During this time, muscular walls
increase from two to three ounces to about two pounds and
these powerful muscles release the baby through the birth
canal with great force. The womb shrinks back to half its
pregnant weight before a baby is a week old. By the time the
baby is a month old, the uterus may be as small as when the
egg first entered. Superstition, myth or ignorance have
surrounded the menstrual period since the beginning of time.
This is largely due to a primitive fear of blood. The word,
"taboo," may stem from the Polynesian word for menstruation,
but not all legends are negative; a girl's first menses is
celebrated in some societies, because it is a sign that she
can bear children.
The vagina is a muscular passage which forms a part of the
female sex organs and which connects the neck of the uterus
(called the "cervix") with the external genitals. The
vagina, which is approximately two and one-half to four
inches long, has muscular walls which are supplied with
numerous blood vessels. These walls become erect when a
woman is aroused as extra blood is pumped into these
vessels. The vagina has three functions: as a receptacle for
the penis during love-making; as a outlet for blood during
menstruation; and as a passageway for the baby to pass
through at birth. According to The Guiness Book of World
Records, a Russian peasant woman who lived in the 18th
Century holds the record for the most children born to one
mother. She had sixty-nine children within forty years. She
produced sixteen pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and
four sets of quadruplets!
The vulva is made up of several female organs which are
external. These include a small, rounded pad of fat which
protects the pubic bone. Reaching down almost to the anus
are two folds of fatty tissue, called the "larger lips," to
protect the inner genitals. Just inside are two "smaller
lips," which enclose the opening of the urethra (which comes
down from the bladder) and the vagina. At the upper end, are
small projections, called the "prepuce," that protect the
clitoris. The clitoris is a very small, sensitive organ with
numerous nerve endings that, like the penis, contain tissues
which fill with blood when sexually aroused.
The Mammary Glands
The mammary glands are accessory organs of the female
reproductive system that are specialized to secrete milk
following pregnancy. They are located in the subcutaneous
tissue of the front thorax within the elevations which are
called breasts. A "nipple" is located near the tip of each
breast, and it is surrounded by a circular area of pigmented
skin called the "areola." A mammary gland is composed of
fifteen to twenty irregularly shaped lobes, each of which
includes alveolar glands, and a duct (lactiferous duct) that
leads to the nipple and opens to the outside. The lobes are
separated by dense connective tissues that support the
glands and attach them to the tissues on the underlying
pectoral muscles. Other connective tissue, which forms dense
strands called "suspensory ligaments," extends inward from
the skin of the breast to the pectoral tissue to support the
weight of the breast. The breasts are really modified sweat
glands, which are made up of fibrous tissues and fat that
provide support and contain nerves, blood vessels and
The lower one-third of the uterus is the tubular "cervix,"
which extends downward into the upper portion of the vagina.
The cervix surrounds the opening called the "cervical
orifice," through which the uterus communicates with the
The fallopian tube extends from the uterus to the ovary.
This tube carries eggs and sperm and is where fertilization
of the egg, or "ovum" takes place. The fallopian tubes lie
in the pelvic portion of the abdominal cavity and each tube
reaches from an ovary to become the upper part of the
uterus. This funnel-shaped tube is about three inches in
length. The larger end of the funnel is divided into
feathery, finger-like projections which lie close to the
ovary. These beating projections, along with muscle
contractions, force the ovum down the funnel's small end,
which opens into the uterus. After sexual intercourse, sperm
swim up this funnel from the uterus. The lining of the tube
and its secretions sustain both the egg and the sperm,
encouraging fertilization and nourishing the egg until it
reaches the uterus. If an egg splits in two after
fertilization, identical or "maternal" twins are produced.
If separate eggs are fertilized by different sperm, the
mother gives birth to un-identical or "fraternal" twins.
The labia (singular, labium) minor are flattened lengthwise
into folds located with the cleft between the labia major.
These folds extend along either side of the vestibule. They
are composed of connective tissue that is richly supplied
with blood vessels, causing a pinkish appearance. In the
back, near the anus, the labia minor merge with the labia
major, while in the front they converge to form a hood-like
covering around the clitoris.
The ovaries are a pair of oval or almond-shaped glands which
lie on either side of the uterus and just below the opening
to the fallopian tubes. In addition to producing eggs or
"ova," the ovaries produce female sex hormones called
estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries produce a female
hormone, called estrogen, and store female sex cells or
"ova." The female, unlike the male, does not manufacture the
sex cells. A girl baby is born with about 60,000 of these
cells, which are contained in sac-like depressions in the
ovaries. Each of these cells may have the potential to
mature for fertilization, but in actuality, only about 400
ripen during the woman's lifetime. Pregnant and prenatal
both come from the same Latin roots. "Prae" means "before"
and "nascor" means "to be born". Nascor is also the
derivative of nature, innate and native. Only a few years
ago, the word, "pregnant" was seldom used in mixed company.
Polite society referred to a pregnant woman as "expecting"
or "being in the family way."
What Happens During the Menstrual Cycle?
Females of reproductive age experience cycles of hormonal
activity that repeat at about one-month intervals. (Menstru
means "monthly"; hence the term menstrual cycle.) With every
cycle, a woman's body prepares for a potential pregnancy,
whether or not that is the woman's intention. The term
menstruation refers to the periodic shedding of the uterine
The average menstrual cycle takes about 28 days and occurs
in phases: the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase
(ovulation), and the luteal phase.
Infections of the Female Reproductive System
Sexually transmitted diseases.
These include infections and diseases such as pelvic
inflammatory disease (PID), human immunodeficiency
virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), human
papilloma virus (HPV, or genital warts), syphilis,
chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes. Most are spread
from one person to another by sexual intercourse.
Toxic shock syndrome. This uncommon illness is caused by toxins released
into the body during a type of bacterial infection that is
more likely to develop if a tampon is left in too long. It
can produce high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and shock.
If you think you have symptoms of a problem with your
reproductive system or if you have questions about your
growth and development, talk to your parent or doctor — many
problems with the female reproductive system can be treated.