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How the female reproductive system works

Map image of the female reproductive system
Text Uterus Text fallopian tube Text ovary Text cervix Text vagina Text hymen

Click on each of the names above to learn what each part of the system does.

The female reproductive system is all the parts of your body that help you reproduce, or have babies. And it is quite amazing! Consider these two fabulous facts:

  • Your body likely has hundreds of thousands of eggs that could grow into a baby. And you have them from the time you’re born.
  • Right inside you is a perfect place for those eggs to meet with sperm and grow a whole human being!

Here’s a closer look at a young woman’s reproductive system:

What’s inside the female reproductive system? top

The ovaries are two small organs. Before puberty, it’s as if the ovaries are asleep. During puberty, they “wake up.” The ovaries start making more estrogen and other hormones, which cause body changes. One important body change is that these hormones cause you to start getting your period, which is called menstruating. (Learn more about how your reproductive system works during your period.)

Once a month, the ovaries release one egg (ovum). This is called ovulation.

The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus. The released egg moves along a fallopian tube.

The uterus — or womb — is where a baby would grow. It takes several days for the egg to get to the uterus.

As the egg travels, estrogen makes the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) thick with blood and fluid. This makes the uterus a good place for a baby to grow. You can get pregnant if you have sex with a male without birth control and his sperm joins the egg (called fertilization) on its way to your uterus.

If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, it will be shed along with the lining of your uterus during your next period. But don’t look for the egg — it’s too small to see!

The blood and fluid that leave your body during your period passes through your cervix and vagina.

The cervix is the narrow entryway in between the vagina and uterus. The cervix is flexible so it can expand to let a baby pass through during childbirth.

The vagina is like a tube that can grow wider to deliver a baby that has finished growing inside the uterus.

The hymen covers the opening of the vagina. It is a thin piece of tissue that has one or more holes in it. Sometimes a hymen may be stretched or torn when you use a tampon or during a first sexual experience. If it does tear, it may bleed a little bit.

What’s outside the vagina? top

The external reproductive system.

The vulva covers the entrance to the vagina. The vulva has five parts: mons pubis, labia, clitoris, urinary opening, and vaginal opening.

The mons pubis is the mound of tissue and skin above your legs, in the middle. This area becomes covered with hair when you go through puberty.

The labia are the two sets of skin folds (often called lips) on either side of the opening of the vagina.

The labia majora are the outer lips, and the labia minora are the inner lips. It is normal for the labia to look different from each other.

The clitoris is a small, sensitive bump at the bottom of the mons pubis that is covered by the labia minora.

The urinary opening, below the clitoris, is where your urine (pee) leaves the body.

The vaginal opening is the entry to the vagina and is found below the urinary opening.

Those are the basics of the fabulous female. Are you curious about boys? You can read an article about the male reproductive system.

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 23, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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