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Female Sexual Anatomy



Second part


The Vagina and Internal Sex Organs

The uterus (womb) is a hollow muscular organ shaped like an inverted pear somewhat flattened front to back. It is about 7.5 centimeters (3 inches) long and 5 centimeters (2 inches) wide. Anatomically the uterus consists of several parts. The inside lining of the uterus (the endometrium) and the muscular component of the uterus (the myometrium) have separate and distinct functions. The inner lining changes during the menstrual cycle and is where a fertilized egg implants at the beginning of pregnancy. The muscular   facilitates labor and delivery.  Both aspects of uterine function are regulated by chemicals called hormones, which also play a part in the growth of the uterus during pregnancy. 


The uterus is held loosely in place in the pelvic cavity by six ligaments.  The angle of the uterus in relation to the vagina varies from woman to woman; ordinarily, it is relatively perpendicular to the axis of the vaginal canal, but in about 25 percent, it is tilted farther forward.  If the uterus is rigidly fixed in position by scar tissue or inflammation, it may be a source of pain during sexual activity, requiring surgical correction.  


The fallopian tubes, or oviducts, begin at the uterus and extend about 10 centimeters (4 inches) laterally. The far ends of the Fallopian tubes are funnel-shaped and terminate in long fingerlike extensions called fimbria, which hover near the ovaries. The inside lining of the Fallopian tubes pick up eggs produced and released by the nearby ovary and then serve as the meeting ground for egg and sperm.


The ovaries, or female gonads, are paired structures located on each side of the uterus. About the size of unshelled almonds (about 3 x 2 x 1.5 centimeters, or 1.2 x 0.8 x 0.6 inches), they are held in place by connective tissue that attaches to the broad ligament of the uterus. The ovaries have two separate functions: manufacturing hormones (most notably, estrogen and progesterone) and producing and releasing eggs.


Before a baby girl is born, development of future eggs begins in her just-forming ovaries. About halfway through her motherís pregnancy, the girlís ovaries contain 6 or 7 million future eggs, most of which degenerate before birth. About 400,000 immature eggs are present in the newborn girl, and no new eggs are formed after this time. During childhood, continued degeneration reduces the number of eggs still further. The immature eggs are surrounded by a thin capsule of tissue forming a follicle.


When puberty arrives and girls begin to have menstrual cycles each cycle is marked by a process of maturation in which some immature eggs divide twice, splitting their genetic material in half. Through this process, called meiosis, each young egg divides into four cells, only one of which is a mature egg (ovum). A mature egg is about 0.135 millimeters (1/175 inch) in diameter and is surrounded by a zone of jellylike material called the zona pellucida. A human egg is just barely visible, appearing as a speck smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. The other three cells, called polar bodies, have no known function, and eventually degenerate.


Although a number of different follicles begin growing in each cycle, usually only one develops to the point where it moves to the surface of the ovary and ruptures, releasing the egg in a process called ovulation. For every follicle that ovulates, about a thousand undergo various degrees of growth and then degenerate. Fewer than 400 follicles are usually involved in ovulation during the femaleís reproductive years.

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