The reproductive structure in women is a complex set of internal and external organs. It is a crucial system responsible for hormone synthesis, ensuring fertility, managing menstruation and facilitating sexual activities.

Definition of the Female Reproductive Structure

The female reproductive structure comprises several components, assisting women or individuals identified as female at birth (AFAB) in:

  • Engage in sexual activities.
  • Procreate.
  • Experience menstrual cycles.

Components of the Female Reproductive Structure

Reproductive anatomy in women is categorized into external and internal components.

External Components

The external reproductive components serve as a protective barrier for the internal organs against infection and are crucial for the entry of sperm into the vagina.

The term “vulva” refers collectively to all external reproductive components. It is common to incorrectly use “vagina” to refer to all female reproductive components, but the vagina is a distinct internal structure.

The primary components of the vulva include:

  • Labia Majora: They surround and protect other external reproductive components. Puberty induces hair growth on the labia majora, which also have glands that produce sweat and oil.
  • Labia Minora: They vary in size and shape and surround the openings of the vagina and urethra. They are delicate and susceptible to irritation and inflammation.
  • Clitoris: This sensitive nub is where the two labia minora meet and is highly receptive to stimulation.
  • Vaginal Orifice: Allows the exit of menstrual blood and babies.
  • Hymen: It is a tissue that partially covers the vaginal opening.
  • Urethral Opening: This is where urine leaves the body.

Internal Components

  • Vagina: This muscular tube connects the cervix, the lower section of the uterus, to the outside of the body.
  • Cervix: It is the lower segment of the uterus. It dilates to facilitate the birth of a baby through vaginal delivery.
  • Uterus: This hollow, pear-shaped organ accommodates a fetus during pregnancy.
  • Ovaries: They are tiny, oval glands located on each side of the uterus, responsible for the production of eggs and hormones.
  • Fallopian tubes: These thin tubes connect to the top of the uterus and act as conduits for eggs to travel from the ovaries to the uterus.

Functions of the Female Reproductive System

The female reproductive system has a multifaceted role. It not only allows individuals to engage in sexual activities but also assists in human reproduction.

The ovaries are responsible for the formation of eggs. During ovulation, these eggs are transported to the fallopian tubes, where they can find sperm for possible fertilization. Subsequently, the fertilized egg advances to the uterus, aligning itself with the thickened uterine wall, a response to the hormonal changes of the reproductive cycle. If the fertilized egg successfully implants into the uterine lining, it will continue to develop. In the absence of successful implantation, the menstrual phase begins with the expulsion of the uterine lining. Additionally, this system generates sex hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.

With the arrival of menopause, the production of essential female hormones by the reproductive system decreases, disrupting the regularity of menstrual cycles until they cease completely. Menopause is officially recognized after one year without experiencing a menstrual period.

Explanation of the Menstrual Cycle

Individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB), typically between the ages of 11 and 16, experience recurrent hormonal cycles approximately every month. During each cycle, the body anticipates a possible pregnancy, regardless of whether pregnancy is desired. Menstruation denotes the recurrent expulsion of the uterine lining in the absence of pregnancy during a cycle, commonly referred to as a "period" when there is visible vaginal bleeding.

A typical menstrual cycle lasts approximately 28 days and develops in different stages, including:

  • Follicular stage (ovum maturation).
  • Ovulatory stage (release of the egg).
  • Luteal stage (decrease in hormonal levels if implantation does not occur).

The menstrual cycle is driven by four primary hormones that influence cellular or organ activities, namely:

  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone.
  • Luteinizing hormone.
  • Estrogen.
  • Progesterone.

Ovulation Phase

Typically, the ovulation phase begins approximately 14 days after the start of the follicular phase, although the exact time may vary. This is the second stage of the menstrual cycle. Most people experience a menstrual period between 10 to 16 days after ovulation. This stage includes several key developments:

  • Rising levels of follicle-dominant estrogen cause a substantial increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) production in the brain.
  • This hormonal change induces the predominant follicle to expel its egg from the ovary.
  • Once released, the egg is captured by the fimbriae, extensions located at the end of the fallopian tubes, which guide the egg towards the tube.
  • In the days before ovulation, an increase in the consistency of cervical mucus that resembles egg white is frequently observed, serving to trap and nourish the sperm on its way to fertilize the egg.

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase develops immediately after ovulation and includes the following series of events:

  • After the release of the egg, the now empty ovarian follicle transforms into a structure known as the corpus luteum.
  • The corpus luteum releases hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, the latter prepares the uterus for the possible implantation of a fertilized egg.
  • In cases where fertilization occurs, the fertilized egg travels through the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus, marking the beginning of pregnancy.
  • In the absence of fertilization, the egg disintegrates within the uterus, leading to the decomposition and elimination of the unnecessary uterine lining, signaling the beginning of the menstrual period.

Number of Eggs in the Ovaries

From birth, women have a lifetime supply of eggs. During fetal development, approximately 6 million eggs are formed, reducing to about 1 million at birth. At the onset of puberty, only about 300,000 are retained. The continuous decrease in the number of eggs accompanies aging and each menstrual cycle, affecting fertility due to the reduced quantity and quality of the remaining eggs.

Reproductive Process

In human reproduction, the collaborative function of female and male reproductive structures is crucial. It involves the union of two different sex cells: sperm and eggs. The convergence of a sperm and an egg results in the formation of a zygote, which eventually evolves into a fetus, needing both an egg and a sperm to carry out human reproduction.

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