No doubt we learnt about our reproductive anatomy in school, but whether you remember it all or have completely forgotten everything, it can be helpful to have a refresher.
In this post I’m going to share with you the basics about the internal female reproductive anatomy and we can take a look at all the key components together.
Think: ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina!
Don’t worry if you don’t know where to place these parts on a diagram. I was totally the same until I made a point of learning it and committing it to memory.
Hopefully by the end of this you’ll know your ova from your ovaries and your vagina from your uterus.
Having this knowledge of your reproductive anatomy is also helpful in deepening your understanding of your menstrual cycle, which I’ll be writing more about soon.
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Sources of Information
Before we jump in, just a note I need to make. I am not a medical professional of any kind, so in order to write this post I have referred to a number of awesome women’s health resources. I have referenced them throughout my post below and included a detailed reference list at the bottom of this post, but I’d also like to shout out the main sources up here too, as you may like to seek them out and learn more directly from them.
Nat Kringoudis – a doctor of Chinese medicine, author, speaker, natural fertility expert and hormone health guru. Nat has written a wonderful book called Beautiful You that covers “everything they forget to tell you about health, hormones, sexuality and a happier self”. You can also follow Nat on Instagram @natkringoudis.
Toni Weschler – author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility, the definitive guide to natural birth control, pregnancy achievement and reproductive health. Toni has a master’s degree in public health and is a respected women’s health educator and speaker.
Nicole Jardim – certified Women’s Health Coach and period fixer, author of Fix Your Period and co-host of highly rated podcast The Period Party. You can follow Nicole on Instagram @nicolemjardim
Now, let’s take a look at our reproductive anatomy!
When talking about our bodies, the word vagina can sometimes be used as a sweeping term to refer to everything down there! But, in actual fact the vagina is just one part of our internal reproductive system.
The vagina is the muscular passage which connects the uterus to the outside of the body.1
What you can see from the outside is actually called the vulva. The vulva is the overarching name given to the external parts of the female genitals. This includes the inner and outer lips (the labia), the clitoris, the urethral opening (where your wee comes out), and the vaginal opening.2
On the inside, the vagina is an elastic 4-6 inch long muscular passage connecting the vulva (the outside) to the cervix (which is the opening of the uterus).3
The vagina is a muscle and the walls are elastic, and so, the vagina expands or contracts as needed. For example, it expands during intercourse to make room for the penis, it expands when inserting something inside like your fingers or a menstrual cup and it can REALLY expand during labour when it becomes the birth canal to pass the baby through from the uterus to life on the outside!
Between the opening of the vagina through to the opening of the cervix, there’s not much more to it. As you will find out below, the vagina is, for the most part, closed off from the rest of the body, thanks to the trusty cervix acting as the gatekeeper. What that means is, your vagina is not a never-ending abyss and so, you can’t really get anything lost inside there. Yes, something like a menstrual cup may disappear up higher than you can reach at first try, but it won’t be lost inside you forever, so please do not panic!
The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus and it protrudes into the vagina. 4
Because the cervix protrudes into the vagina, you can actually reach up with your finger and feel it! Watch this video on how to find your cervix if you’d like to learn how to do this.
When looking at your cervix front on, it kind of resembles a donut – cute!1
The cervix produces cervical fluid throughout the menstrual cycle and the type and consistency of this fluid changes depending on what stage of the cycle you’re in. It’s important to know that the different fluids you may see in your underwear throughout the month are mostly completely normal. But of course, if you have any concerns you should see your medical practitioner.
What’s amazing about the cervix is how it moves and changes throughout each cycle. For the most part, the cervix is closed. During ovulation however, when you are fertile, it opens to allow sperm to pass through and it opens again during menstruation to allow the menstrual fluid to flow out from the uterus and through the vagina.
Of course, during pregnancy and childbirth is when the real magic happens with the cervix. For most of pregnancy the cervix remains closed to keep the growing foetus safe and protected from any outside bacteria. But when the baby is ready to be born, the cervix begins to open and continues to dilate until it is big enough to allow the baby to pass through the cervix from the uterus, out to the world via the vaginal canal. When the cervix is fully dilated it’s around 10cm – woah!
MY PERSONAL CERVIX DISCOVERY
To me, the cervix is a fascinating beast, and I can’t believe how ignorant I was to it until only last year! Yes, I knew the word ‘cervix’ and I knew my cervix was involved somewhere in my reproductive area, but in all honesty I didn’t actually know where or what it was. I know I would have been taught this at school, but it was clearly not something I had stored in my memory bank.
What prompted me to go on a cervix self-discovery mission was my involvement in the menstrual cup world. Knowing the location and ‘height’ of your cervix is key in working out what length menstrual cup would be best for you. So one day I locked myself in the bathroom and watched this very insightful video on how to find your cervix. After watching this I finally took the plunge in reaching up and finding my cervix.
Not long after, Lunette Cup shared a Women’s Health article on Twitter ‘7 Photos of your Cervix You need to See’ and it completely blew my mind. I’ve been obsessed with the cervix ever since!
The uterus is also known as the womb. It is a hollow, muscular organ that is the shape of an inverted pear.3 It’s about the size of a small lemon but is capable of expanding to grow a foetus.
The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium builds up each cycle in preparation for a potential pregnancy.3 If conception were to occur, it is in the lining where the embryo would implant and grow during pregnancy.5 If pregnancy does not occur, the uterus sheds the lining and this results in your period.
The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus and provide a passage for the egg to travel to the uterus after it has been released from the ovary. It is in the fallopian tubes that an egg would be fertilised if it were to meet a sperm along the way.5, 3
We have two ovaries, one at the end of each fallopian tube. Ovaries, likened to the size of an olive, are where the ova (eggs) live.6 When an ovary releases an egg, this is called ovulation. Once an egg is released it will only survive for 12-24 hours. In this time, it will either be fertilised on its journey through the fallopian tubes or it will disintegrate.7
Ovulation occurs randomly from either ovary on any given cycle. 7 That means, one month the egg could be released from the right side ovary and the next month it could be released from the left side ovary or it could be released from the right side again. It is random so it doesn’t necessarily alternate each month.
Ovaries are also endocrine glands, because they secrete the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.6
SUMMING UP THE FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE ANATOMY
Okay, let’s do a check. In the above we have covered off on:
✓ Fallopian Tubes
That covers off on the basics of our internal female reproductive anatomy. There is SO MUCH going on in our reproductive organs throughout our monthly cycle, this purely just covers the physical anatomy.
I hope this post has helped you to gain a basic understanding of your reproductive anatomy.
If you don’t already, please follow me on Instagram @thebetterperiod_ where I share bite-sized menstrual cycle, women’s health and period information regularly.
The Better Period
Ellie Heasman is a period blogger and founder of The Better Period. Ellie helps people on their journey to a better period through introducing them to the world of menstrual cups and period underwear, and sharing knowledge about the menstrual cycle and fertility awareness. You can join in the better period conversations on Instagram @thebetterperiod_ or find out more about Ellie here.