Female Reproductive System

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Quick GuideSexual Health Pictures Slideshow: Female Sexual Problems

Sexual Health Pictures Slideshow: Female Sexual Problems

External reproductive organs

The labia majora are two fleshy protrusions that protect and envelop the other external reproductive organs. They are covered with hair after puberty. They contain glands that produce sweat and oils. Inside the labia majora are the labia minora, smaller protrusions of flesh that surround the openings to the urethra (that allows passage or urine) and the vagina. Located next to the vaginal opening are glands that produce mucus known as Bartholin's glands. At the junction of the labia minora is the clitoris, a small structure that is covered by a skin fold called the prepuce. The clitoris is comparable is highly sensitive.

The menstrual cycle

The menstrual cycle is the monthly cycle of follicle and egg maturation, release of an egg (ovulation), and preparation of the uterine lining for pregnancy. If a woman does not become pregnant, the uterine lining tissue is shed as menstrual blood. Most menstrual cycles occur every 28 days. Menarche is the time during adolescence when menstrual periods begin. Menstrual periods continue to occur until a woman reaches menopause.

Follicular phase

The follicular phase is the beginning of the menstrual cycle. It starts on the first day of the menstrual cycle and usually lasts about 14 days. The hormones follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released from the pituitary gland to stimulate the ovaries. In turn, the ovaries produce estrogen and stimulate the maturation of about 15 to 20 eggs in the ovaries inside small areas known as follicles. Once estrogen levels begin to rise, the secretion of FSH is reduced by a feedback system so that follicle stimulation ceases at the appropriate time. With time, one of the egg follicles (or rarely, two or more) becomes dominant, and maturation of the other follicles is interrupted. The dominant follicle continues to make estrogen.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/26/2015
Next: Ovulation

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