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Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy

Sexual anatomy typically refers to the both the external sexual organs, like the vulva and penis, and the internal organs involved in reproduction, like the uterus and seminal vesicle.  We categorize this anatomy as either female or male, but not necessarily the person. A person’s anatomy doesn’t determine their gender.

Based on sexual anatomy, a person is typically assigned a sex at birth—female or male. This is the case even a person’s sexual anatomy isn’t characteristically male or female—what is called intersex. But again, this doesn’t determine a person’s gender.

Gender is shaped by social and cultural norms and expectations of behavior. A person’s gender identity—their own personal perception of themselves—as female, male, both, or neither—does not necessarily match their biological sex. A person expresses their gender in various ways, such as their name, pronouns, dress, hairstyle, and more.

So when we talk about sexual anatomy here, we talk about it in a binary way—male and female. But we are talking about biological sex, not gender identity or expression. So let’s learn about this part of the body and how it works.

The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, the uterus, fallopian tubes, the cervix, and the vagina. Hover over any of the blue dots on the diagram below with a mouse, or touch them with your finger on a tablet or mobile phone, for more information:

Reproductive health women

The ovaries are small, oval-shaped glands located on either side of the uterus (womb). The ovaries produce eggs and hormones. From puberty until menopause, ovaries typically release an egg every month.

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The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ divided into two parts: the cervix, which is the lower part that opens into the vagina, and the main body of the uterus, called the corpus. The corpus can easily expand during pregnancy to hold a developing baby.

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These are narrow tubes that help eggs travel from the ovaries to the uterus. The finger-like ends of the tube are called fimbriae, and they help guide the egg from the ovary into the fallopian tube. If fertilization of an egg by a sperm takes place, it will happen here. The fertilized egg then moves to the uterus.

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Located in the lowermost part of the uterus, the cervix connects the uterus and the vagina. The small hole in the center of the cervix, called the os, serves a passageway into the uterus. This is what dilates or stretches during birth.

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The vagina is a canal that joins the cervix to the outside of the body. During menstruation, blood is carried out through the vagina. It also provides a way for a baby to exit the body, which is  why it’s sometimes referred to as the birth canal. During sexual arousal, the cervix contracts and the vagina expands and lengthens, called vaginal tenting.

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Starting at puberty, the ovaries begin to release eggs regularly. The eggs travel from the fallopian tubes into the uterus and eventually are flushed out of the body, along with uterine lining, through the vagina. This process is called the menstrual cycle. A regular cycle averages about 28 days, but it can range from 21-45 days.

If an egg is fertilized by sperm in a fallopian tube, that fertilized egg will typically travel to the uterus. Once there, that egg may or may not implant in the walls of the uterus and continue to grow—resulting in pregnancy. Sometimes, the fertilized egg doesn’t implant and is flushed out during menstruation (a.k.a period).

Sometimes, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube. This is called an ectopic pregnancy and requires treatment immediately. The fertilized egg can’t survive here and if continued to grow, it can cause the tube to rupture and cause life-threatening bleeding.

Now let’s take a look at the external sexual anatomy:

External female genitalia
The mons pubis is the rounded mass over the pubic bone covered with hair. It cushions the underlying bone. It also contains sebaceous and sweat glands. 1 of 6 Literally translated as “large lips,” the labia majora are relatively large and fleshy. Their job is to enclose and protect the other external reproductive organs. They contain sweat and oil-secreting glands. The labia minora (“small lips”) are delicate flaps of soft skin that lie within the labia majora. Labia may be smooth or wrinkled and vary in color and size from person to person. 2 of 6 The tip of clitoris (or glans) is a small, highly sensitive protrusion between the pubic bone and the labia. This tip is covered by a fold of skin, called the prepuce or clitoral hood. Beyond the visual tip, the rest of the clitoris extends inward toward the vagina. The clitoris has thousands of nerve endings and is designed for one purpose—pleasure. 3 of 6 These two bean-shaped glands are located on either side of the vaginal opening and produce a secretion that lubricates the vagina during sexual arousal. 4 of 6 The small hole below the clitoris is the opening of the urethra—a tube leading from the bladder. We urinate (pee) through the urethra. 5 of 6 The anus is the opening to the rectum. The anus is sensitive and 6 of 6

The above drawing is just a basic idea of externals female genitalia—it is an example, not the standard. In fact, there is no standard. The appearance of genitals vary a great deal from person to person. Labia minora may be longer than the outer labia. The color of labia may change as you age. Clitorises vary in size, shape, and location. We’re all different, so there is no “normal” when it comes to genital appearance. The same goes for male genital anatomy. Let’s take a look:

male_anatomy

The penis is made up of two parts, the shaft and the glans (also called the head).  The glans is covered by a piece of skin called the foreskin. Sometimes this skin is removed in a procedure called a circumcision. A penis without foreskin is called circumcised, while one with foreskin is uncircumcised. Both types of penises are common.

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The urethra is a tube inside the penis that is connected to the bladder as well as glands that glands that produce semen. So both urine (pee) and semen pass through the urethra.

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The testicles (there are two) produce both sperm and testosterone, a sex hormone. 3 of 7

The scrotum is a sac that houses the testicles and helps keep them the right temperature for sperm production. Muscles in the scrotum allow it to contract the testicles closer to the body to warm them, or relax and move them away from the body to cool them down as needed.

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The epididymis is a coiled tube on the back of each testicle that stores the sperm after the testicles produce them and allows them to mature. The epididymis is connected to the vas deferens. 5 of 7 The seminal vesicle is one of several glands that work together to produces semen. The seminal vesicle makes a fluid that sperm moves around in. The prostate gland makes a different fluid that helps the sperm move more quickly. Another set of glands, called bulbourethral or Cowper’s glands, makes a small quantity of fluid that helps protect the sperm on its way through the urethra by neutralizing any leftover traces of acidic urine. Sperm can live inside the female reproductive system for up to 48 hours, and seminal fluid helps the sperm move around and stay nourished. 6 of 7 The vas deferens is a duct that carries sperm from the epididymis to the urethra. 7 of 7
It’s important to know how your body works, and be able to recognize when something isn’t quite right. If something changes or doesn’t seem quite right, get checked by a healthcare provider. But also know that there are recommendations for regular sexual health care.
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