Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy

Woman looking at iPad studying 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:

Female anatomy

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 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:

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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Join us for a discussion of Dr. Tang’s new book, It’s Not Hysteria Everything You Need to Know About Your Reproductive Health (but Were Never Told), and ask Dr. Tang your questions about reproductive health!