human female reproductive system

Female Reproductive Organ within Pelvis: Three-dimensional visualization reconstructed from scanned human data. Anterior view of female reproductive organs within pelvic cavity. The primary reproductive organs of the female are the ovaries, the left one shown here, which create and nurture gametes and produce the female sex hormones, estrogens and progesterone. Accessory structures serve the needs of the reproductive cells and the developing fetus. These structures include the fallopian tubes, uterus and vagina and make up the internal genitalia. The uterus is a thick walled organ which serves to receive, retain and nourish a fertilized ovum. Also visible are the ovarian and broad ligaments, they serve to suspend the reproductive system in place.


Illustration of the organs of the female reproductive system

The organs of the female reproductive system produce and sustain the female sex cells (egg cells or ova), transport these cells to a site where they may be fertilized by sperm, provide a favorable environment for the developing fetus, move the fetus to the outside at the end of the development period, and produce the female sex hormones. The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, accessory glands, and external genital organs.

  • Ovaries
  • Genital Tract
  • External Genitalia
  • Female Sexual Response and Hormonal Control
  • Mammary Glands


The major function of the reproductive system is to ensure survival of the species. Other systems in the body, such as the endocrine and urinary systems, work continuously to maintain homeostasis for survival of the individual. An individual may live a long, healthy, and happy life without producing offspring, but if the species is to continue, at least some individuals must produce offspring.

Within the context of producing offspring, the reproductive system has four functions:

  • To produce egg and sperm cells
  • To transport and sustain these cells
  • To nurture the developing offspring
  • To produce hormones

These functions are divided between the primary and secondary, or accessory, reproductive organs. The primary reproductive organs, or gonads, consist of the ovaries and testes. These organs are responsible for producing the egg and sperm cells gametes), and hormones. These hormones function in the maturation of the reproductive system, the development of sexual characteristics, and regulation of the normal physiology of the reproductive system. All other organs, ducts, and glands in the reproductive system are considered secondary, or accessory, reproductive organs. These structures transport and sustain the gametes and nurture the developing offspring.

National Cancer Institute / NIH

Female reproductive system

The female reproductive system functions to produce gametes and reproductive hormones, just like the male reproductive system; however, it also has the additional task of supporting the developing fetus and delivering it to the outside world. Unlike its male counterpart, the female reproductive system is located primarily inside the pelvic cavity (Figure). Recall that the ovaries are the female gonads. The gamete they produce is called an oocyte. We'll discuss the production of oocytes in detail shortly. First, let's look at some of the structures of the female reproductive system.

Female Reproductive System

This figure shows the structure and the different organs in the female reproductive system. The top panel shows the lateral view and the bottom panel shows the anterior view.

The major organs of the female reproductive system are located inside the pelvic cavity.



(of the breast) milk-secreting cells in the mammary gland


(of the uterine tube) middle portion of the uterine tube in which fertilization often occurs


fluid-filled chamber that characterizes a mature tertiary (antral) follicle


highly pigmented, circular area surrounding the raised nipple and containing areolar glands that secrete fluid important for lubrication during suckling

Bartholin's glands

(also, greater vestibular glands) glands that produce a thick mucus that maintains moisture in the vulva area; also referred to as the greater vestibular glands

body of uterus

middle section of the uterus

broad ligament

wide ligament that supports the uterus by attaching laterally to both sides of the uterus and pelvic wall


elongate inferior end of the uterus where it connects to the vagina


(also, glans clitoris) nerve-rich area of the vulva that contributes to sexual sensation during intercourse

corpus albicans

nonfunctional structure remaining in the ovarian stroma following structural and functional regression of the corpus luteum

corpus luteum

transformed follicle after ovulation that secretes progesterone


inner lining of the uterus, part of which builds up during the secretory phase of the menstrual cycle and then sheds with menses


fingerlike projections on the distal uterine tubes


ovarian structure of one oocyte and surrounding granulosa (and later theca) cells


development of ovarian follicles from primordial to tertiary under the stimulation of gonadotropins


(of the uterus) domed portion of the uterus that is superior to the uterine tubes

granulosa cells

supportive cells in the ovarian follicle that produce estrogen


membrane that covers part of the opening of the vagina


(of the uterine tube) wide, distal portion of the uterine tube terminating in fimbriae


narrow, medial portion of the uterine tube that joins the uterus

labia majora

hair-covered folds of skin located behind the mons pubis

labia minora

thin, pigmented, hairless flaps of skin located medial and deep to the labia majora

lactiferous ducts

ducts that connect the mammary glands to the nipple and allow for the transport of milk

lactiferous sinus

area of milk collection between alveoli and lactiferous duct

mammary glands

glands inside the breast that secrete milk


first menstruation in a pubertal female


shedding of the inner portion of the endometrium out though the vagina; also referred to as menstruation

menses phase

phase of the menstrual cycle in which the endometrial lining is shed

menstrual cycle

approximately 28-day cycle of changes in the uterus consisting of a menses phase, a proliferative phase, and a secretory phase

mons pubis

mound of fatty tissue located at the front of the vulva


smooth muscle layer of uterus that allows for uterine contractions during labor and expulsion of menstrual blood


cell that results from the division of the oogonium and undergoes meiosis I at the LH surge and meiosis II at fertilization to become a haploid ovum


process by which oogonia divide by mitosis to primary oocytes, which undergo meiosis to produce the secondary oocyte and, upon fertilization, the ovum


ovarian stem cells that undergo mitosis during female fetal development to form primary oocytes

ovarian cycle

approximately 28-day cycle of changes in the ovary consisting of a follicular phase and a luteal phase


female gonads that produce oocytes and sex steroid hormones (notably estrogen and progesterone)


release of a secondary oocyte and associated granulosa cells from an ovary


haploid female gamete resulting from completion of meiosis II at fertilization


outer epithelial layer of uterine wall

polar body

smaller cell produced during the process of meiosis in oogenesis

primary follicles

ovarian follicles with a primary oocyte and one layer of cuboidal granulosa cells

primordial follicles

least developed ovarian follicles that consist of a single oocyte and a single layer of flat (squamous) granulosa cells

proliferative phase

phase of the menstrual cycle in which the endometrium proliferates


(of the vagina) folds of skin in the vagina that allow it to stretch during intercourse and childbirth

secondary follicles

ovarian follicles with a primary oocyte and multiple layers of granulosa cells

secretory phase

phase of the menstrual cycle in which the endometrium secretes a nutrient-rich fluid in preparation for implantation of an embryo

suspensory ligaments

bands of connective tissue that suspend the breast onto the chest wall by attachment to the overlying dermis

tertiary follicles

(also, antral follicles) ovarian follicles with a primary or secondary oocyte, multiple layers of granulosa cells, and a fully formed antrum

theca cells

estrogen-producing cells in a maturing ovarian follicle

uterine tubes

(also, fallopian tubes or oviducts) ducts that facilitate transport of an ovulated oocyte to the uterus


muscular hollow organ in which a fertilized egg develops into a fetus


tunnel-like organ that provides access to the uterus for the insertion of semen and from the uterus for the birth of a baby


external female genitalia

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The female reproductive system (or female genital system) contains two main parts: the uterus, which hosts the developing fetus, produces vaginal and uterine secretions, and can pass sperm through to the Fallopian tubes; and the ovaries, which produce the female's egg cells. These parts are internal; the vagina meets the external organs at the vulva, which includes the labia, clitoris and urinary meatus. The vagina is attached to the uterus through the cervix, while the uterus is attached to the ovaries via the Fallopian tubes. At certain intervals, the ovaries release an ovum, which passes through the Fallopian tube into the uterus. If, in this transit, it meets with sperm, a single sperm can enter and merge with the egg, fertilizing it. Corresponding equivalent among males is the male reproductive system.

During the reproductive process, the egg is not a passive recipient, but rather an active participant in the fertilization process. It releases certain molecules that are essential to guiding the sperm which allow the surface of the egg to attach to the sperm's surface. The egg can then absorb the sperm and fertilization begins. The fertilization usually occurs in the oviducts, but can happen in the uterus itself. A zygote will then divide over enough generations of cells to form a blastocyst, which implants itself in the wall of the uterus, where it begins the processes of embryogenesis and morphogenesis. When developed enough to survive outside the womb, the cervix dilates and contractions of the uterus propel the fetus through the birth canal, which is the vagina.

The ova are larger than sperm and have formed by the time a female is born. Approximately every month, a process of oogenesis matures one ovum to be sent down the Fallopian tube attached to its ovary in anticipation of fertilization. If not fertilized, this egg is flushed out of the system through menstruation.

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