External Female Reproductive Organs

The external female reproductive organs are collectively called the vulva. The vulva comprises the labia majora and minora, clitoris, urethra opening, vaginal opening, and lubricating glands. (See Figure 3.2.)

Figure 3.2. Female Genitalia

Urethra

Vagina

Anus

Urethra

Vagina

Anus

Clitoris

Labium majora

Labium minora

Illustration copyright © Nucleus Medical Art, all rights reserved, nucleusinc.com.

Clitoris

Labium majora

Labium minora

Illustration copyright © Nucleus Medical Art, all rights reserved, nucleusinc.com.

Labia Majora and Minora

These are two sets of skin folds that protect the vaginal opening. The labia majora are the outer folds and the labia minora are the inner folds.

The labia majora skin folds contain hair and sweat glands. The inner labia minora do not contain hair, but they produce a white lubricant called smegma. The labia minora are very sensitive to the touch and during sexual arousal may engorge and grip the penis. Both labia majora and minora fold over the vaginal opening and help to protect the vagina from infection and disease.

When the folds of the labia majora and minora are spread apart, the clitoris, urethra opening, vaginal opening, and two pairs of lubricating glands can be seen.

Clitoris

The clitoris is located at the upper portion of the vulva, where the labia minora folds meet. The clitoris is typically considered to be the most sensitive spot in a woman's genitalia. During sexual arousal, the clitoris may enlarge slightly.

Urethra Opening

The urethra is a short tube that transports urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The urethra measures only about an inch and a half in length, which is much shorter than a man's urethra. This fact helps to explain why women are more prone to urinary tract infections. In addition, the urethra opens very close to the vaginal opening. This results in irritation and discomfort of the urinary tract after prolonged or vigorous sexual intercourse.

Vaginal Opening

The vagina is a flexible, muscular passageway lined with moist membranes. It extends from about four to five inches from the vulva and ends at the cervix. The vagina secretes an odorless watery discharge that keeps it moist and clean. The discharge maintains a slightly acid environment within the vagina, which helps prevent infection. Because of the influence of reproductive hormones, the vagina tends to become more lubricated during ovulation, pregnancy, and sexual excitement.

The vagina has numerous functions. It is the outward passageway for menstrual blood flow. It also serves as a guide for the penis during sexual intercourse and holds the semen near the cervix after ejaculation. The vagina is capable of great expansion and flexibility when it functions as the birth canal during childbirth.

Lubricating Glands

Two sets of lubricating glands are located within the vulva. The Skene's glands are located on either side of the urethra. These glands secrete a lubricating fluid during sexual arousal. The other set of glands is the Bartholin's glands. They are located under the two sides of the labia majora. The Bartholin's glands are especially susceptible to sexually transmitted disease infection. If these glands become infected, they may swell to the size of a golf ball.

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