The Female Anatomy
We will describe the female reproductive system from the inside out, following the path of the egg through the reproductive system.
Ovaries: Each woman is born with two ovaries which are positioned in your pelvis. These oval-shaped structures produce an egg each month in response to your monthly cycle of hormones. One ovary will produce an egg one month and in the following month, the other ovary will produce an egg.
The official name for the female egg is an ovum. Each ovum is stored in compartments in your ovaries called ovarian follicles. You are born with all the ovum you will ever have, about 200,000 in each ovary. No additional eggs will be produced during your lifetime. About 400 to 500 of these eggs are released in the average woman’s lifetime.
Your ovaries are also the chief source of the female hormones in your body.
Fallopian Tubes: Near each ovary is a small, thin tube called the fallopian tube. It is about the size of a strand of hair. At the end, near the ovary, the tube fans out in finger-like extensions called fimbria. These fingers collect the egg when it is released and direct it down the fallopian tube.
It takes several days for the egg to move through the fallopian tube. If an egg becomes fertilized with male sperm, the fertilization occurs in the fallopian tube. Sometimes you will hear that a woman had a tubal pregnancy. What this means is that the fertilized egg became stuck in her fallopian tube instead of moving down into her uterus. Since the tubes are far too small to hold a developing child, she experiences sharp pain and it is likely that her tube will burst. This is considered a medical emergency. Fortunately, such events are rare.
Uterus: This is a muscular organ, shaped somewhat like a pear. It has the ability to stretch many times its size and is designed to hold a developing child. Each month, prior to an egg being released, a blood-rich lining forms on the interior of the uterus. If a fertilized egg becomes imbedded in the lining, it provides the nutrients for the child to grow. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining is sloughed off. It is the shedding of this lining, called the endometrium, that causes a woman’s monthly blood flow.
Even though your body has matured enough to allow a pregnancy to take place, it does not mean all the support systems in your body have matured. Generally these take several additional years to develop. Girls who get pregnant before the age of 16 are at 400 times greater risk of dying during childbirth, and they are more likely to give birth to premature babies. A woman should wait until she is fully developed (around the age of 18) before she starts thinking about getting married and having children.
Cervix: A narrow opening, about the diameter of a pencil, at the bottom of the uterus. Just before a woman delivers her child, the doctor will measure the opening to determine how soon the child will be born. Just before birth, the opening will widen to 10 centimeters.
Vagina: This is the passageway from the uterus to the outside of the body. It contains many folds allowing it to change size and stretch as needed. It is lubricated by fluids produced by the lining of the vagina as well as by two small glands called the Bartholin’s glands. The lubrication helps to keep the vagina clean and is produced in greater abundance when you are sexually aroused. Normally, this fluid has little to no smell. If it has a strong order, it may be a sign of a yeast infection. Yeast infections are quite common, and you will need medication to get rid of it.
Hymen: This is a piece of skin that partially covers the opening to the vagina. The amount of coverage varies greatly from woman to woman. During the first time a woman has intercourse with her husband, the hymen often becomes torn. A small amount of bleeding may occur, which is sometimes referred to as proof of her virginity (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). Sometimes a woman’s hymen may become torn prior to marriage due to reasons other than sex. An intact hymen is not absolute proof of a woman’s virginity, and a broken hymen is not absolute proof of sexual activity.
Labia minora and labia majora: These are two sets of “lips” which protect the vaginal opening. The inner lips – the labia minor – are delicate and sensitive to the touch. The outer lips – the labia majora – are thicker and more muscular. During sexual arousal, these “lips” swell and form an opening to the vagina in preparation for sexual intercourse.
Clitoris: This is a small bump about the size of a pea near the top of where the two inner “lips” – the labia minora – come together. It is generally covered by a small piece of skin called a hood. When a woman becomes sexually aroused, this hood retracts exposing the clitoris. The clitoris is very sensitive to touch and is a source of pleasurable feelings during sexual intercourse. In fact, its sole function appears to be to produce sexual pleasure in a woman.
Mons veneris: This is the outer skin in the groin area that is covered with hair. It contains a layer of fatty tissue to pad the pubic bone underneath it.
Breasts: The breasts are the most noticeable part of the female anatomy. They contain milk glands, called mammary glands, surrounded by fatty tissue. Each breast contains a dark area of skin called the areola which is sensitive to touch and temperature. In the center of each areola is a nipple.
The primary purpose of the breast is to provide milk for newborn infants. Because of the pleasurable feelings that come from being touched, they are also involved in sexual intercourse (Proverbs 5:19; Isaiah 66:11).
Breasts come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The shape and size of your breasts will be determined by your genes. Regardless of a breast’s shape or size, they still function the same way. In many societies, girls are concerned if their breasts do not conform to their ideal of the perfect body. Interestingly, what is considered ideal varies greatly from region to region. As with all things we cannot control, we need to learn to be content with what God has given us (I Timothy 6:6).
Breast sizes change constantly. The most noticeable change comes during your adolescent years as your breasts develop. However, they will change size and density slightly during your monthly cycles. This is because the varying hormones in your body affect the amount of water your body holds in reserve. Since the breast is mostly composed of fat tissue, any changes in your weight will also be noticeable in your breasts. If you become pregnant, the breasts will expand as they gear up for milk production. Finally, as you age, your skin loses its elasticity and frequently the breasts begin to sag.
Arousal is your body’s physical response to sexual stimulation. Do not confuse arousal with love; they are unrelated ideas. You will find yourself in many situations where your body will be aroused, but there is no way that you would say that you were in love.
The desire for sex is not wrong. God gave it to each of us so that it could be satisfied one day in marriage. The desire for sex is not a sin unless it spurs you to satisfy that desire in an unholy way.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.James 1:12-16
Satan uses our desires to try to lead us into sin. He places us in situations where it seems that the only way out is to violate God’s law in some manner. Don’t let Satan deceive you! God has guaranteed us that He will provide a way to escape temptation that does not involve sinning.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.I Corinthians 10:13
God didn’t promise that the way out would always be easy to spot, but it is there even if we have to look hard for it. Unfortunately, when our passions are inflamed, it is difficult to think clearly. The desire for sex is very strong. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can go partway and resist. Sometimes the best way to keep from sinning is to avoid the temptation altogether as Joseph did in Genesis 39:1-12.
Once your reproductive organs have developed enough to allow you to have children, your body goes through a monthly cycle of changes. This cycle is called the menstrual cycle. The cycle will continue until your fifties when you will enter a phase called menopause. Menopause simply means your monthly cycles have ended and you are no longer able to have children. This is why you never elderly women pregnant.
The total number of days in the menstrual cycle will vary. For younger women it tends to be more erratic and longer in duration. Once it settles down in your twenties, it typically averages about 28 days, though it can be as long as 32 days or as short as 14 days.
Under the Old Testament Law, Israelite women were considered unclean during their menstrual period. What this meant is that once her blood started to flow, a menstruating woman had to keep herself separate from other people for seven days (Leviticus 15:19-25). Anything she sat on or laid on was also considered unclean and any person touching those things would be unclean until evening. If a husband had sex with his wife during her period, he became unclean for seven days.
Even prior to the Law of Moses, people followed these laws of cleanness. When Rachel wanted to hide Laban’s household idols from Laban, she sat on a saddle that had the idols underneath them and told the searching Laban that she was menstruating. Laban did not even consider asking Rachel to move from her seat (Genesis 31:32-35).
The laws of uncleanness taught the Israelites the nature of sin through physical examples. While breaking the laws were sinful, most of the events declared unclean were not sinful in and of themselves. For example, pigs are not sinful, but it was considered unclean (and sinful) to eat pork under the Law of Moses. Most of the things God selected as unclean are things we recognize today as common-sense health regulations – especially in a society that did not understand the full nature of a disease and its spread. So while the primary purpose of the laws was to teach the people about the nature of sin, these same laws had a secondary effect in improving the health of the Israelite nation.
What the Israelites learned is that sin has consequences. Some of those consequences come about from choice, such as the eating of pork, but others come from natural events over which the person has no choice, such as a woman’s monthly menstruation or a man’s nocturnal release of semen (Leviticus 15:16-18). Since everyone experiences things they have no choice over, everyone was forced to learn these lessons. Another lesson is that sin and its consequences spread, even to those not directly involved in sin.
Some complain that God was unfair to women because they were unclean every month for seven days. They also point out that the birth of a girl required a longer period of separation than the birth of a boy (Leviticus 12:1-5). What they choose to ignore is that a man was unclean for one day each time he released semen. Since this can and often happens multiple times during a month, it was possible for a man to be unclean for more than seven days during a month. In addition, since a boy child was to be circumcised on the eighth day, this flow of blood from the operation was considered to be a part of the “payment” for the birth.
But what about the health benefits of these regulations? Since they did not have disposable sanitary napkins in those days, blood touched anything a woman sat upon. Such places can be potential breeding grounds for germs. Notice that every unclean period ended with washing of the unclean objects and the person. Israelites bathed frequently and cleaned things frequently as proscribed by their law. Isolation during times when the risk of disease was high reduced the spread of disease, keeping the general population healthier than most nations.
The laws of uncleanness passed away with the rest of the Old Testament when Jesus died on the cross (Colossians 2:13-17). You do not have to separate yourself during your menstruation. However, the ideas of cleanliness to reduce diseases still make sense today. We still encourage women to change their pads or tampons frequently and to bathe often. It is just common-sense.
- Using the cut-away drawing of your sex organs, name as many parts as you can.
- What causes sexual arousal? Is it a sin?
- Roughly how long is a menstrual cycle? What is happening during the cycle?
- Why was a woman unclean during her monthly blood flow
- Can masturbation be a sin?
- Have you noticed something about your body that you don’t understand why it functions as it does?
- Are you experiencing a problem, but not certain if you should see a doctor?