The primary function of the female reproductive system is to produce offspring. In this lesson, you’ll travel through the female reproductive system. Along the way, you’ll learn about important structures and the roles they play in creating life.
Female Reproductive System
Almost every system in your body has been fully functional since the day you were born. That’s because systems, like your digestive system and cardiovascular system, are needed to keep you alive.
However, there’s one system that doesn’t ‘wake up’ until you reach puberty. I’m referring to your reproductive system; this system is not as crucial to your daily survival but is needed for the survival of mankind. The male and female reproductive systems work together to create a newborn baby, but in this lesson, we’ll focus most of our attention on the female reproductive system and its important role in producing offspring.
There’s no denying that a newborn baby is both cute and amazing at the same time. A newborn’s journey started nine months prior when two gametes, or sex cells, joined together inside the female reproductive system. The male gamete is called sperm; it has only one goal at this point, which is to meet up with, and fertilize, the female gamete called the ova, or egg. Let’s take a look at how and where this meeting occurs.
Female Duct System
Sperm needs to travel through a few structures in order to find the egg. Sperm enters the female reproductive duct system through the vagina, which is a 3- to 4-inch-long tube that acts as the entry point for sperm. From there, the sperm travels through the cervix and enters the uterus, which is a pear-shaped organ with thick walls. These thick walls aren’t important at this stage because the uterus is just acting as a passageway for sperm; however, the uterus has another big job that makes these thick walls important. We’ll discuss this second job later in the lesson.
The journey through the reproductive duct system is a difficult one for the tiny sperm, and many don’t make it. Fortunately, there are many sperm taking this journey at the same time, so some will make it to the next leg of the journey, which is into the fallopian tubes, or uterine tubes, as they are also called. There are two fallopian tubes that extend off the top of the uterus in opposite directions. Their primary function is to act as a passageway between the uterus and the ovaries. However, if conditions are right, they take on a second responsibility, which is to become the typical site for fertilization. Of course, fertilization will only occur if an egg is present. For that to happen, we need to learn about the ovaries.
The ovaries are paired reproductive organs that produce the eggs. They are no bigger than almonds, yet without them, reproduction would not occur. If we were to look inside an ovary, we would see tiny sacs that contain the immature eggs, known as ovarian follicles. Each follicle matures over about a 1-month period, allowing the egg inside time to develop. A fully matured follicle is called a Graafian follicle. The egg inside the mature follicle is ready to break out and leave the ovary, which is what we call ovulation.
This marks the start of the egg’s journey, but before we leave the ovaries, I want to point out that they’re not just a site for egg production. The ovaries also produce hormones. Specifically, the ovaries produce female sex hormones, which play a role in waking up the reproductive system when a girl reaches puberty, guiding her monthly menstrual cycle, and sustaining a pregnancy.
Okay, back to our newly released egg. After ovulation, the freed egg is swept into the adjacent fallopian tube by waving, finger-like projections on the end of the fallopian tubes called fimbriae. The moving fimbriae not only direct the egg into the tube, they also create a current that propels the egg down the tube. If there are sperm in the tube, and conditions are right, the traveling egg gets fertilized.
The newly fertilized egg doesn’t normally implant into the walls of the fallopian tube; instead, it continues to travel out the duct system the same way the sperm came in. When the fertilized egg reaches the uterus, it finds a favorable environment and implants into the thick uterine wall.
Uterus & Vagina
The uterus is now the womb, the site where the fertilized egg will receive the nourishment it needs to grow and develop. During the 9-month pregnancy, the uterus stretches in accordance with the growing fetus, so you can see that the walls need to be thick and strong.
After nine months, the fetus has matured to the point where it’s ready to be born. The fetus makes its way through the vagina, which now acts as the birth canal, and enters the world.
Sperm, which is the male gamete, must travel through the female reproductive tract to find the female gamete called the ova, or egg. The entry point for sperm is the vagina. From there, the sperm enters the uterus, and then the fallopian tubes, or uterine tubes, which act as a passageway between the uterus and the ovaries.
The ovaries are paired reproductive organs that produce the eggs. Inside the ovaries, we find ovarian follicles, which are tiny sacs that contain the immature eggs. A mature follicle is called a Graafian follicle. It contains a mature egg that’s ready to break out and leave the ovary. This event is known as ovulation.
The released egg is swept into the adjacent fallopian tube by waving, finger-like projections on the end of the fallopian tubes called fimbriae. The fallopian tube is the typical site for fertilization, but implantation doesn’t occur until the fertilized egg reaches the uterus, or womb. When the fetus is ready to be born, it makes its way through the vagina, which now acts as the birth canal.