Ovaries are the female gonads, and they play a major role in the female aspect of reproduction. This lesson discusses the functions of the ovaries and their basic characteristics.

Introductions to the Ovaries

The human female reproductive system is designed to facilitate the growth and development of a child prior to birth. Each individual component of this system is responsible for a particular set of functions related to child-bearing. One important part of the female reproductive system is the ovary. This lesson discusses the function and characteristics of the ovaries in the female reproductive system.

The ovaries are the female gonads, or sex cell-producing organs, which produce eggs, or ova. In men, the testicles are the gonads, and they produce sperm. Generally, the female body will have two ovaries, though the female body can survive with one or no ovaries.

The ovaries are roughly four cubic centimeters in size, which is about the size of a walnut. They are located at the ends of the uterine tubes, which are connection tubes that attach to the uterus. In the female body, the ovaries, and other reproductive organs, are located in the abdominopelvic cavity.

Functions of the Ovaries

Though the ovaries are fairly small, they are very important in the overall reproductive functions of the female body. Many of the functions are either directly controlled or indirectly influenced by the ovaries. Let’s look at a few of these functions.

First, there is oogenesis, which is the process by which the female body produces eggs. This process occurs prior to birth, and each female child is born with all of the eggs that she will need for her lifetime. Oogenesis is a form of meiosis, or sex cell reproduction. Each egg will have 23 chromosomes, which is one-half of the total number needed for humans to develop properly. Likewise, sperm cells have 23 chromosomes, and when an egg and sperm unite, the full chromosome number is restored.

Next, in order for an egg to unite with a sperm cell, it must first be released from the ovary. The ovaries release eggs into the uterine tubes during ovulation. This process is primarily controlled by two hormones known as follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, and luteinizing hormone, or LH. During the menstrual cycle, ovulation typically occurs around day 14 of the 28-day time frame. At this time, FSH and LH levels will rise, and this will stimulate the release of an egg.

Lastly, the ovaries are also responsible for the production of several sex hormones. These include progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. Progesterone and estrogen are hormones that work together to maintain the growth of the uterus to prepare for a potential pregnancy. These hormones are released in large amounts after ovulation in case an egg is united with a sperm. Testosterone, in women, is partially responsible for the sex drive.

Lesson Summary

Ovaries are the small gonads of the female reproductive system. They are responsible for egg production, ovulation and hormone production. While they are important for reproduction, women can live with one or no ovaries, though they will not be able to reproduce without them.

Quick Glance: The Ovaries

The ovaries play a key role in the female reproduction system.
An ovary

Purpose Function
Produce female sex cells (ova) egg production
ovulation
hormone production

Learning Outcomes

After you’ve finished this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the ovaries
  • Discuss the function of the ovaries
  • List some of the hormones produced by the ovaries