Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Ovaries are the size and shape of almonds and they contain ova (eggs) in structures called follicles.
The ovaries also produce the two female sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone. A hormone is a chemical messenger which is released in the blood to target specific organs. Sex hormones are responsible for sexual development and reproduction.
The fallopian tubes
The two fallopian tubes are found on each side of the uterus, near the ovaries. These are tiny tubes – each is about 10–12.5cm long. The funnel-like end of the fallopian tube picks up the egg released by the ovary. Tiny, microscopic hairs line the inside of the fallopian tubes and help move the egg along to the uterus. The inside of the tube can easily be damaged or blocked by infection.
The uterus is about the size and shape of an upside down pear. It is hollow, very stretchy and made of muscle. This is where the baby develops if a woman becomes pregnant. The uterus can stretch to hold a baby and shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size after the baby is born.
The lower part of the uterus which connects to the vagina is called the cervix. Sperm, released by the man during sex, swim from the vagina through the cervix to reach an egg.
The cervix contains small glands which produce secretions called mucus. Mucus alters in texture and amount during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Around the time of ovulation – when she is in her fertile phase – it changes from being thick, sticky and creamy in colour to being clearer, wetter and more stretchy – like raw egg white. These changes allow sperm to pass through the cervix and reach the egg more easily.
When a woman is pregnant, the cervix becomes plugged with very thick mucus to protect the developing baby from infection.
The vagina is a muscular tube which leads from the cervix to the vaginal opening (vulva). The vaginal opening is between the legs, between the urethra at the front and the anus at the back.
The vagina tilts upward and towards the small of the back. It has glands which produce lubricating secretions when women are sexually aroused to help the penis enter the vagina (penetration).
The vaginal walls are stretchy, allowing it to hold a tampon and stretch around a penis during sex, or a baby during delivery.