The female reproductive system is involved in sexuality and fertility, and includes organs such as the uterus (womb), ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina, as well as hormones.
Anatomy and functions
The female reproductive system includes:
- 2 ovaries — female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) are produced in the ovaries, and eggs are stored here to mature and be released in ovulation.
- Fallopian tubes — these are 2 thin tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, allowing the egg to be transported.
- Uterus (womb) — if pregnancy occurs, the fertilised egg will implant in the uterus and grow into a baby here.
- Cervix — this is the lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina.
- Vagina — this is a muscular tube connecting the cervix to the outside of the body.
How does the menstrual cycle work?
On average, girls in Western countries start menstruating around 12 – 13 years, but girls can have their first period as early as 9 years of age and as late as 16 years. The menstrual cycle usually occurs monthly — a 28-day cycle is average.
Each cycle prepares a woman for a possible pregnancy. Ovulation releases an egg from the ovary, and the endometrium (internal lining of the uterus) grows to nurture the egg if it is fertilised.
If the egg isn't fertilised, the lining (mostly blood) separates from the uterus and leaves the body from the vagina as a period (the menstrual flow).
Menopause refers to a woman's final period. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years — the average age of menopause for women in Western countries is 51-52 years.
What can go wrong?
Conditions that involve the female reproductive system include:
- premenstrual syndrome
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- fibroids (non-cancerous growths of the uterus)
When to see your doctor
Symptoms related to your periods vary depending on the condition and may include:
See your doctor if you have the following symptoms:
- pain in your lower abdomen, upper thighs or back
- painful, heavy or irregular periods, or no periods at all
- periods that last more than 8 days or are more than 2 to 3 months apart
- pain during or after sex
- bowel problems (such as constipation, diarrhoea)
- bleeding between periods
- bleeding after intercourse
Each woman experiences her menstrual cycle differently, most without any difficulties. If there is any change in your cycle that worries you, see your doctor.
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Last reviewed: September 2018