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Learning About the Female Reproductive System

Female reproductive system

What does the female reproductive system do?

The female reproductive system produces hormones and makes it possible to get pregnant and give birth. It includes two ovaries, two fallopian tubes, and the uterus. It also includes the cervix, the vagina, and the vulva.

The ovaries store and release eggs (ova). After puberty, about once a month the lining of the uterus thickens. Then an ovary releases an egg. This is called ovulation.

The egg then enters the fallopian tube. This tube leads to the uterus. A pregnancy can occur if the egg is fertilized by sperm and attaches to, or implants in, the lining of the uterus. The uterus is where the fertilized egg will grow during a pregnancy. If the egg isn't fertilized, or if a fertilized egg doesn't implant, the uterus sheds its lining. This shedding is the menstrual period.

What problems can happen?

Problems with the female reproductive system may happen from time to time. These problems can be related to menstrual cycles, sex, or birth control methods. They can also be from infections, aging, medicines, or changes after pregnancy. Problems may include:

  • Infections, such as a yeast infection.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These can include chlamydia or gonorrhea.
  • Rashes, sores, blisters, or lumps in the vagina or on the vulva.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Irregular bleeding during a period or between periods. Bleeding may be heavier or lighter than usual. Or it may last longer than your usual period.
  • Ovarian cysts.
  • Fertility issues that keep you from becoming pregnant.
  • Cancer of the uterus, cervix, or ovaries.

How can you prevent problems?

  • Talk with your doctor about how often you should have certain screening tests, such as a Pap test.
  • Keep your vulva clean. Use mild, unscented soap and water. Rinse well.
  • After you use the toilet, wipe from front to back. This may help to avoid spreading yeast or bacteria from your anus to the vagina or urinary tract.
  • Wear underwear that helps keep your genital area dry. Make sure it doesn't hold in warmth and moisture. One good choice is cotton underwear.
  • Change pads or tampons often.
  • Don't douche. And don't use deodorant tampons or feminine sprays, powders, or perfumes. These items can change the normal balance of organisms in your vagina.
  • To decrease your risk of getting an STI, use condoms and limit your sex partner(s). Get tested for STIs regularly.

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