Female External Genitalia Anatomy
External Genitalia Definition
External genitalia refers to the organs of the reproductive system, the outer organs to be precise. External genitalia of males are different from that of a female’s.
The development of the genital system begins in the embryonic period and ends at puberty. The reproductive system of females comprise structures involved in menstruation, coitus, act of fertilization, pregnancy and childbirth. The system can be categorized as –
- Internal genitalia – Uterus, Fallopian tube, Cervix, Ovaries, Vagina
- External genitalia – Vulva
- Accessory structures – Mammary glands
Role of External genital organs in females
The primary function of the external genital structures are –
- Renders protection to the delicate internal genital tract from infectious agents
- Serves as a sensory tissue at the time of coitus and provides lubrication
- Enabling the entry of sperms in the body
- Assists in micturition
Overview on External parts of Female reproductive system
The female external genitalia is indeed interesting as it comprises the reproductive and urinary tract structures. Put together, all of these structures are referred to as the vulva. Vulva in simple terms is wrapping or covering. When viewed from the outside, the external female reproductive system does seem to be wrapped or covered by folds of skin, which are nothing but the labia minora and labia majora. These form a part of the vulva.
External Female Anatomy
Female external genitalia – Different parts
The external female genitalia includes structures, serving both reproductive and urinary functions. The vulva is the broad term representing all of the structures constituting the female external genitalia. The parts of the vulva are –
- Mons pubis
- Labia minora
- Labia majora
- Vestibular bulbs
- Vulva vestibule
- Bartholin’s glands
- Skene’s glands
- Vaginal opening
Embryology – Development of External Genitalia
The mesenchyma cells in the third week of development move around the cloacal membrane forming a pair of the slightly elevated cloacal fold. The cloacal folds, anterior to the cloacal membrane, combine to form the genital tubercle by the 4th – 5th week of gestation. The folds caudally are further divided anteriorly into urethral folds and posteriorly into anal folds. There is only a slight elongation of the genital tubercle forming the clitoris and the urethral folds do not combine as seen in the case of males, however, develop into the labia minora.
There is an enlargement of the genital swellings forming the labia majora. In between, the urogenital membrane breaks, exposing the lower section of the urogenital sinus or the groove. This groove centrally opens forming the vestibule, urethra and the lower one-third of the vagina. Let’s see more about the structures that make the external female reproductive organs.
The vulvae or the female external genitalia is inclusive of the labia majora, mons pubis, labia minora, vestibule, clitoris, vestibule, vestibular bulb and the greater vestibular glands.
Structure of Vulva
The vulva in the female reproductive system comprises the external sex organs. It includes the mons pubis, labia minora, labia majora, vestibular bulbs, external parts of clitoris, vestibule, urinary meatus, hymen, vaginal opening, Skene’s and Bartholin’s glands.
- Vulva protects the delicate innermost parts of the female reproductive and urinary system
- During menstruation, it provides a passageway for blood and mucosal tissue discharge
- Provides a passageway during parturition
- At the time of coitus, it receives the penis and holds the sperm until they pass into the uterus
Mons Pubis Structure and Function
Structure of Mons Pubis
This is the round area of the skin on pubic symphysis and the nearby pubic bone. It has hair over it. The mons pubis before puberty is comparatively flat and the labia minora are formed poorly. At the time of adolescence, there is the formation of coarse hair over the mons, the labia minora and labia majora become more flap-like and noticeable. The mons in female adults are covered by rough hair which is restricted above by horizontal bounds. Once menopause takes place, the pubic hair starts thinning and the labial tissue slightly atrophies.
Function of Mons Pubis
The mons pubis is a mass of fatty tissue which is covered by pubic hair and the skin. It is seen above the pubic symphysis and serves as a cushion for the pubic bones at the time of coitus. The sebaceous glands it has secrete pheromones which bring about sexual attraction.
Labia Majora Structure and Function
Structure of Labia Majora
“Labia” comes from the Latin word for lips. These are two raised, large longitudinal folds of the skin extending from the mons pubis to the perineum. It forms the lateral margins of the vulva. Each of the labium possesses an external pigmented surface which is covered with hair and a pink, smooth internal surface having large sebaceous follicles.
Function of Labia Majora
True to its name, “labia” (lips) corresponds to the function of the lips around the vaginal orifice like the lips surrounding the mouth. Labia majora covers and protects other delicate female genital organs of the vulva such as the clitoris, labia minora, the vaginal and urinary orifice. The sebaceous and sweat glands it contains produces lubricating secretions. It is in this area that hair appear at the time of puberty.
Several exocrine glands are in association with the hair follicles arising from the labia majora. The eccrine sweat glands present, aid in thermoregulation. The sebaceous glands produce oil for lubrication of the skin and the hair shaft.
Structure of Labia Minora
They are called the smaller lips. These are 2 small cutaneous folds lacking fat found between the labia majora lined by nonkeratinized squamous epithelium containing veins, elastic tissues, some smooth muscles and a lot of nerve endings. They obliquely extend from the clitoris down, laterally and back, lining the vaginal orifice.
Each of the labium minus bifurcates anteriorly. The upper surface of each side moves over the clitoris forming a fold, the prepuce or hood that overhangs the clitoris’ glans. The lower part of each side moves below the clitoris forming the frenulum of the clitoris. The labia minora is posteriorly combined in the midline, forming a thin ridge of skin referred to as a fourchette.
Labia minora comprises a few layers of tissue wherein the exterior most layer is made of non-keratinized stratified squamous epithelium that is continuous with the skin which surrounds it. It lacks keratin, hence it is less waterproof and tough. Followed by this is a fibrous connective tissue which is in continuation with the dermis. The layer is enriched with elastin fibres and collagen with imparts elasticity and strength to it.
Function of Labia Minora
The function of labia minora is to protect the urethral and vaginal openings from dryness, infections and mechanical irritation.
It leads to the vestibule which is close to 2.5 cm under the clitoris and above the vagina’s opening through a sagittal, short cleft with somewhat risen margins, the urethral meatus. The ducts of the paraurethral glands open on separate sides of the urethra (lateral margins).
It is found in the posterior end of the vestibule, posterior to the urethral opening. These are guarded incompletely by the septum of the mucous membrane, referred to as the hymen.
It is the cavity found between the labia minora. It comprises the vaginal and external urethral orifice in addition to the openings of the two greater vestibular (Bartholin’s) glands and of the many mucous lesser vestibular glands.
Do Check: NEET MCQs on Female Reproductive System
Bartholin’s Glands (Greater Vestibular Glands)
These glands are homologous to the male bulbourethral glands. It comprises two small oval or round, reddish-yellow bodies which line the vaginal orifice at about 4 and 8 o’ clock positions under the bulbospongiosus muscle. Each of them opens into the posterolateral section of the vestibule by a duct (2 cm), which is seen in the groove found between the labia minora and hymen.
The glands comprise tubuloacinar tissue. The secreting cells are columnar which give out alkaline whitish-clear mucus having lubricant properties. It is triggered by sexual arousal. The duct is lined by columnar epithelium, however, close by their opening, it is lined by stratified squamous epithelium. The Bartholin’s gland is enlarged and filled with secretions when it is blocked. This is referred to as the Bartholin’s gland cyst. In case this gets infected and inflamed, the condition is referred to as Bartholin’s abscess.
Bulbs of the Vestibule
These bulbs are found on each side of the vestibule and are two elongated masses of erectile tissue – 3 cm long. It lines the vaginal orifice and fuses anteriorly to them by a constricted commissural bulborum. These are homologous to the bulb of the penis seen in males, but are split to be bilateral. If the posterior ends of the vestibular bulbs are torn in labour, it can lead to severe haemorrhage.
It is an erectile structure enclosed partially by the anterior bifurcated terminals of the labia minora. They have a root, body and a glans. Through the skin, it is possible to palpate the body. It comprises two corpora cavernosa which possesses erectile tissue and is wrapped in dense fibrous tissue. The glans clitoris is round, small tubercles of the spongy erectile tissue present at the terminal of the body which is associated with the bulbs of the vestibule by fine bands of erectile tissue. These are seen between the anterior terminals of the labia minora. Their epithelium has great cutaneous sensitivity, significant in the sexual responses.
Vagina – Internal Genitalia
It is the fibromuscular distensible tube that has the lining by non keratinized stratified squamous epithelium. They extend from the vestibule to the cervix. The upper terminal of the vagina, wrapping the vaginal ridge of the uterine cervix. Amongst the vagina and the cervix, the annular recess is the fornix. The various parts of the recess are provided with different names – posterior, anterior and lateral fornices, however, these are continuous.
The vagina ascends upward and posterior, forming an angle of 45 degrees with the horizontal in the erect form. Vagina’s width increases with ascending. The vaginal mucosa is associated with the uterine cervix on all sides. Approximately, the anterior wall is about 7.5 cm long, the posterior wall is about 9 cm in length. The base of the bladder is associated with the anterior wall of the vagina. This posterior wall is distinguished from the rectum superiorly by the rectouterine pouch and in its mid half by the Denonvilliers’ fascia.
Since the ureters anteromedially move to arrive at the fundus of the bladder, it passes near to the lateral fornices at which point each of the ureters is transversely crossed by a uterine artery. Externally, the vagina opens through the introitus whose size varies. They have great distension at the time of parturition and to a lesser extent at the time of sexual intercourse. Just within the vaginal orifice, the hymen is located, which is a fine fold of mucous membrane. The internal layer of the folds normally are in contact with one another. The vaginal opening seems like a cleft in between them.
Vagina – Functions
- Forms an excretory duct for the menstrual flow
- The acidic vaginal pH checks infection
- Induces vaginal lubrication, serves as the coital canal for sexual pleasure
- Receives semen for supplying sperms to the cervical canal, helping in the capacitation of sperm
- The seminal prostaglandin is absorbed, causing contraction of the myometrium and the fallopian tube
- Serves as the birth canal at the time of parturition
This was a brief on the external genitalia of females. Explore related topics on NEET at BYJU’S.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cervix?
Cervix is the lower constricted part of the uterus. It is divided into two portions – an upper supravaginal portion and a lower vaginal portion. The supravaginal portion communicates with the body of the uterus through the internal orifice of the cervix. Whereas the lower vaginal portion, which projects into the anterior wall of the vagina, communicates with the vagina through the external orifice of the cervix.
What are the female external genital organs?
In females, the external genital structures are contained in the area of vulva. The different structures are clitoris, labia minora, labia majora and mons pubis.
What are the parts that come under vulva?
The labia majora, labia minora, mons pubis, clitoris, vulval vestibule, vestibular bulb, urinary meatus, hymen, vaginal opening and Bartholin’s gland comprises the vulva. The structures include sebaceous glands, the anterior part of the perineum and the pubic hair.
What is the structure of labia majora?
The two raised longitudinal skin folds that extend from the mons pubis towards the perineum are called labia majora. It forms the lateral margins of the vulva. Each of the labium possesses an external pigmented surface which is covered with hair and a pink, smooth internal surface having large sebaceous follicles.
What is the function of labia majora?
An important function of labia majora is protection. It safeguards the delicate and soft tissues of the vulva. It is this area which contains several pubic hair thus protecting the remaining parts of the vulva from any friction or a possible mechanical stress due to its adipose tissue which serves as a cushion.
What is the structure of labia minora?
The two small cutaneous folds lacking fat found between the labia majora are called labia minora. They are lined by nonkeratinized squamous epithelium. They obliquely extend from the clitoris down, laterally and back, lining the vaginal orifice.