External Anatomy of the Female Reproductive System

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  • 0:05 We All Start the Same
  • 1:03 Female External Genitalia
  • 2:16 Clitoris and Vestibular Bulbs
  • 3:45 Vestibular Glands
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

We all know that men and women are different. But just how different are they? Learn a little more about the differences between men and women in this lesson on female external reproductive anatomy.

We All Start the Same

What is it that makes men and women so different? As an adult, your answer might be a little more in-depth: we think different, we feel different and we have different hormones that influence our feelings and our actions. But when you ask a child, what is their first thought? Simply that they look different, right? But did you know that we actually all start out the same? Did you know that the male and female external genitalia actually stem from the same set of tissues? That's right; the same tissues that develop into the male's external genitalia (the penis and the scrotum) also make up the female's! The only difference is the type of hormones that each tissue is exposed to during development. That small difference creates huge differences in structure, as you will see in this lesson on external female genitalia.

Female External Genitalia

The two types of labia in the vaginal area
Vaginal Labia Types

The entrance to the female reproductive tract is through an opening of the vaginal canal. You see, the vaginal canal opens into a space called the vestibule, which is surrounded by a number of skin folds and other external structures. The area containing the female's external genitalia is called the vulva. Within this area, there are two main sets of skin folds: smaller ones called the labia minora, which are closest to the vaginal entrance and lack hair; and larger folds called the labia majora, which make up the outer margins of the vulva and are surrounded by pubic hair.

The labia help protect the clitoris, they guide urine flow and they contain numerous sweat glands that help to keep the vulvar area moist. The labia minora are also important for providing lubrication during sexual intercourse. In addition to the labial folds, you have other structures within the vulva. These include the urethral opening (that's where urine exits from), the clitoris and the vestibular bulbs.

Clitoris and Vestibular Bulbs

Now, the clitoris is a small, rounded structure located at the top of where the labia minora join together and is actually covered by extensions of the minora that form the prepuce (or hood) of the clitoris.

Now, if you thought that only males had erections you have been misled. You see, the clitoris is the female's version of erectile tissue! And that means, as you may have already guessed, that it develops from the same embryonic tissue that the male's penis develops from. Females just have significantly less amounts of that erectile tissue, and it's distributed a little differently as well. You see, the clitoris contains tissue that is comparable to the male's corpus cavernosa tissue.

But what about the corpus spongiosum? Well, in females, their version of the corpus spongiosum is called the vestibular bulbs, and it's actually located alongside the labia minora.

And just because the distribution and the amount of tissue in females is a little bit different than in males, that doesn't mean it works any differently. Both sets of erectile tissues in females are filled with blood during sexual arousal, making them more sensitive. But due to differences in the amount of tissue present, you just can't notice the changes in the female's tissues as much as you can in the male's.

Important structures of the external genitalia
Female External Genitalia

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Additional Activities

Educating Others

In this activity, students will be creating a storybook for younger students about the external parts of the female reproductive system. This activity is important because many people, even adults, are not properly educated on female anatomy. By creating a storybook, students will be able to share this information with younger students, which is important for developing healthy boundaries, consent, and maintaining reproductive health.

Examples and Tips:

You should encourage your students first to consider their audience. What age range are they creating a book for, and what language will be needed? For example, a book for kindergarteners might only include pictures and a few words and have a fun character to guide the reader through the information on each page. A book for fifth graders might have more written information and could include more information about sexual intercourse or menstruation. It's important to encourage students to not feel embarrassed about the topic. Try to approach it from a scientific perspective and remind that this important topic can carry shame for some people, and we want to make sure that everyone has access to the information they need to care for their bodies.

Student Directions:

Reading and learning about the reproductive organs of both biological females and males is very important. Now that you have that information, it's time to share it with a younger audience. It's never to early to educate students about their bodies so that they can watch for health changes, protect themselves, and understand their own boundaries. Today, you will be creating a storybook that teaches a younger audience about the external parts of the female reproductive system.

You should consider what age range your book will address and what type of imagery and theme you plan to use. Will your book be serious? Funny? Cute? Your storybook can be created by hand, in Google slides, LucidPress, or another program of your choosing. Whatever direction you decide to take your project, first check out the requirements below.

Criteria for Success:

  • Storybook includes all the important external female anatomy described in the lesson: vulva, labia major, labia minor, prepuce, clitoris, vestibular bulbs, and vestibular glands.
  • Storybook is directed for a specific age range and is developmentally appropriate.
  • Storybook is artistic, colorful and attractive.
  • Storybook is scientifically accurate.

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