At LOLA, we’re dedicated to providing you with trusted products and candid information so you can make the right decisions for your reproductive health and wellness. And when it comes to your sexual wellness specifically, education is key to making these deliberate and purposeful decisions.
While it may seem basic, having a firm understanding of human biology and anatomy is critical as you begin and continue to explore your sexuality.
Since the female anatomy is quite complex, we find it simplest to break it down between the internal anatomy (the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina) and the external anatomy (the vaginal opening, hymen, vulva, and breasts).
The uterus, also known as the womb, is a hollow organ that expands to carry a growing fetus when a woman is pregnant. It has two sections: the upper portion (or fundus), where the fallopian tubes extend from and connect the uterus to the ovaries, and the lower portion, where the uterus joins the cervix. During reproductive years, the uterine lining in your uterus builds and sheds throughout every menstrual cycle. (Yes, this is why you get a period.)
The ovaries are a pair of reproductive glands located on either side of your body that produce eggs (or ova), as well as female hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. Each month, a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries, typically alternating from one side to the other, and travels down a fallopian tube to the uterus.
Fallopian tubes, also known as oviducts, are two hair-like tubal projections that extend from the top of the uterus on each side and connect to the ovaries.
The cervix is a very strong circular muscle that forms a tubal passage from the uterus to the vagina. It’s what keeps a baby in place throughout pregnancy and subsequently dilates (or opens) during a vaginal birth.
The vagina is the passageway from internal to external female genitalia. Internally, it extends from the lower portion of the cervix to the vaginal opening.
The hymen is a membrane that women are born with that either completely or partially covers the vaginal opening. It breaks from any sort of penetrative activity, including the first time you have penetrative sex, but also occasionally from exercise or the first time you insert a tampon.
The vulva is what protects the internal organs and urethral opening (where urine exits the body) from infection. It includes all of the visible female genitalia:
The mons pubis is the padding that covers the front of the pubic bone.
The labia majora are the larger set of lips outside of the labia minora.
The labia minora are the small flaps, also known as lips, around the vaginal opening.
The vestibule of the vagina is the vaginal opening.
The bulbs of the vestibule describe the erectile tissue on either side of the upper part of the vaginal opening that converges at the clitoris.
The clitoris is the small, highly sensitive erectile part of the female body that’s located on the front end of the vulva where the labia minora come together. It’s made up of the same embryonic tissue as the male penis, with similar features (including a glans, foreskin, erectile tissue, and a small shaft that becomes enlarged when aroused).
Bartholin glands are the glands on either side of the lower part of the vagina that secrete lubricating mucus.
Skene’s glands are located near the front wall of the vagina and around the lower end of the urethra. They secrete a milky, watery substance during orgasm.
The urethra is the opening where urine exits the body from the bladder.
Female breasts, while not considered a reproductive organ, are unique. They extend forward from both sides of the chest and have mammary glands that produce milk after childbirth. The breasts — and especially the nipples — are another highly sensitive part of the body that can increase desire; they typically become enlarged and engorged when stimulated.
Breast sensitivity, however, is not always related to arousal. Breasts can become painful and tender with hormonal fluctuations, especially during the second half, or luteal phase, of the menstrual cycle. If you’re concerned that your breasts are overly tender or painful, contact your primary care provider or women’s health specialist.
Now let’s review the basic male anatomy, which also can be simplified by breaking it down between the internal anatomy (the testes, epididymis, vas deferens, ejaculatory ducts, urethra, seminal vesicles, bulbourethral glands, and prostate gland) and external anatomy (the penis and scrotum). Let’s start with what’s on the inside.
The testes (or testicles) are two oval-shaped organs that produce and store sperm inside the scrotum. The testes need to be kept at a cooler temperature than the body to produce viable, healthy sperm.
The epididymis is a coiled tube that is also located inside the scrotum and behind the testes. It stores sperm for two to three months as the sperm matures to the point of being capable of fertilizing an egg.
The vas deferens is a muscular tube that connects the testes and bladder; when the male body becomes sexually aroused, it carries sperm in preparation for ejaculation.
The ejaculatory ducts are located where the vas deferens reaches the seminal vesicles at the base of the bladder and help empty ejaculatory fluid into the urethra.
The seminal vesicles produce a sugar-rich fluid that provides energy to the sperm.
The bulbourethral glands produce a slippery fluid that lubricates the urethra and neutralizes any leftover urinary acidity.
The prostate gland contributes additional fluid as the urethra carries ejaculate (also called semen or seminal fluid; it’s made up of sperm plus secretions from the testes, seminal vesicles, and bulbourethral glands) through the prostate in preparation to leave the body during orgasm.
The penis is the primary organ that becomes engorged with blood and erect when aroused. It’s composed of three different parts: the root (located below the bulbourethral glands), the shaft (the length of the penis that runs up to the head), and the head (also known as the glans or tip).
The head of the penis may or may not be covered in a loose sheath of skin known as the foreskin. For some men, this skin is removed (typically at a young age) via male circumcision for medical or religious reasons. The head of the penis contains the opening of the urethra, which for men is a shared exit for urine and semen. During sex or sexual stimulation, the urine is blocked so that only semen can come out during an orgasm.
The scrotum is a loose sack of skin that sits below and behind the penis. Its primary function is to encase, protect, and provide climate control for the testes. It contains the cremaster muscle, which can contract or relax based on temperature. It tightens to bring the testes closer to the body in cold temperatures and relaxes to move them away in warm ones.
If you found this article helpful, we recommend downloading our full Sexual Wellness Guide. The guide features tips on safe sex, solo sex, sex with a partner, and how to talk to your doctor, all written by experts.
This post was written with contributions from Corina Dunlap, ND, MS.