The function of the female reproductive system is to produce sex hormones, functioning gametes (ova), and to support and protect the developing embryo. The major organs are the ovaries (gonads), uterinetubes (fallopian tubes or oviducts), the uterus, the vagina, accessory glands (see Figures 7.5 and 7.6),and the components of the external genitalia (see Figure 7.7). The breasts (mammary glands) are also considered part of the female reproductive system.
The two ovaries are almond-shaped organs, about 5 cm (2 in) long, 2.5 cm (1 in) wide, and 8 mm (0.3 in) thick, located near the lateral walls of the pelvic cavity.
The ovaries are held in place by ligaments that connect them to the uterus (ovarian ligament) and the pelvis (suspensory ligament). The surface of the ovary is nodular and has ova (primordial follicle) in various stages of development. At the time of birth, there are about 2 million immature ova in the ovaries. Many of the ova degenerate; at puberty, there are only about 400,000 remaining. The immature ova (oocytes) lie dormant in the ovary until they arestimulated by a sudden surge in the hormone FSH at puberty. Every month thereafter, some of the oocytes undergo further development. This is known as the ovarian cycle.
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