Chapter 3 Summary

  1. A woman’s vulva (external genitalia) consists of the mons, clitoris, labia majora and minora (outer and inner lips), and vaginal opening.
  2. A woman’s clitoris is a complex erectile organ, only a portion of which (the glans) is visible externally. Stimulation of the clitoris is a major source of sexual arousal in women.
  3. The labia majora are two fat-padded folds of skin that form the sides of the vulva. The labia minora are two thinner, erotically sensitive folds of skin that enclose the vestibule—they fuse together at the front to form the hood of the clitoris. The vestibule is the space that encloses the entrance to the vagina and the opening of the urethra.
  4. The female reproductive tract includes the vagina, cervix, uterus, and oviducts. At birth, the vagina is partially covered by a membrane (the hymen), which may be ruptured at first intercourse or earlier. The inner surface of the vagina is kept mildly acidic by the action of lactobacilli; frequent douching can disturb the microbial balance, leading to fungal infections (candidiasis) and other problems. The walls of the outer portion of the vagina are more muscular and more sensitive than the deeper portion. The G-spot is a controversial site of heightened erotic sensitivity on the front wall of the vagina.
  5. The portion of the uterus that connects with the vagina is the cervix, which can be seen by inspection with a vaginal speculum or felt by inserting a finger into the back of the vagina. Cervical cancer is usually caused by sexually transmitted infection with the human papillomavirus; early detection of cancer by means of regular Pap tests has greatly reduced mortality from the disease.
  6. The uterus serves as a pathway for sperm transport and also for implantation and development of the embryo; the alternation between these two functions constitutes the menstrual cycle. Medical conditions affecting the body of the uterus include fibroids, endometrial cancer, abnormal bleeding, uterine prolapse, and endometriosis. Hysterectomies (surgical removal of the uterus) may be done more frequently than necessary.
  7. The oviducts bring ovum and sperm together for fertilization and transport the resulting embryo to the uterus. The ovaries are the female gonads; they produce ova and sex hormones.
  8. A woman’s secondary sexual characteristics include her breasts, which combine sexual functions (being a potential source of sexual arousal to herself and her partner) with a reproductive function (lactation). Breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women; risk factors include a family history of the disease, age, childlessness, alcohol use, and obesity. It can be detected early by mammography. Most breast lumps are not cancerous. Early-stage cancers can be treated without removing the entire breast. Some breast cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy and mastectomy, can present a challenge to women’s sexual self-image or sexual function, but most women who undergo them return to sexually active and rewarding relationships.