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The reproductive system

The ovaries are two small glands next to the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is like an inside pocket where a baby grows. Ovaries begin to make more estrogen and other hormones during puberty. This sparks the start of your menstrual cycle, which includes your period and hormonal changes that take place over about one month. The ovaries release or let go of one egg (ovum) about once a month, from the one million or so eggs it has been storing before you were born. This is called ovulation. The egg moves along a fallopian tube, which connects the ovary to the uterus. It takes around 3 or 4 days for the egg to get to the uterus. During this time, the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) becomes thicker with blood and fluid to make itself a better home for a baby. You will get pregnant if you have sex with a male, and his sperm fertilizes or joins the egg on its way to your uterus. Barrier birth control methods such as condoms can prevent sperm from passing during sexual intercourse, but these do not work 100% of the time. A fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus to begin growing into a baby. If the egg doesn’t become fertilized, it will be shed along with the lining of your endometrium during your next period. The vagina, which is made of muscle, is a hollow canal or tube that can grow wider to deliver a baby that has finished growing inside the uterus. The opening of the vagina is covered by the hymen, which is a thin piece of tissue that has one or more holes in it. Sometimes a hymen is stretched or torn when you use a tampon or after a first sexual experience, but this does not always happen; sometimes the hymen stays the same. If it does tear, it may bleed a little bit. The cervix is the narrow entryway in between the vagina and uterus. The opening of the cervix is very small, so a tampon will not slip through here and get lost. At the same time, the muscles of the cervix are flexible so that it can expand to let a baby pass through when he or she is being born.

Your reproductive system: On the outside

The entrance to the vagina is covered, on the outside of the body, by the vulva. The vulva has five parts: Mons pubis, labia, clitoris, urinary opening and vaginal opening.

The mons pubis is the mound of tissue and skin just below your stomach. This area becomes covered with hair when you go through puberty. The labia are the two sets of skin folds (often called lips) on either side of the opening of the vagina. The labia majora are the outer lips and the labia minora are the inner lips. The labia minora cover a small sensitive bump called the clitoris, which is at the bottom of the mons pubis. Below the clitoris is the urinary opening, which is where your urine leaves the body. Below the urinary opening is the vaginal opening, which is the entry into the vagina. This whole area is called the pelvic area.

Now that your body is different, you can get care from a doctor who focuses on women’s reproductive health. This kind of doctor is called a gynecologist . You should see a gynecologist if you are sexually active, are 18 or older, or have symptoms of PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). PID is a general term for infection of the lining of the uterus, fallopian tubes, or the ovaries. Most cases of PID are caused by bacteria that cause STD’s such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. The most common symptoms of PID include abnormal vaginal discharge (fluid), lower stomach pain, and sometimes fever. You should see a doctor if you are in pain or have discharge that is yellow, gray or green with a strong smell. In between periods, it is normal to have a clear or whitish fluid or discharge coming from your vagina.

Your doctor should also check your breasts to make sure you don’t have strange lumps or pain. Although it is common for young women to have some lumpiness in their breasts, you should still check with your doctor to see what’s normal or not normal.

It doesn’t sound fun to have a pelvic exam or breast exam, but it is important that a doctor check out your vagina and other parts on a regular basis. Your doctor will talk to you about how to recognize the signs of vaginal infections, as well as how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s)

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