There are two uterine tubes, also called Fallopian tubes or oviducts. There is one tube associated with each ovary. The end of the tube near the ovary expands to form a funnel-shaped infundibulum, which is surrounded by fingerlike extensions called fimbriae. Because there is no direct connection between the [glossary term:] infundibulum and the ovary, the oocyte enters the peritoneal cavity before it enters the Fallopian tube. At the time of ovulation, the fimbriae increase their activity and create currents in the peritoneal fluid that help propel the oocyte into the Fallopian tube. Once inside the Fallopian tube, the oocyte is moved along by the rhythmic beating of cilia on the epithelial lining and by peristaltic action of the smooth muscle in the wall of the tube. The journey through the Fallopian tube takes about 7 days. Because the oocyte is fertile for only 24 to 48 hours, fertilization usually occurs in the Fallopian tube.
The uterus is a muscular organ that receives the fertilized oocyte and provides an appropriate environment for the developing fetus. Before the first pregnancy, the uterus is about the size and shape of a pear, with the narrow portion directed inferiorly. After childbirth, the uterus is usually larger, then regresses after menopause.
The uterus is lined with the endometrium. The stratum functionale of the endometrium sloughs off during menstruation. The deeper stratum basale provides the foundation for rebuilding the stratum functionale.
The vagina is a fibromuscular tube, about 10 cm long, that extends from the cervix of the uterus to the outside. It is located between the rectum and the urinary bladder. Because the vagina is tilted posteriorly as it ascends and the cervix is tilted anteriorly, the cervix projects into the vagina at nearly a right angle. The vagina serves as a passageway for menstrual flow, receives the erect penis during intercourse, and is the birth canal during childbirth.