The female body and sex

A woman’s sex organs are both inside and outside of the body. Inside the body is the womb (uterus), the cervix, the fallopian tubes and the ovaries. The outside area of skin is the vulva. The clitoris is at the front of the vulva. The urethra is below the clitoris and the vaginal opening is below the urethra. Other sexual areas include the breasts and nipples, and other sensitive areas of your body that respond to touch.

There are four stages of sexual response:

  • Arousal is the awakening of sexual feelings - feeling ready for sex.
  • Plateau is where your body maintains a heightened state of arousal.
  • Orgasm is the sexual climax.
  • Resolution is where sexual changes in the body go back to normal.

The body also makes sex hormones. The ovaries make two female sex hormones – oestrogen and progesterone. Changes in the levels of these hormones can affect a woman’s interest in sex.

The female body

A woman’s reproductive organs are mostly inside her body. They include the womb (uterus), the cervix (the neck of the womb), the fallopian tubes and the ovaries.

Female reproductive organs
Female reproductive organs

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Outside a woman’s body is the area of skin called the vulva. This is made up of all the visible sex organs. It consists of two outer lips (the labia majora), which are covered in pubic hair and surround two inner lips (the labia minora).

At the front of the vulva is the clitoris. This is a small structure that helps women reach a sexual climax (orgasm). Just behind the clitoris is the outlet for urine (the urethra), and just behind this is the vaginal opening (birth canal). Further back still is the opening to the back passage (anus). This is close to the vulva but not part of it. The area of skin between the vulva and the anus is called the perineum.

The vulva
The vulva

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Other sexual areas include the breasts and nipples, which change in hardness and sensitivity when touched. You will have other sensitive areas on your body that respond to touch, such as the back of your neck, the backs of your knees, your buttocks and inner thighs. The sensitivity of these erogenous zones varies from woman to woman.


Sex hormones

The body also makes sex hormones. In women, the ovaries make the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and a small amount of the male sex hormone testosterone.

Changes in the levels of these hormones can affect a woman’s interest in sex, and her sexual function.


The stages of sexual response

There are four possible stages of sexual response.

  • Arousal or excitement is the awakening of sexual feelings. It is when you feel ‘turned on’ and ready for sex. You may feel aroused by thinking about sex, seeing someone you are attracted to, touching someone or being touched by someone. During arousal, blood-flow to the vagina and vulva increases. Fluid passes through the vaginal walls, making the vagina wet. The top of the vagina expands. Arousal may or may not lead to orgasm.
  • Plateau is the phase where your body maintains a heightened state of arousal. Your body is very sensitive during this phase.
  • Orgasm is the sexual climax. This is the feeling of intense pleasure that happens as areas of your body go into a series of regular contractions. Some women can feel their womb contract during orgasm.
  • Resolution is the phase that comes after sexual arousal and orgasm. This is when the sexual changes in the body go back to normal. Many women can be aroused to orgasm again straight away. As women get older, they may take longer to become sexually excited again after orgasm.

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Effects of surgery on women

Any surgery can affect your sexuality. Surgery to any sexual areas of the body may cause noticeable changes.