Female Urology and External Sexual Anatomy

In both men and women, the urology system is the part of the body that deals with urination. It doesn't take a doctor to know that the urology-related anatomy of men and women look very different, at least from the outside. However, internally, they are similar—the kidneys of both men and women, for example, look and function the same for both genders. But we also differ in some ways, too—women have much shorter urethras (the tube that connects your bladder to the outside world) and therefore are at greater risk of bladder infections.

The Kidneys

Healthy kidney, artwork


The urology system starts with the kidneys. Most people are born with two that are located in the back of the abdominal cavity just above the waist and along the spinal column. In adults, each kidney is fist-sized and shaped like a bean.

Via arteries and veins, the kidneys are connected to the body's vascular (blood) system. Every minute, the kidneys receive about 20% of the heart’s output of blood and filter it. This job is performed by a huge network of structures known as nephrons, which act as filters, regulating the balance of water, salts, and electrolytes. Whatever is not needed is filtered through and eliminated as urine.

The kidneys also:

  • Regulate blood pressure by secreting the hormone renin and balancing fluids.
  • Remove waste products from the bloodstream and producing urine.
  • Secrete the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production.

The Ureters

Bladder and Uterus

Science Picture Co / Getty Images

Urine exits the kidney through a long narrow tube called the ureter. The ureter exits into the bladder. It is in this ureter where kidney stones can get stuck. During pregnancy, the fetus can obstruct the ureter since it is located close to the growing fetus.

The Bladder

Illustration of female bladder


After the urine travels down the ureters, it enters the bladder, a stretchy pouch surrounded by muscle located just above your pelvis.

The bladder's main job is to hold urine. As it gets full, you begin to feel the need to urinate. When you urinate, the smooth muscle of the bladder walls contract, releasing the urine.

In women, the bladder sits on top of the front wall of the vagina. As women age, the bladder can fall or slip out of place (cystocele) because the vaginal wall or the surrounding pelvic muscle may sag with time. 

Childbirth also loosens the vaginal wall. In some women, the bladder may prolapse, meaning it is no longer supported and falls into the vagina. A prolapsed bladder is also known as cystocele or a fallen bladder. This condition does not affect men, because this is a problem unique to female anatomy.

The Urethra

Anatomy of human bladder


After urine leaves the bladder, it enters a single urethra, a tube-like structure that extends all the way to the genitals. As you urinate, the bladder contracts and empties urine into the urethra. Then, the urethral sphincter muscle relaxes, and urination occurs.

In women, the urethra is about 1.5 inches long, which is about 10 times shorter than in men. This is one reason women are more affected by urinary tract infections—the bacteria have a much shorter distance to travel.

Female External Genitalia

Illustration of reproductive system


It can be hard to spot the urethra. In women, it is located between the vagina and the clitoris, and the anus is a few inches away. Another reason women have a higher risk of urinary tract infections than men is because bacteria from fecal matter have a shorter distance to travel up the vaginal orifice and into the urethra.

The rest of the external genitalia is not considered part of the urology anatomy since the other structures—such as the vulva and labia—primarily serve reproductive functions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where is the urethral opening in women?

    The urethra is a small hole between the clitoris and vagina. It can be hard to see as it is commonly tucked away under the labial folds. You should never try to insert anything into the urethral opening as it can damage the urethral sphincter causing incontinence. 

  • What is a prolapsed bladder?

    A prolapsed bladder, also known as a cystocele or fallen bladder, is a condition that only affects women. It occurs when the vaginal walls weaken and the bladder descends into the vagina. 

    A prolapsed bladder can cause incontinence (stress and urge), straining to void, and pelvic pain.  In some cases, a prolapsed bladder can cause tissue to extend out of the opening of the vagina.

    The condition can be treated with a vaginal pessary—a plastic device that is inserted in the vagina and helps to support the pelvic floor. Or it can be treated with surgical correction of the prolapse by a urologist or urogynecologist.

  • Where are a woman’s kidneys?

    The kidneys are two fist-sized organs that are located above the waist, and under the lower ribs on either side of the spine. The kidneys filter the bloodstream and turn waste into urine. The urine travels from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder, where it is stored until you urinate. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Urological Association. Recurrent uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women: AUA/CUA/SUFU guideline.

  2. Kaufman DP. Physiology, Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR). StatPearls [Internet].

  3. Lamblin G, Delorme E, Cosson M, Rubod C. Cystocele and functional anatomy of the pelvic floor: review and update of the various theories. Int Urogynecol J. 2016;27(9):1297-305. doi:10.1007/s00192-015-2832-4

By Laura Newman
Laura Newman is an award-winning journalist with expertise in clinical medicine, health policy, urology, oncology, neurology, and targeted therapies.