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 ureters (the tube that connects your bladder to your urethra) and therefore are at greater risk of bladder infections.

If this all seems like a lot of information to absorb—don't worry. This article breaks it down into steps.

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 percent of the heart’s output of blood and filter it.This job is done 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:

  • Maintain normal blood pressure by secreting the hormone renin
  • 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

When urine exits the kidney, it enters a long tube known as a ureter. There is one ureter at the central portion of each kidney. Each ureter funnels the urine down into the bladder.

The Bladder

Illustration of female bladder


After the urine travels down the ureters, it enters the bladder, a stretchy pouch 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 because the vaginal wall 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. As expected, this condition does not affect men, because this is a problem unique to female anatomy.

The Urethra

Anatomy of human bladder


After the 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, 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 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.

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