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What Is Genitalia?

In a man, genitalia typically refers to the penis and testicles, but it can mean internally organs as well.
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  • Written By: Melanie Smeltzer
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
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The word genitalia is a broad term that refers to the sexual organs of males and females. In some cases, this term is used to describe the external reproductive structures, but it may also apply to internal structures such as ovaries in females or the prostate in males. Although this term usually brings to mind human beings, it is also frequently used to refer to animals and plant life.

Sexual organs are often determined during the early stages of prenatal development. Genitalia typically begin as a common organ not distinguishable as either male or female, but usually given direction by the presence or absence of the Y chromosome. Beyond this point, internal and external genitals are developed according to the release and response of hormones by fetal gonads — either ovaries or testes.

Much of the anatomy of the male genitalia can be found outside of the body. These sensitive, exposed structures consist of the penis and testicles, which contain a number of tissues, veins, arteries, and other important structures. The penis consists of three sponge-like bodies of cavernous tissue held together by connective tissue and covered by loose skin. Two of the spongy bodies, known as the corpora cavernosa, lie side-by-side, while the third, referred to as the corpus spongiosum, sits in the groove made by the other two. Testicles are two round glands that sit within the scrotum and are suspended by the spermatic cord.

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The vulva is the most obvious portion of the female genitalia. Vulva is a term typically used to refer to the external structure of the vagina, which consists of labia, the clitoris and clitoral hood, and the vaginal and urethral openings. Internally, the vagina consists of a number of muscles and glands that lead up to the cervix and into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

Both male and female genitalia have many purposes. These intricate structures are mainly used for reproduction and to help expel waste fluids from the body, but are also a source of physical and psychological pleasure. Since many of these structures are delicate, they are prone to a number of ailments. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common in both genders. Some diseases and conditions, such as eczema and the mumps, may also cause discomfort or dysfunction in the genitalia.

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