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within these are two thinner folds, the _labia minora_ or _nymphae_.
These, together with the _clitoris_, situated just above, are extremely
sensitive organs, being the chief seat of sexual sense in the female.
At the lower part is the opening to the vagina, which in the virgin
is usually partially guarded by a thin membrane, the _hymen_. This is
not always a reliable test of virginity, however, as commonly regarded,
since it may be destroyed by disease or accident, and may exist even
after the occurrence of pregnancy.
The vagina extends from the vulva to the lower end of the uterus, which
it incloses, passing between the bladder and the rectum. The lower
extremity of the uterus presents a small opening which leads into its
interior. Upon either side, at its upper and larger end, is a minute
opening, the mouth of the Fallopian tube. The latter organs extend from
the uterus outward nearly to the ovaries, toward which they present
a number of small filaments, one of which is in contact with each ovary.
These filaments, together with the interior of the tubes, are covered
with a peculiar kind of cells, upon which are minute cilia, or hairs,
in constant motion. Very curiously, they all move in the same direction,
toward the cavity of the uterus. When an ovum escapes from the ovary
in connection with menstruation, it is by these delicate hairs
propelled along a filament of tissue to the Fallopian tube, and thence
by the same means is conveyed to the uterus. It may come in contact
with the zoosperms at any point between the ovary and the lower orifice
of the uterus, and thus undergo fecundation.
Puberty.--For a certain period after birth, the sexual organs remain
in a partially developed condition. This period varies in duration with
different animals; in some cases being very brief, in others,
comprising several years. Upon the attainment of a certain age, the
individual becomes sexually perfect, and is then capable of the
generative act. This period is called puberty. In man, puberty commonly
occurs between the ages of ten and fifteen years, varying considerably
in different climates. In this country, and in other countries of about
the same latitude, puberty usually occurs at the age of fourteen or
fourteen and one-half years in females, and a few months later in males.
In cooler climates, as in Norway and Siberia, the change is delayed
to the age of eighteen or nineteen years. In tropical climates it is
hastened, occurring as early as nine or ten years. In warm climates
it is no uncommon thing for a girl to be a mother at twelve; and it
is stated that one of the wives of Mahomet was a mother at ten.
Other causes besides climate tend to hasten the occurrence of this
change, as habits, temperament, constitutional tendency, education,
Habits of vigorous physical exercise tend to delay the access of puberty.
For this reason, together with others, country boys and girls generally
mature later than those living in the city by several months, and even
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