The genitourinary system, also called the “urogenital system,” consists of the urinary and reproductive systems.
In people assigned male at birth (AMAB), for example, urine is produced by the bladder, and semen is produced by the testes. Both fluids exit the body through the urethra.
Conditions that affect one system can also affect the other. For instance, inflammation of the prostate or uterus can affect urination.
The genitourinary system is made up of the urinary system and the reproductive system.
The urinary system includes:
- Kidneys: These two organs filter blood, remove waste, balance fluids, and produce urine.
- Ureters: These thin tubes carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
- Bladder: This expanding, balloon-shaped organ in the pelvis holds urine until it’s emptied.
- Urethra: This tube at the bottom of the bladder allows urine to exit the body.
In AMAB folks, the reproductive system includes the:
- Penis: This organ contains sponge-like tissues that fill with blood during sexual arousal, which creates an erection to allow for penetration during sex. The head of the penis (glans) houses the urethra, which is where urine and semen exit the body.
- Scrotum: This pouch-like sac of skin is located behind the penis and contains the testicles.
- Testicles: Also called the “testes,” these oval organs make the hormone testosterone and produce sperm.
- Epididymis: This long coiled tube at the back of each testicle carries and stores the sperm until maturity before releasing it into the vas deferens.
- Vas deferens: This long muscular tube transports mature sperm to the urethra for ejaculation.
- Ejaculatory ducts: These ducts sit on either side of the prostate and are created where the seminal vesicles merge with the vas deferens.
- Seminal vesicles: These pouches are attached to the vas deferens at the base of the bladder and make a fluid that helps with sperm motility.
- Prostate: This walnut-sized gland sits below the bladder, in front of the rectum, and releases a fluid that nourishes sperm.
- Bulbourethral glands: Also called “Cowper’s glands,” these tiny glands are on either side of the urethra. The bulbourethral glands produce a clear, slippery fluid that provides lubrication and neutralizes acidity from residual urine in the urethra.
In people assigned female at birth (AFAB), the reproductive system includes the:
- Labia majora: The outer lips, where pubic hair grows, contain sweat and oil glands and protect the other external reproductive organs.
- Labia minora: These inner lips surround the opening to the vagina and urethra.
- Clitoris glans: The clitoris glans, which sit where the two labia meet, are covered by a nerve-rich hood of skin called the “prepuce” that’s very sensitive to stimulation.
- Vaginal opening: This opening is the location of vaginal penetration and is the opening through which menstrual blood and babies exit the body.
- Vagina: This muscular canal is lined with mucous membranes that provide moisture and lubrication. The vagina connects the cervix to the outside of the body.
- Cervix: The cervix is like a gatekeeper to the uterus. A hole in the center allows menstrual blood to exit during menstruation and sperm to enter during intercourse. The cervix dilates during vaginal childbirth but remains otherwise closed to prevent objects, such as sex toys or tampons, from entering too far into the body.
- Uterus: This hollow organ holds a fetus during pregnancy.
- Ovaries: These small glands sit on either side of the uterus and produce hormones and eggs.
- Fallopian tubes: These tubes, which are attached to the upper part of the uterus, allow the egg to travel from the ovaries to the uterus.
Several conditions can affect the urinary tract. Some are specific to male anatomy, some are congenital abnormalities that a person is born with, and others develop later in life.
Some genitourinary conditions that can affect anyone include:
- urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- interstitial cystitis
- vesicoureteral reflux (VUR)
- kidney disease
- kidney and bladder cancer
Some genitourinary conditions only affect people with male anatomy:
- undescended testicle
- testicular torsion
- prostate conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Peyronie’s disease
- penile, prostate, and testicular cancers
Some genitourinary conditions only affect people with female anatomy:
Symptoms of genitourinary conditions may vary depending on the cause.
Some common symptoms include:
- pain in your pelvis, genitals, or kidneys
- difficulty emptying or holding your bladder
- frequent urination
- painful urination
- blood in your urine
- unusual smelling urine
- pain during sex
- pain during or after ejaculation
- difficulty getting or keeping an erection
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- menstrual symptoms
- unusual discharge from your vagina or penis
- lumps or swelling in your pelvis, groin, or genitals
After considering your medical history and symptoms, a healthcare professional may use one or more of the following tests to help diagnose or rule out genitourinary conditions:
- physical exam, which may include a pelvic exam or digital rectal exam, to check for cysts, tumors, and signs of infection and cancer
- blood tests to check kidney function and for signs of infection and cancer
- urinalysis to check for infection and blood
- X-rays to check for a kidney stone or tumor
- ultrasound to check the kidneys, bladder, prostate, uterus, or ovaries
- intravenous pyelogram, which uses injected dye to check the urinary tract for abnormalities
- cystoscopy to look inside the urethra and bladder
- ureteroscopy to look inside the ureters and kidneys
- cytometry to test urine flow
- MRI scans for a detailed view of the abdominal and pelvic organs
- CT scans, which create 3D images to check the genitourinary system for stones, obstructions, cysts and tumors, and injury
Here are some tips that can help genitourinary health.
Maintain a moderate weight
It also increases inflammation, which can impair kidney function and increase your risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease and some urogenital cancers including kidney, ovarian, endometrial, and prostate cancers.
Drinking enough water is crucial to keep your kidneys functioning and to help them to remove toxins from your body.
Limit or quit smoking cigarettes
Smoking may also cause ED, damage sperm DNA, and is associated with reduced fertility.
Avoid extra salt
Too much salt in your diet may cause your kidneys to hang onto more water and affect kidney function. Excess salt may also increase your blood pressure. The recommended daily value is under
Even just 20 minutes of exercise a day may help reduce blood pressure. Exercise can also reduce stress and assist with healthy weight loss.
Use medications with caution
Talk with a healthcare professional to find alternatives if you have a condition that requires pain management.
Use barrier methods during sex
Using a condom or other barrier method can help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can cause precancerous changes and lead to cervical or penile cancer.
Keep up with screening
Staying on top of regular medical exams is an important part of keeping your genitourinary system and the rest of your body healthy.
Consult with a healthcare professional about the following screening tests based on your individual risk factors:
The genitourinary system combines the many working parts of the urinary and reproductive systems, which are closely connected.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.