by John D. Perry, PhD
The most widely known depiction of the paraurethral or Skene's Glands is the 1953 drawing by Frank H. Netter, MD, found on Plate 18 of The CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations, Vol. 2, Reproductive System, shown at the right. (Click on the drawing to see a full-page view.) Compared with other depictions, Netter shows the glands as smaller in size and number, and located primarily in the distal portion. See below for other interpretations.
The paraurethral glands are shown here in green surrounding the distal urethra, in the center of the drawing. Above this is a cross-section of the entire bladder and urethra, and below are shown cross-sections of the urethra at two levels. Netter shows ducts opening both to the urethra and to the outside.
Huffman, in 1948, created this drawing, which was reproduced in Desmond Heath's important 1984 summary article, "An investigation into the origins of a copious vaginal discharge during intercourse: 'Enough to wet the bed" -- that "Is not urine", in Journal of Sex Research, 20:2, May 1984, p. 194ff. Note that in this drawing, in contrast to Netter, above, the meatus (opening) is on the right.) Click on the drawing to see a full-page view.) Heath's caption is as follows:Figure 1. Drawing of wax model of adult human female urethra with its paraurethral ducts and glands as seen in right lateral view. This reconstruction is in reality a cast of the urethral canal with its outpouching ducts and glandular pockets. The base of the model, labeled "Vaginal canal, " represents a cast of that portion of the vagina which is beneath and parallel to the urethra. The smaller diagrams demonstrate transverse sections through the urethra, the paraurethral ducts and glands, and the vaginal canal beneath the urethra at different levels above the meatus. Tissues from which this model was reconstructed was obtained at necropsy of a 20-year-old virgin. This model represents the distal 2.4 cm. of a urethra which had a total length of 2.8 cm. It will be noted that no paraurethral ducts open at or immediately within the urethral meatus. Thirty-one ducts empty into this urethra. Although most of these ducts empty into the distal third of the urethra, several empty into the middle and proximal thirds. After leaving the urethra the ducts turn cephalad and extend parallel with the urethral canal. One large duct on the right develops into a cyst of considerable size. At the midpoint in the urethra many ducts and glands extend laterally far from the canal; at a more proximal level the urethra is surrounded by many small tubules, and on the right it is encompassed by a thin, compact semicircular sheet of ducts and glands. (From Huffman, 1948) Reprinted by permission of C. V. Mosby Company.
Contrary to some critics, the existence of the paraurethral glands has been well known for centuries, even in western medicine. In 1672, de Graaf drew this sketch (right), in which he showed only two ducts, which opened directly to outside on the right and left sides of the urethral meatus. [Cited in Health, ibid., p. 200] Heath's caption is as follows:
Figure 2. Urethra or urinary passage opened lengthwise in the front Part, from de Graff (1672). Reprinted with permission of the New York Academy of Medicine. A. The urinary bladder; B. The neck of the bladder; C. The urethra opened lengthwise; D. The orifice of the urethra and exits of the lacunae in it; E. The lacunae traversing the "prostatae"; F. The lacunae taken from the "prostatae" and distended by air; G. The internal substance of the "prostatae," or glandulous body; H. The parts of the bladder drawn apart after division; 1. The ureters cut; K. The labia of the pudendum; L. The orifice of the vagina; M. The fleshy fibres of the sphincter cut. Legend reprinted by permission of the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility.
[Note: Heath uses "de Graaf" in his text, but "de Graff" in his caption and reference list. I haven't been able to determine de Graaf's own preference.]
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