CHAPTER ONE

Know Your Body

LEVEL ONE

What is Puberty?

Puberty is when an adolescent's body begins to develop and change as they grow into an adult.

It starts with some physical changes. Girls develop breasts and start their periods. Boys develop a deeper voice and facial hair will start to appear.

 

The average age for girls to begin puberty is 11, while for boys the average age is 12. But it's different for everyone, so don't worry if you reach puberty before or after your friends.

 

It's completely normal for puberty to begin at any point from the ages of 8 to 14. The process can take up wto four years, and girls usually have their first period around two years after beginning puberty. During this time, girls experience physical changes (for example growing breasts, wider hips and body hair) and emotional changes due to hormones.

Signs of puberty in girls:

Girls puberty
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Weight

 

Most girls gain weight (which is normal) as their body shape changes. Girls develop more body fat along their upper arms, thighs and upper back. Their hips will also grow rounder and their waist gets narrower.

 

 

Growth spurts

 

Girls go through a growth spurt, usually earlier than boys! After their period starts, girls annually grow 5 to 7.5 cm (2 - 3 inches) over the next year or two, before they reach their adult height.

 

 

Skin

 

It is quite common for girls to get acne, a skin condition that shows up as different types of spots, including whiteheads, blackheads and pus-filled spots called pustules.

Breasts

 

Your breasts will begin to develop. It's normal for breast buds to sometimes be very tender or for one breast to start to develop several months before the other one. They will continue to grow and become fuller.

Body hair

 

Pubic and underarm hair begins to grow and becomes coarser and curlier. Some girls may notice more hair on their legs and arms, as well as hair in other parts of their bodies such as above their top lip. This is completely normal!

Mood changes

 

Puberty can be a difficult time as you're coping with changes in your body, such as getting acne or body odour. This might make you feel very self conscious and compare yourself to others. While it can also be an exciting time when you develop new emotions and feelings, the "emotional roller coaster" you're on can have psychological and emotional effects, such as unexplained mood swings, low self-esteem, aggression and  depression.

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I reached puberty way after my friends, I was a late bloomer!   - B.

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Big sister tip - The more you touch your face, the more pimples you might get!   - M.

What About the Boys?

Just like girls, boys also go through the wave of puberty and hormones, and undergo a lot of changes as they grow up. Whilst girls will grow breasts, have their periods for the first time and hair will appear in different places, some changes boys will go through are:

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Growth

 

Your height will rapidly grow in a span of 2 to 3 years. Your shoulders and chest will grow larger and muscles will start to develop. Your breasts can also grow bigger, however not as much as girls! You will also  start sweating more.

Voice

Your voice will grow deeper. It will break at first and then it will stabilise. If you sing during the ‘breaking’ of your voice, you will notice it will break between high and low pitches.

Hair

Hair will start to appear in your armpits, body, chest, arms, legs, around the genitals and in places such as your fingers, belly or even your toes! Some boys might be hairier than others, this doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t indicate a lesser sense of masculinity.

Hair will also appear on your face and you will learn how to shave and trim. It might be patchy at first, and learning how to shave can be a difficult and bloody experience, but you will eventually learn how to handle a razor.

Genitals

Your genitals will grow bigger. You might experience some ‘wet dreams’ including involuntary ejaculation of semen in your sleep. This can seem embarrassing, bizarre and taboo, but remember you’re not the only one who is going through this. It happens and it is normal, so just change your sheets.

 

*Note Just like girls, puberty will not be the same for all boys. Everyone will have their own, yet similar experience and will grow at their own pace, so be kind and supportive to each other.

Puberty and self-consciousness

Both girls and boys will be going through a lot, and you may have thoughts of turmoil and become self-conscious about different things. You may feel alone, misunderstood or not listened to, and you may feel embarrassed or silly about a lot of small things

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What can I do about this?

First of all, it’s normal to have some negative thoughts, but always remember that:

Talk about it

Opening up, sharing and talking to your friends and the people you trust can help.

Everyone is afraid that people remember their most embarrassing moments, but the chances are, most people are too focused on themselves to remember that small embarrassing thing you’ve done in your life. Think about all the small embarrassing things other people have done, and you probably will not remember a lot. It is the same for everyone else.

Puberty is a time of change for you to find ways to express yourself when you feel negative or challenged—it could be a sport such as football, running or boxing, a martial art such as karate, tai-chi or yoga, or any other activity/hobby such as knitting, drawing, art, dancing, singing or music.

Puberty is also a time for you to discover who you are. This may cause distress and can be overwhelming as your thoughts and ideas become more complex and challenged. However this also means that your mind is becoming larger, bigger and growing everyday.

 

You may experiment and try things which are different, scary or exciting to test yourself. If so, be careful and be mindful and embrace this time of change to discover who you
truly are.

 
 

"What is puberty and adolescence?"

Most girls and boys begin to notice changes in their bodies between the ages of 10 and 14. These physical and emotional changes are called ‘puberty’ or ‘adolescence’ and take place over a number of years. At this age, girls and boys are often called ‘adolescents’.

"What happens to a girl's body when she reaches puberty?"

Puberty starts when increased amounts of hormones begin to be produced in the body. These hormones lead to changes in the body. Apart from causing physical changes, they cause emotional changes too. Puberty is the time when girls begin to produce egg cells and boys begin to produce sperm. It is the time when children develop into young women and men, and their bodies start maturing, if they so choose, that one day they can have children and start their own families.

"When does puberty begin and how long does it take?"

Changes take place in girls and boys at different times. They generally start later for boys than girls. Some people start puberty before the age of 10, sometimes as young as 8, while others start after 17. Changes may take place in a year or less for some and can take as long as six years for others.

How Are Babies Made?

The link between pregnancy and periods

Babies are carried in women's reproductive system known as the uterus. In the uterus, egg cells are released from the ovaries during ovulation and in men's reproductive system, you have sperm cells.

 

Fertilisation is when an egg cell meets a sperm cell in the uterus. The fertilised egg cell forms an embryo which then grows into a baby in the uterus after 9 months. This is known as a pregnancy. Every month, ovulation takes place, and if the egg cell isn’t fertilised, your uterus sheds its lining, which leads to menstruation! Therefore when people get pregnant, periods will stop until you are no longer pregnant.

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The sperm and egg meets

in the fallopian tube,   - A.

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What is a Uterus?

Your uterus

 

The uterus (or womb) is a pear-shaped organ in the pelvis that sits behind the bladder and in front of the rectum in the female reproductive system. It has multiple functions and plays a major role in fertility (the ability to have children) and pregnancy. This is where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant and where periods happen. You might wonder how a foetus can fit in there. The uterus stretches and expands like a balloon to make it possible for a baby to fit.

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pee and sperm comes out of the same hole With boys. girls have separate holes for pee and menstrual blood!   - M.

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Remember when the head teacher had to re-explain to the entire class what the vulva was because everyone kept using the wrong word in the anatomy exam?   - B.

The Anatomy of the Vagina

What is a vagina?

 

A lot of people, even in adulthood, are not necessarily aware of the anatomical terms of their genitals and often refer to the vulva as the vagina, so here is a breakdown of the anatomy

What is a vulva?

So, apart from the vagina, what else do we have down there?

A lot of people, even in adulthood, are not necessarily aware of the anatomical terms of their genitals and often refer to the vulva as the vagina, so here is a breakdown of the anatomy:

 

Vulva: The vulva is the external part of the vagina.

Mons pubis: The tissue covering the pubic bone.

Clitoris and clitoral hood: A ball of tissue that is full of nerves, and is super sensitive.

Urethral opening: This is also known as the pee hole.

Labia majora: Large outer lips of the vulva.

Labia minora: Inner smaller lips.

Pelvic-floor muscles: The muscles under the perineum.

 

Perineum: The area between the back of the vagina and the anus.

Vagina: An extremely elastic muscular tube inside the vaginal opening.

 

Pubic Hair

Is the hair around your vulva dirty?

Some people think that pubic hair is unhygienic or dirty. There is evidence that shaving pubic hair can make the vagina more vulnerable to irritation and infection. However, trimming the pubic hairs can also be beneficial, from both an aesthetic and hygienic perspective.

 

Shaving your pubic hair is a personal preference — don’t let anyone else make the decision for you. It’s your choice to remove or keep the hair.

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Ingrown hair and how to deal with it

Ingrown hair happens when the hair has been removed and it grows inwards into the skin. It can cause inflammation, pain and tiny bumps in the area where the hair was removed. Ingrown hair can affect anyone.

 

An ingrown hair often improves without treatment, but the best way to avoid ingrown hair is to not remove hair. If that's not an option, you can try using a sharper razor, waxing or shave in the direction of hair growth, thoroughly rinse the blade and your skin and apply lotion to your skin. But these methods might not work for everyone.

This is what an ingrown hair looks like:

 

  • Small, solid and rounded bumps

  • Small, pus-filled and blister-like lesions

  • Darkened skin (hyper-pigmentation)

  • Pain

  • Itching

  • Embedded hairs

I've had these a few times - Soaking it in warm water and epsom salt helps!  - s.

 

Vaginal Discharge

What is vaginal discharge?

"I have white stuff in my underwear when I’m not on my period. What is it?"

 

Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence for people who menstruate. It can start as early as a few months before your period first starts and generally starts appearing less after menopause. Vaginal discharge is the way the body expels fluid and cells.

 

The production of vaginal discharge can vary from person to person, and can change in consistency and appearance depending on many factors such as your menstrual cycle, hormones, and pregnancy.

What is a healthy vaginal discharge?

 

Vaginal discharge should be whitish/yellowish colour. It may have a slight smell and be a little lumpy. Don't worry, that is all normal.

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I freaked out the first time I saw white stuff in my underwear!!! I thought I was gross, but then Mum told me that she had it too, everyone has it but nobody talks about it!   - B.

Changes in consistency

Ovulation

 

Your vaginal discharge can become thicker when your body releases an egg from your ovary.

Pregnancy

 

Your body may produce more vaginal discharge than usual while you are pregnant.

Menopause

 

During menopause, production of discharge will slow down. It can sometimes disappear because the body is no longer ovulating and estrogen levels shift. As a result, women who are in perimenopause, menopause, or postmenopause may experience vaginal dryness.

When to see a doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you notice any irregularities or changes in the consistency, colour, and smell in your vaginal discharge, and if you have other symptoms such as:

it resembles cottage cheese in colour and consistency

it looks foamy or frothy

it has a strong smell of fish, yeast, or another odour

with all of the above, your vagina is itchy, has a burning sensation or is painful

 

Also contact your doctor if you experience vaginal itching, swelling, burning, or pain regardless of the vaginal discharge.

 

Cleaning Your Vagina

Cleaning your vagina

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The vagina is self-cleaning. The vaginal discharge is the natural cleaner and lubricant. All you need is water! You do not need vinegar, soap, cleansers, or deodorants of any kind. Although some people might not have any issue with cleaning their vaginas with these products, it is still not recommended.

 

"What’s wrong with products?"

Products will harm the vaginal flora, the good bacteria in your vagina, causing odours due to increased levels of bacteria, which will grow to make up for everything washed away. Altering the bacteria levels can also lead to infections such as thrush and irritation.

"What is a healthy smell?"

A healthy vagina produces smells which are natural, but the smell is different for each individual. Track your smell to make sure everything is okay down there.

"Does exercise, sweat and food affect the smell of my vaginal discharge?"

Sweat usually affects the smell of the vaginal area, which can be confused with the smell of your discharge. Eating a lot of strong smelly foods such as garlic or onion might also affect the odour of your sweat.

"How do I maintain a healthy discharge?"

Good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you're in good general health, which includes a healthy diet and a moderate amount of exercise.

"I know I shouldn’t wash my vagina, but what if I’m on my period?"

Washing more than once a day is helpful during your period. Remember to only use water. You can use soap for the mons pubis as long as it doesn’t touch your vaginal lips. Keeping the area between the vagina and anus clean at least once a day is important too. Don't forget to always wear clean underwear made of breathable, natural fabric such as cotton.

"Do I need to shave my pubic hair for my vagina to be clean?"

No. Removal of pubic hair is a preference and a some women prefer their pubic region with little to no hair. To mothers: if your daughter wishes to remove her pubic hair, have a conversation with her to understand her motivations.

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Know Your Body