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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I reached puberty way after my friends, I was a late bloomer! - B.
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:
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.
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 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.
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
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
"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.
Know Your Body
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.
The sperm and egg meets
in the fallopian tube, - A.
What is a Uterus?
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?
pee and sperm comes out of the same hole With boys. girls have separate holes for pee and menstrual blood! - M.
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.
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.
Ingrown hair and how to deal with it
This is what an ingrown hair looks like:
Small, solid and rounded bumps
Small, pus-filled and blister-like lesions
Darkened skin (hyper-pigmentation)
I've had these a few times - Soaking it in warm water and epsom salt helps! - s.
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.
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
Your vaginal discharge can become thicker when your body releases an egg from your ovary.
Your body may produce more vaginal discharge than usual while you are pregnant.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Congenital Uterine Malformation
The uterus itself may also be abnormally shaped, which can sometimes interfere with pregnancy. Alternatively, you can also have a differently shaped uterus and be perfectly healthy as well! Here are some examples of what these uteruses can look like.
What is infertility?
Infertility is the inability to conceive children and affects up to 15% of reproductive-aged couples worldwide. It affects both men and women. A third of issues with infertility come from men, and another third are from women. The final third is a combination of other factors, or unknown causes. It is important to note that infertility is never a sign of weakness or a lack of femininity.
What are the causes or signs of infertility in men?
Sperm and semen
The most common cause is poor-quality semen (the fluid containing sperm that's ejaculated during sex).
Things like a very low sperm count, no sperm at all or sperm that aren't moving properly make it harder for sperm to swim to the egg.
Sperm can be an abnormal shape, making it harder for them to move and fertilise an egg.
They produce and store semen; however an infection, testicular cancer, testicular surgery, congenital defect or injury can affect the quality of sperm.
This means it can be difficult for some men to release semen during sex or when they ejaculate.
Some men choose to have a vasectomy, which involves cutting or blocking two tubes, called the vas deferens, so that sperm can no longer get into the semen.
Medicines and drugs
Certain types of medicines can also cause infertility problems.
What are the causes or signs of infertility in women?
Cervical surgeries can scar or damage the fallopian tubes, obstructing the egg passing through.
Cervical mucus problems
Thick mucus can make it harder for sperm to swim during conception.
Non-cancerous growths around the womb could block a fallopian tube or prevent a fertilised egg from attaching to the womb.
A condition where tissue usually found in the womb is present elsewhere in the body and can damage the ovaries or fallopian tubes. It can also cause very heavy, painful periods.
Dark or pale menstrual blood
Passing very dark, old blood, or light, pale blood at the beginning of a period can also be a sign of endometriosis.
Usually a sign of irregular ovulation which can be caused by PCOS, obesity, being underweight, thyroid issues, etc.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
An infection of the upper female genital tract, which includes the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries—often sexually transmitted. It can damage and scar the tubes making it difficult for an egg to be released.
An estimated 34 million women, mostly from developing countries, are infertile as a result of maternal sepsis, lack of dignified and hygienic menstruation, and unsafe abortions.
Please be aware that the next part explains about FGM, which some readers may find distressing. Please also be aware that FGM happens in many different ways and this chapter may not reflective of all experiences.
Female Genital Mutilation
Women and girls who have undergone infibulation
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), also known as female circumcision, is a practice where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed for non-medical reasons. Terms to refer to FGM in other languages are 'sunna', 'gudniin', 'halalays', 'tahur', 'megrez' and 'khitan'. It is a highly dangerous procedure which is banned in multiple countries due to its long term problems such as emotional and physical trauma, infection, infertility, and even death.
FGM is usually carried out on girls younger than 15 years old, but sometimes also on newborn babies and married women. It is often performed to control female sexual desires and to preserve her virginity until marriage. Those who don’t undergo the procedure may be thought of as promiscuous. The belief that FGM equates to purity, cleanliness and ‘good morals’ is a reason why the practice continues.
Regardless of the reason, FGM enforces gender inequality and is a direct violation of a person's fundamental human rights.
The most extreme form of FGM is known as infibulation and results in the removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and stitching together the labia majora. A small opening is left in the vagina for the passage of menstrual blood and urine, which can cause significant health problems.
FGM can cause constant pain, cysts, and greater risks of infection, as well as difficulties with peeing, holding pee in and pregnancy. Menstruation is often accompanied by severe pain after infibulation, since blood is unable to flow freely and clots are more likely to form.
Types of female genital mutilation:
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Sealing and narrowing the vaginal orifice by cutting and positioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora closer, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
FGM is a classified as a crime in majority of countries around the world and must be reported to the police. If someone is in immediate danger of FGM, call the police. If you know a British national who has been taken abroad for FGM, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 020 7008 1500.
Gender inequality and it's role with periods
There has been lots of debate on the inequality arising from condoms being distributed for free in many countries at health clinics, university campuses and more, whereas period products have a price tag (and are often taxed). This current situation is undeniably unfair, considering that period products are a necessity, much like condoms that help prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Additionally, there are only a selected handful
of countries that don't place tax on period products. But this is slowly changing. Governments in countries including Scotland and Botswana are now funding public education institutions to distribute period products for free.
Another example of gender inequality in the context of menstruation is some UK hospitals providing razors and shaving foams to patients but not offering sanitary products. However, as a result of medics voicing their concerns, patients can now access sanitary products free of charge
from this summer.
Know Your Menopause
Why does it happen and what is it?
Although you might be too young to be going through menopause, this is a phenomenon which happens to all women eventually. There are people in your life who will have gone or are going through this experience at the moment. Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles.
It's diagnosed after you've gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s and is a natural biological process. It can also happen due to other factors, such as chemotherapy or a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb). First off, let’s discuss the difference between perimenopause and menopause. Perimenopause refers to the period of time right before menopause begins.
During perimenopause, your body is beginning the transition into menopause. That means that hormone production from your ovaries is beginning to decline.
Symptoms associated with menopause will start. Your menstrual cycle may become irregular and will stop after the perimenopause stage.
Once your menstrual cycle stops for 12 consecutive months, you’ve entered menopause.
Symptoms and What to Do
Emotional and physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, may disrupt your sleep, lower your energy or affect emotional health. There are many effective treatments available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
Be careful of your bones
During menopause, your estrogen production will decline and affect the calcium levels in your bones, decreasing bone density and leading to osteoporosis, making you susceptible to bone fractures. Take care of them.
How to keep your bones healthy
Eat foods with lots of calcium, such as dairy products or dark leafy greens.
Take vitamin D supplements.
Exercise regularly and include weight training in your exercise routine.
Reduce alcohol consumption and avoid smoking.
What is a Hot Flash?
During a hot flash, you’ll feel the top half of your body temperature rise and your skin might become red or blotchy. This rush of heat could lead to sweating, heart palpitations, and dizziness. After the hot flash, you may feel cold. Hot flashes can happen daily or multiple times a day. It can last for a year or even several years. Multiple things can trigger or worsen your hot flashes, such as alcohol or caffeine, spicy food, feeling stressed, being somewhere hot, being overweight, and smoking.
How to manage hot flashes?
A few techniques may help reduce your hot flashes and their symptoms:
Dress in layers
Use a fan in your home or office space
Do breathing exercises when you experience a hot flash
Menopause and depression
You may feel depressed or experience negativity during or after menopause. Changes in your behaviour, habits and environment can help you overturn these feelings. Menopause is a time of change, and you can turn it into a positive experience. Try to focus on the present and try not to look back in anger, forget about your past regrets and don't worry about the future. It might also help to talk to other women, socialise, find new activities and opportunies, since menopause indicates new beginnings.
"Does menopause mean that I’m no longer a woman?"
Women have been reduced to their biological functions for centuries. Periods allow you to have children and to be fertile. However fertility does not equate femininity. You are a woman and feminine regardless of your age or your ability to bear children. Menopause is just a change in a woman’s life and will never define you.
"Will menopause make me gain weight?"
Changes in your hormone levels and aging may cause you to gain weight. Focus on maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and practicing other healthy habits to help control your weight.
"Will I experience the same symptoms as my mother, sister, or friends?"
Not necessarily. Menopause can differ slightly depending on the person. The symptoms can vary from one woman to another, even in the same family. However, you’re all in this together and should support each other.
"Can I still be pregnant or have periods?"
Not during menopause. However, during perimenopause, your periods may skip a month or several, then return. They are often on shorter cycles and are closer together. Despite irregular periods, pregnancy is possible. If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started the menopausal transition, consider a pregnancy test. However, if you are bleeding from the vagina after menopause seek medical advice.
"When should I see a doctor?"
You should have regular visits with your doctor to prevent health issues and if you have any concerns. Continue getting these appointments during and after menopause. As you age, the doctor can recommended health screening tests such as colonoscopy, mammography and triglyceride screening, thyroid testing if suggested by your history, and breast and pelvic exams.
Menopause is my power
Going through menopause and being post-menopause can be a massive change in someone's life.
What are you thoughts about current or future menopause?
Always appreciate the good stuff. What are your top 5 best memories in your life so far?
List 5 things you want to change in your life.