Table of Contents:
|The Menstrual Cycle and Periods|
|Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)|
Puberty is often a very daunting thing, and most of the time we are never fully clued up about all the facts! Here is a guide which I have written and have got information for from various other places, I hope it helps anyone that isn't sure of puberty. This may seem a little long, but it’s all worth it.
When should puberty start?
Puberty in girls usually starts at any time between 8 and 13 years of age but it can vary and you shouldn’t be worried about it at all if you are a late bloomer. Everything takes time, and you have plenty of it. Periods usually start about two years after the start of puberty, but don't think because you haven't that it's a problem.
What happens during puberty?
A girl grows and changes in ways that prepare her to be able to have a baby, and well, grow up. These changes occur in certain stages. It can be in a different order, so don’t worry about that either!
- First, girls can expect to develop breasts. These start from a small and often painful lump or 'bud' underneath the nipple. Breasts can take five years to reach their final size and shape. So girls, don’t worry if your breasts don’t currently match your idol, or anyone that you think has big boobs, or someone you would like to be like.
- Hair starts to grow under the arm and in the pubic (genital) area.
- The explosive growth spurt: this is greater than any other time except the first year of life, so if you think your short, you can get taller.*
- The body shape becomes curvier. During this time it is normal to put on weight, especially at the hips and stomachs (puppy fat as it’s sometimes referred to.) so don’t go on a starvation diet.
- The body odour can change especially under the arms, and you notice increased perspiration.
- Some people get acne on the face and back.
- Vaginal discharge starts or changes.
- Teenagers experience a change in their emotions and new sexual feelings.
- Periods start.
Why do these changes occur?
Natural chemicals that circulate in the body, called sex hormones, cause these changes. At the start of puberty, the brain releases a hormone known as gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This causes the release of two more hormones called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) into the bloodstream. LH and FSH in turn stimulate the ovaries, which contain your eggs, to release the hormone oestrogen that leads to the changes girls go through during puberty. You’ve probably learnt this in your science lessons!
What is a period?
A period is the vaginal bleeding that women usually experience once a month, and the amount of days that you can bleed for are usually 4-7, but it all depends on your body. Periods are also referred to as Menstruation but that's just the fancy name.*
Why do women have periods?
Periods are a part of the menstrual cycle that happens roughly every month (28 days) to prepare a woman's body to have a baby.
Every woman has thousands of eggs in her ovaries. Once a month or so, one of these eggs matures and travels into the Fallopian tubes. These tubes move the egg along towards the uterus (the womb), in the hope of meeting a sperm and becoming fertilised to become an embryo. If fertilised, the egg then continues its way along the tube and becomes implanted (embedded) in the uterus where it develops into a foetus. In this way, the woman becomes pregnant.
While the egg is on its travels, the uterus is being prepared for the implantation of the embryo. Its lining builds up to become cushion-like and engorged with blood. If the egg is not fertilized, the womb sheds this blood-filled lining, and this bleeding is what we call a period.
The cycle then repeats every month or so unless the woman becomes pregnant.
What controls the menstrual cycle?
Again, hormones control the process. The menstrual cycle can be split into four stages.
Menstrual (bleeding) phase: all the hormones are at their lowest level and consequently the womb sheds its lining and the woman has her period.
Pre-ovulatory phase: the ovary starts to secrete oestrogen, which leads to a gradual build up of the uterus lining in preparation for ovulation.
Ovulation: at a critical point roughly 14 days after the start of bleeding, the level of oestrogen reaches such a height that it causes the brain to release a large amount of LH, which in turn stimulates release of an egg from the ovaries.
Post-ovulatory phase: after the release of the egg, the ovaries produce another hormone, progesterone, which maintains the lining of the womb so a fertilized egg can implant. If the egg is not fertilised, progesterone and oestrogen levels drop, the womb loses its lining, and, about 14 days after ovulation, the menstrual phase begins again.
What is the menstrual cycle like?
The average cycle is 28 days although it can be as short as 21, and as long as 35 days.
Menstrual phase: day one of the menstrual cycle is the first day of bleeding, which can last anything from a couple of days to a week. The bleeding is heaviest on the first few days. Women use tampons that sit inside the vagina or sanitary towels (pads) outside the vagina to soak up the blood. Many women suffer from cramp-like abdominal pains. Occasionally, they also have back pain. The pain is caused by changes in local hormones called prostaglandins.
Pre-ovulatory phase: many women feel very well during this phase, probably due to the rising levels of oestrogen.
Ovulation: your vaginal discharge can increase and become mucus-like, which is more welcoming for sperm. At ovulation, the body temperature rises. Some women may experience sharp pain on either side of the lower abdomen. Occasionally, a few spots of blood come from the womb.
Post-ovulatory phase: symptoms of the premenstrual syndrome occur in this phase as the hormone levels fall. When the hormones are at their lowest, just before the menstrual bleeding starts, women who are more sensitive to the changing hormone levels can experience depression, irritability, lack of concentration, tiredness, food cravings, bloating and sore, tender breasts.
What if I don't have a period by age 14?
Some girls do not get their periods until they are 16. The age of getting your period can run in the family so ask your mum and your gran when they started theirs. If you are over 16 and still have no period, you may be perfectly healthy but you should check with your GP (family doctor). Some things can delay your period:
- being underweight or very overweight
- too much exercise
What causes irregular periods?
When you first start having periods, it is normal for them to be irregular. It usually takes two years for them to become regular and for some people it is much longer. This is because at the beginning the time to ovulation varies and sometimes you might not ovulate at all.
What happens if I stop having my period?
If you have had unprotected sex, then you need to have a pregnancy test to check whether you are pregnant. You can go to your nearest family planning clinic (FPC), sexual health clinic (also known as a sexually transmitted disease or genitourinary medicine clinic), your GP, or you can buy them over the counter at the chemist. Other reasons can be losing too much weight, too much exercise, or stress. If the problem continues you should go to see your GP.
Will tampons make me lose my virginity?
Loss of virginity is when you first have sex. There is a thin membrane inside your vagina called a hymen, which tears and sometimes bleeds the first time you have sex. The hymen is usually very elastic and tampons can be inserted without tearing the hymen. However, even if using a tampon tears the hymen, this does not count as a loss of virginity as no sex is involved. Rarely, the hymen can tear when bicycle riding, horse riding, climbing fences or anything for that matter but this does not mean you have lost your virginity.
Can tampons get lost inside me?
No. Tampons lie in the vagina. The neck of the womb (cervix) lies at the top of the vagina and it is tightly closed except for a tiny hole about the size of a pinhead. A tampon cannot move into the womb and has no other way out except the way it went in. Sometimes a tampon can be at the top of the vagina behind the cervix and then it can be difficult to feel or pull out. If you suspect that you have left a tampon in, especially if you notice an unpleasant smelling discharge, then go to your GP or sexual health clinic to have it removed without delay.
Can I swim or have sex during my period?
Yes. You should be able to have a completely normal life during your period. Remember that you can get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during your period.
Is period blood dirty?
No. It is just normal blood mixed with the lining of your uterus. If it were dirty then it would not be a suitable place for the baby to develop. Once the blood leaves the womb it can become food for bacteria so you need to change tampons and sanitary towels regularly and discard them in a suitable waste disposal place.
I feel terrible before my periods, what can I do?
Feeling emotional, irritable, tearful, tired and bloated before a period are all the symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS or PMT). Many women have this condition and sometimes just knowing about it and predicting when it will happen is enough to help you through it. Things that help lessen symptoms include:
- eating fresh food
- avoid processed food
- avoid too much salt, eg crisps
- avoid caffeine (remember that chocolate and cola also contain caffeine)
- eat regular small meals
- pamper yourself
If PMS is very severe, go to see your doctor. Some women choose to go on the contraceptive pill (the Pill) to control the hormonal swings that prompt PMS.
My periods are so painful, what can I do?
Gentle exercise can make you feel better, (though heavy exercise can make things worse). Getting regular exercise between periods can also help.
Hot baths relax the muscles and can reduce the severity of the pain.
Over-the-counter painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (eg Nurofen), can help reduce the pain if taken regularly in the first few days of the period.
If all this fails go to see your doctor. Some women go on the Pill to control severe period pains and your doctor can also prescribe alternative painkillers, such as mefenamic acid (eg Ponstan).
Sanitary Products for Your Period
Today, girls starting their periods have a lot of choices in sanitary products: disposable pads, tampons, even menstrual cups. Try out several options to find out what's most comfortable for you. Soon you'll have a preference. Here's some basic information on your choices.
Disposable Sanitary Pads
Pads for your period come in various thicknesses and absorbency. You can purchase them with or without wings that fold over to prevent leaking.
Select a pad based on how heavy your period is and what kind of clothes you’ll be wearing. You may want to buy two types of pads: a thicker one for your heavy flow days, and a thin one for the days you're just spotting. Be sure to change your pad before it is saturated. Most girls need to change pads every few hours.
Tampons are cotton tubes with a string on one end. You insert them into your vagina to absorb menstrual blood. The string helps you remove the tampon. Many tampons come with plastic or cardboard applicators to help you insert them. Some don't have applicators, and you use your finger to insert them. If you have a hard time, talk to your mom, sister, or a trusted adult about how to insert them.
Tampons generally come in light, regular, and super thickness. Often girls start with light or slender tampons. But the size you choose should depend on how heavy your period is.
It's important to change tampons at least once every four to eight hours. Insert a new tampon before going to bed and remove it as soon as you wake up. Leaving a tampon in too long increases your risk of toxic shock syndrome, which is caused by bacteria.
Along with gaining curvier hips, your breasts grow during puberty. Inside them, a network of milk ducts develops. This is your body's way of preparing you to nurse a baby when you're older.
Breast development is one of the changes that stress girls out the most. Many girls worry that their breasts aren’t growing enough. But breasts usually continue to grow until you’re 17 or 18 years old -- or even into your 20s. Sometimes one breast grows faster than the other, although the slower one usually catches up.
Your nipples also change during puberty. They can become pink or dark brown, turned inward or out. Sometimes hairs grow around them. All of this is normal.
At what age do breasts normally develop?
Most girls start to develop breasts between the ages of 8 and 14 but it is common for breasts to grow after this time. For many, this is one of the first signs of becoming a woman.
Is it normal to have different sized breasts?
*There is a high percentage of women that have different sized breasts and therefore is nothing to worry yourself over.
Puberty brings hair to your body in new places: under your arms, in your genital area, and maybe even on your upper lip. The hair on your arms and legs may also get darker or thicker.
Pubic hair usually starts with a few straight strands and becomes curlier and darker as it grows. Eventually it grows into a thick triangle over the pubic bone and spreads a little to your inner thighs. This growth may start at the beginning of puberty or any time during it.
Your body starts sweating more during puberty. When sweat combines with bacteria –– under your arms, for instance –– it causes body odor. To control odor, bathe or shower every day with a deodorant soap and use an antiperspirant. "The higher the aluminum chloride content, the more antiperspirant activity it will have," says obstetrician-gynecologist Holmes. (If you develop a rash under your arms, you may be allergic to aluminum and should use an antiperspirant that doesn’t contain it.) Also, clothes made of fabrics that wick moisture will dry faster and don't show armpit stains as much.
Your feet may get sweaty too. Wear cotton socks to absorb moisture, and rotate your shoes, so they have time to dry out. Avoid shoes made of plastic, rubber, or other manmade materials. If you have sweaty palms, skip hand lotion. Use a hand sanitizer to keep your hands drier.
Another thing that changes during puberty is that vaginal discharge (secretions) start or change. For six months before getting their first period, girls may notice an increase in vaginal discharge.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
Vaginal secretions keep the vagina moist and clean and help fight infections.
Once periods start, normal vaginal discharge can be thin, sticky and elastic; or thick and gooey, and the colour is clear, white or off-white (yellow when dried). The texture and colour can change throughout the cycle. In particular, some women notice a heavier flow of thin, sticky mucus-like discharge around the time of ovulation (day 14 of the cycle). Normal vaginal discharge usually has no smell, and if it has, it is not unpleasant. Remember, if you are sexually excited or emotionally stressed your vaginal discharge can increase.
What is abnormal vaginal discharge?
Keep an eye out for change, including:
- unusual increase in amount
- change in texture: for example curd-like or frothy and watery
- change in colour to grey, yellow, green or brown
- change in smell: for example fishy or yeasty.
What causes abnormal vaginal discharge?
If you have had sex, an abnormal vaginal discharge might be caused by a sexually transmitted infection, such as trichomonas, chlamydia, orgonorrhoea. Some vaginal infections are not sexually transmitted, but are caused by an imbalance in the vaginal flora ('bugs') that normally live in your vagina. These are:
- thrush (candida): signs are a cottage cheese-like discharge with itching and soreness.
- bacterial vaginosis (BV): a grey, watery, sometimes frothy vaginal discharge that smells of fish. Mild itching can occur.
Excessive washing of the vagina, use of perfumed soaps and bubble bath, tight synthetic clothes (such as nylon knickers), lots of sex, antibiotics and stress can all lead to an imbalance in vaginal flora. Remember, if you forget to remove a tampon or a cap you can also develop unpleasant vaginal discharge.
What should I do if my vaginal discharge changes?
You can go to see your GP or you can visit a sexual health clinic. Many clinics have dedicated times for young people that cater to their needs. It is important to seek attention early, as sometimes the discharge might be a sign that you have caught a sexually transmitted infection that needs prompt treatment.
What are sexually transmitted infections?
- These are infections that are passed from person to person during sex.
- Some infect the vagina like trichomonas.
- Some infect the neck of the womb (the cervix) like gonorrhoea andchlamydia. Some cause sores or ulcers like herpes and syphilis.
- Some cause lumps like warts.
- Some affect the liver like hepatitis B.
- Some affect the whole body like HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.
- Some, like 'crabs' and scabies can be passed on just by close contact.
What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted infections?
Sometimes you do not know because you have no symptoms, or because the symptoms are actually so hard to see. Any of the following can be a sign that you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection:
- change in vaginal discharge
- pain or burning on urination
- sores or ulcers in the genital area between the legs
- wart-like lumps in the genital area
- crampy pain in the lower abdomen
- pain during sex
- bleeding after sex
- itchiness in the genital area
- dandruff-like specks that move in the pubic hair
- How do I avoid sexually transmitted infections?
Unfortunately, nothing on the outside tells you if someone is harbouring a sexual infection. Often the people do not know themselves, as they have no symptoms. The only way to be safe is to use a condom. Using a condom every time you have sex is a very good way to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. You must make sure the condom is on before allowing the penis near the vagina. Remember, sexually transmitted infections can sometimes be transmitted by the penis touching the genital area surrounding the vagina (vulva).
What should I do if I think I have a sexually transmitted infection?
First, you should try to avoid catching them. If you do suspect you have a sexually transmitted infection go to a convenient sexual health clinic. Many clinics now have special young persons' times and they will examine you, take swabs and make a diagnosis. They will also suggest you tell your sexual partners so that they seek advice and get treatment if needed.
If sexually transmitted infections are curable, why should we bother protecting against them? Trichomonas, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, syphilis, crabs and scabies are curable. However, Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can spread from the neck of the womb to the Fallopian tubes leading to abdominal pain, inability to become pregnant, or pregnancies outside the womb. Unfortunately, not everyone can tell if they have Chlamydia so it can hang around for a long time causing irreversible damage to the tubes. If not detected, syphilis can cause severe damage to your body long term. HIV, hepatitis B, herpes and warts can be controlled, but not cured, by treatment.
Can women get HIV?
Yes, HIV is transmitted between men having sex with women as well as men who have sex with men. Worldwide, most HIV infections are transmitted by heterosexual sex. Women can catch HIV from anal sex and vaginal sex if a condom is not used, because the virus is present in semen and vaginal fluids. Women can also catch HIV during the injection of drugs like heroin and crack, so don't share your needles.
How can I protect myself from HIV?
- Always use a condom.
- Have fewer sexual partners.
- Delay the first time you have sex until you are 21 or older.
- Make sure you have no other sexually transmitted diseases as they help HIV to transmit between people.
- Never share needles.
- Remember HIV is very common in many parts of the world - Africa, southeast Asia, South America, eastern Europe - so take and use condoms when you travel.
How safe is oral sex?
Oral sex is not 100 percent safe from transmission of HIV, but is much safer than vaginal sex, which in turn is much safer than anal sex. If you want to minimise the risk, avoid swallowing the semen, keep good oral hygiene and avoid oral sex if you have mouch ulcers, bleeding gums or during menstruation.
What about kissing?
Kissing, hugging, mutual masturbation, touching each other's genital areas, sharing cups and sharing beds are all safe.*
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Many years can pass without any symptoms so many people do not know they are infected. That is why it is so difficult to know who has and who has not got HIV. By the time the disease is obvious the individual could have inadvertently infected many people.
How can I find out if I have HIV?
There is a simple blood test to detect HIV infection. But you can have to wait at least three months after the event that exposed you to HIV before the test becomes positive. Special blood tests can be used to make the diagnosis before this time so if you think you have been exposed to HIV, it is important to seek advice early.
Why would I want to find out my HIV status?
Good treatment is currently available that prolongs life and improves the quality of life for people with HIV. By knowing your status, you can access that care. Treatment may be particularly important in the first few months of infection so if you think you have been exposed to HIV, it is important to seek advice early. But remember, you don't have to take medication or experience other considerable difficulties that HIV infection brings. Instead, you can always use a condom.
Bun in the oven, childbirth, expecting, having a baby, preggers, in the family way, in the club, sexual reproduction, up the duff. These are all ways to describe pregnancy.
What is it?
Simple put, when a baby is developing inside a woman's body, she's pregnant.
How does a woman get pregnant?
Every month women release an egg. It is microscopic and made up of a single cell, (with no shell.) Girls have two ovaries and they usually take it in turns to release an egg. This egg release is called ovulation.
When a man ejaculates he releases millions of sperm each time. If he's had sexual intercourse, these may be released into a woman's vagina. They then start to swim up into her womb.
It takes a single sperm to reach the egg and fuse with it. This is called fertilisation. The fertilised egg tumbles on into the womb where it attaches itself to the lining. All the time it is dividing and growing and becoming a baby! Magic. If the egg isn't fertilised the woman will have a period. Missing a period is often the first sign a woman is pregnant.
What happens after the egg is fertilised?
Once safely embedded in the woman's womb, the fertilised egg gradually changes into a baby. It takes about nine months till the baby is ready to be born. After the first few months a woman's belly starts to swell. Meanwhile her breasts will also get bigger, preparing to produce milk for when the baby is born.
Before any of this happens, many women feel tired, bloated and get sore breasts. This feels a bit like many of us do in the week before our period - but worse. Some women feel sick, though the morning head-down-the-toilet-pan routine is unusual.
How do I know if I'm pregnant?
Missing a period is the most obvious sign but there may be others, like sickness, needing to wee more often, tender breasts, unusual vaginal discharge, tiredness or a metallic taste in your mouth.
You can't tell straight away if a sperm has fertilised an egg. It may take up to a week after sex for fertilisation to happen. And usually another week or so till your period is late.
What should I do if I think I might be pregnant?
Get tested right away. It's best to have a pregnancy test done by your GP or at a sexual health centre, because it's free, confidential and expert staff are on hand to give you advice.
You could buy a home-testing kit. These are usually very accurate and available from chemists and large supermarkets for a few quid. Read all the instructions and follow them carefully.
What if I am pregnant?
Tell someone. If you can possibly tell your parents or carers, then do. You might be surprised at how understanding they are even if they're shocked at first.
Always tell your GP who'll keep it totally confidential. GPs are only allowed to break confidentiality if they think you are in danger. If you are under the age of consent though, do tell an adult.
The sooner you tell someone, the more options you'll have for your next move and the easier it will be to think them through. You won't need to rush to make the right decision. If you are pregnant then the options you need to consider are: having an abortion, adoption, fostering, or becoming a mother. But get expert advice before making any big decisions.
"I can't get pregnant on my period/the first time I have sex/if I wash afterwards/if he pulls out before he has an orgasm."
Wrong: Oh yes you can, the "pull out" method isn't effective and you still may get pregnant due to pre cum. Don't rely on that method just because you don't want to use a condom. Practice safe sex. "I have had 'accidents' before and never got pregnant. So I don't need contraception."
Wrong: You've been lucky. Take no chances, always make sure your partner is wearing a condom, because it protects you from STDs and STIs as well as falling pregnant.