Puberty is different from sexuality. Puberty is one word for all the changes that happen inside and outside your body so you can have sex and make babies when the time is right.
Sexuality is one word for all the feelings you have about yourself as a boy or girl. You were born with sexual feelings that let you enjoy touching. You were born with sex organs. Males have a penis and testicles that makes it possible to have sex and father a baby. Females are born with female sex organs (vulva, ovaries, etc) that make it possible to have sex and have a baby.
Both males and females have sexual intercourse for pleasure, to be close to someone, to show affection, and to make babies. The more common words for sexual intercourse are: making love, sex, having sex or “doing it”. Before two people have sexual intercourse, they usually kiss and touch each other, with touching focused around the sex organs and on a woman’s breasts. The common words for this are “making out” and “fooling around”.
As a baby, you needed to be touched and held just to survive. As you grew, you learned the kind of touch that made you feel warm and tingly, and the kind of touch you didn’t like. A hug from one person can be a good touch. A hug when you don’t want one is a bad touch. Sometimes good touches turn into uncomfortable touches. Have you ever been tickled and yelled “STOP!”, but the person kept tickling you? You have the right to tell people if they can or cannot touch you and how they are allowed to touch you. Part of sexuality is knowing the difference between wanted and unwanted touch. It’s about looking in the mirror and feeling good about who you are. It’s about expressing yourself through touching, hugging, kissing and when the time is right, sexual intercourse.
Pubic hair is the hair that grows at the base of your penis. At first your pubic hair may be soft, but it soon will become curlier and thicker. Your pubic hair might even be a different colour from the hair on your head. When you start to develop pubic hair, you may notice tiny white dots and think you have pimples or an infection; this is just hair emerging from the follicle.
About two years after you have pubic hair you will see more hair on your arms and legs and get hair under your arms and on your thighs. The amount of body hair you grow has a lot to do with heredity and nothing to do with how masculine you are. Some people are just destined to be hairy and some people are not. The same principle applies to girls. If a girl has lots of body hair, it is because of her heredity, not because she is not feminine.
You will notice the first hairs on your face after you get pubic hair, and when your penis and testicles are well developed. For most boys, facial hair comes when they are between 14 - 16 years old. The first facial hairs grow on the outer corners of your upper lip, and are usually soft and light in colour. Your moustache will keep growing until it is darker, thicker and covers your upper lip. About the time your moustache is filling in, you will see hair on your cheeks and sideburns. You might have a different coloured hair on your face than on your head. Finally, hair grows on your chin. Many boys have a smooth area of skin at the sides of their chin.
Your facial hair will continue to get coarser, darker and thicker for another 2-4 years. Some men don’t develop full facial hair for 10 years after they have finished growing.
When your penis is soft, blood flows inside it. When your penis gets hard, muscles at its base tighten and trap blood inside. Your penis stands out from your body and gets darker, wider and harder. This is called an erection or hard on. Your penis may stay erect for seconds, minutes or even half an hour. You might be afraid it will break, because it is so hard. It can’t. After a while your muscles relax and your penis softens.
From the time you were an infant, you had erections. They happen when you wake up in the morning, when you have to pee or when you feel anxious or scared. During puberty you might find that you have more and more erections. Some will happen for no reason at all, and others will happen because you are thinking about something sexual. It happens to all boys. It can be embarrassing to have an erection, especially if you are standing in front of a class. Try to ignore the erection. It will go away on its own within a few minutes. It is not noticeable unless you are wearing a bathing suit, sweats with no underwear or other tight clothing.
When you ejaculate or cum, a white sticky fluid called semen spurts out of your penis during an orgasm. The white stuff - the ejaculate - is commonly called cum.
When you start ejaculating, you know you are producing sperm in your testicles. It means you can get someone pregnant.
Just before ejaculation your sperm mixes with fluids to become semen. Your bladder closes off so no urine can come out. The semen moves along the urethra and out your penis. After a few minutes or up to half an hour, your penis relaxes and gets soft.
You can blame testosterone for greasy hair and oilier skin. Your sebaceous glands start producing oilier sebum during puberty. Boys are more likely than girls to have problem skin during puberty.
When a skin pore becomes clogged with sebum, a black head forms. When sebum gets trapped beneath the surface of the pore you get a whitehead. When a whitehead becomes infected, it turns red and fills up with pus - a pimple appears. A serious case of blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples is called acne. There is no guaranteed way to prevent pimples and acne. Squeezing or picking pimples can make the problem worse by causing an infection or scarring. The pimple creams and lotions you see in magazines and on TV help dry up pimples once you’ve got them but they don’t prevent pimples.
Most health educators have this advice: eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, get enough sleep, exercise every day and wash your face gently with a soap that does not have perfumes or additives at least once a day and dry it well. They used to think that greasy foods such as fries and chocolate made pimples worse. Now they are not sure those foods make any difference.
Most kids have pimples, usually near the middle to end of adolescence. Heredity plays a big part. If other people in your family had acne, you are more likely to have problem skin. You’re more likely to have an outbreak of pimples when you’re feeling stressed out or excited, such as at exam time.
Most girls notice their chest changing when they are about 11 years old. Of course, many girls start to notice changes earlier and many girls start developing breasts later. The final size of your breasts has nothing to do with the age when you started to develop. A girl who starts developing breasts when she is 8 years old will not have big breasts because she started earlier than some of her friends. She will have small, medium or large breasts depending on her body plan. A girl who starts growing breast when she is 13 will not have smaller breasts because her breasts started developing later than other girls. Breasts come in different sizes, shapes and colours. There is no perfect shape or size of breasts.
Some girls worry if hair grows around their nipples. This hair is common and plucking it can cause an infection. Many girls have one breast that is bigger than the other or two nipples that look different. It probably won’t always be that way. Within 2 years most breasts will balance out and look more or less the same. Some girls worry if their nipples point in instead of out, although this is common too.
You were born with all the eggs you will ever have inside your ovaries. There are hundreds of thousands of them. One egg is called an ovum. Until puberty the eggs are immature. At puberty, hormones make your eggs ripen. Once a month, one of your ovaries makes estrogen and an egg starts to mature. Usually only one egg matures at a time, but sometimes two or more eggs ripen. Your ovaries take turns producing an egg.
When the egg is ripe, it bursts out of the ovary. This is called ovulation. Some girls feel a little twinge when this happens, but most girls don’t even notice it. After the egg is released, it travels from the ovary through the fallopian tube to the uterus.
After ovulation, the ovary stops making estrogen and starts making progesterone. Progesterone tells the lining of the uterus to thicken. The uterus is getting ready for something that may or may not happen.
If the egg, on its way to the uterus, is fertilized by sperm, the fertilized egg - the embryo - will implant in the lining of the uterus. The embryo will need the thick, nourishing lining of the uterus to help it grow. If the egg is not fertilized, there is no need for the nourishing lining, so the uterus gets rid of it; this is called menstruation or your period.
Every month the cycle is repeated. Many girls get into the habit of circling on their calendar the day their period starts and ends. Day One of your period is always the day you notice the blood flow. It’s helpful to know when you are expecting your period. If you miss a period, you’ll know how long it has been since you menstruated. This is very helpful for women who think they might be pregnant.
Getting your period is a normal, healthy thing. Some girls don’t notice any physical or emotional changes when they menstruate. However, many other girls find their menstrual cycles have as many dips as a roller coaster. You might have a surge of energy just before your period. On the other hand, you might feel tired, bloated, irritable or unhappy and your breasts may be sore and swollen. During your period you may feel no different than you do on other days, but you may have cramps - a tightening of the uterine muscle deep inside your abdomen. Cramps can feel like an annoying twinge or they can be very painful and you may feel sick to your stomach.
When you have your period you will see a reddish discharge on your underwear or notice a small amount of blood in the toilet water or on the toilet paper. You might get a damp feeling in our underwear. In the first few hours of you period, it is rare to have a gush of menstrual flow that stains your outer clothes.
The discharge you see when you get your period is made up of small amounts of blood and some extra lining in your uterus. It usually starts as a reddish fluid. As your flow increases, it is a brighter red. After a day or so, it becomes a slight brownish discharge. It may seem you are losing a lot of blood and tissue, but the total amount of menstrual flow is only a couple of tablespoons (about 35ml).
To absorb your menstrual flow you can wear a tampon which is a tight roll of cotton that fits snugly inside your vagina, a sanitary napkin/pad which is a piece of absorbent material that attaches to your underwear, or a menstrual cup that is placed inside the vagina. For most girls the length of time between the first day of one period and the first day of the next period is 28 days, but many girls have periods that start between 20 - 35 days apart. The length of a period is different for different girls, too. Most periods last four days, but it is not unusual for girls to have periods as short as two days or as long as eight days. In the first few years of menstruating, your periods may not be regular because your hormones are not into a set rhythm yet. If you are very excited or worried about something, or if you are exercising heavily or eating very little, it is common to miss a period.
Women who are pregnant usually do not get their periods. Menstruation continues until a woman is 40-45 years old. The end of menstruation is called menopause.
Pads and Tampons
You might be worried that your period will start and you will be embarrassed by a sudden flow of menstrual fluid that soaks through you clothes. It’s unlikely you will “leak”, since the beginning of menstrual flow is usually very light. However, once you start developing breasts and have pubic hair, it’s a good idea to carry a pad, tampon or menstrual cup in your backpack or purse. Most public washrooms sell pads (or “sanitary napkins”) and tampons in a coin box on the wall. If you are at school, at camp, or at a friend’s house, then a teacher, a counsellor or parent could help you find a pad or tampon.
Menstrual flow has no smell when it leaves your body, but when the flow is exposed to the air, it starts to develop an odour. You can avoid this odour by changing your pad every 3-4 hours. Take a bath or shower often, when you have your period to keep feeling clean. If there is menstrual flow in your clothes or underwear, the stains will come out if you soak them in cold water and put them through a regular wash.
Most pads are self-adhesive. Remove the wrapper if there is one and throw it in the garbage - not down the toilet. If the pad is rolled up, unroll it, peel off the paper to expose the sticky strip, and put the pad sticky side down, on the inside or your underpants. Unless you are wearing a bathing suit or very tight clothes, it is impossible for anyone to see that you are wearing a pad.
When you change your pad, remove it from your underwear, fold it in half and wrap it in toilet paper. Dispose of it in the special receptacle in a public washroom or in a garbage can at home. Never flush a pad down the toilet.
There are different thicknesses of pads. Try one labelled “maxi thin” in the beginning. If you soak through the pad in an hour or two, you will need a thicker pad. Eventually you’ll get to know your own flow.
You might be afraid to use a tampon because you don’t want to push something into your vagina or because you are concerned that a tampon will hurt you or get lost. A tampon - especially slender models - will slip into most vaginal openings. If your hymen has only a small opening, you might try using your finger to gently stretch the opening wider.
Whether or not your tampon has an applicator, remove the wrapping paper. Gently tug the tampon string in a circular motion. This widens the bottom of the tampon to absorb more flow. If you lie on a bed or put one leg on the edge of the tub, you can feel your vaginal opening with the fingers of one hand and spread it slightly. With your other hand, gently push the applicator or the tampon into your vagina. Sometimes the muscles in your vagina will feel as if they are clamping shut. Take a deep breath and relax. Aim towards the small of your back unless you have an inverted vagina (your vagina does not sit straight up and down in your body. It is angled).
If you are using a tampon with an applicator, when the applicator is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) into your vagina, push the plunger section of the applicator in all the way. The tampon will push out of the applicator into your vagina. Slip out the applicator and throw it in the garbage. If your tampon has no applicator, gently push the tampon into your vagina as far as your fingers allow. It is now in place. If your tampon is inserted properly, you won’t be able to feel it. If it is not inserted high enough into your vagina, it will feel very uncomfortable. The tampon cannot get lost; there’s nowhere for it to go, as the opening of your cervix is too small for the tampon to get into your uterus.
Sometimes it is hard to know when to replace a tampon. Replace it every time you go to the bathroom or if you notice some menstrual spotting in your underwear. If you are changing your tampon more than every 3 hours, then you may need a tampon that absorbs more flow. Leaving a tampon in for longer than 4 -6 hours can be dangerous, since the blood absorbed into the fibre can be a breeding ground for germs. You should not wear a tampon while you sleep because you can’t change it often enough.
Menstrual cups can be reusable or disposable. Menstrual cups can be made from different types of plastics or rubber. The cup is placed in the vagina and can be left in for 4 - 12 hours. The cup is about 2 inches (5cm) long and can hold up to 1 once of blood. Menstrual cups can be worn overnight. To place it in the vagina, press the sides of the cup together, then fold it in half again. Hold the folded cap and insert it until the stem is just inside the entrance of the vagina. Turn the cup once to make sure it has unfolded, and then gently tug on the stem for a snug seal. To remove it, sit on the toilet and gently pinch the base of the cap. Empty the contents in the toilet, rinse and wipe the cup and then re-insert. If using a disposable brand, wrap it in toilet paper and throw in the garbage.
Adapted From Changes in You and Me, by Paulette Bourgeois and Martin Wolfish M.D .with illustrations by Louise Phillips and KamYu