When you become a teenager, your body changes and develops towards sexual maturity (basically, you go from being a child to an adult). This is called ‘puberty’. You experience a lot of physical and emotional changes and it can be a confusing time.
During puberty you will develop breasts, start having periods (menstruation), develop increased body hair, and experience other body changes.
Being aware about these changes to your body and knowing they are a normal part of puberty is important.
Breasts develop and grow during your teenage years. Everyone will have different shapes and sizes. These differences are just like other features (e.g. hair, eyes) and are what makes you a unique individual.
You should check your breasts regularly. Get to know the look and feel of your breasts and let your doctor, family planning clinic or local sexual health clinic know about any changes such as lumps, pain, or discharge from the nipple. Women often find a suspicious lump or other change in their breasts when they are in the shower or bath or getting dressed. Most breast changes aren’t cancerous, but it pays to make sure so see a doctor if you’re unsure.
If you become pregnant, your breasts will grow and release milk after you give birth to your baby. This is due to the release of extra hormones in the body.
Girls often get their first period at around 12 or 13 years old, but it can happen at earlier or later ages for some girls. A period (menstruation) is a monthly flow of blood from your vagina caused by a build-up of blood on the lining of the uterus in response to your hormones. It usually lasts between 3 to 7 days (with the blood flow usually starting heavy and getting lighter over this time).
Most girls get their period once a month, but anywhere between every 3 and 6 weeks is normal. When a girl begins her periods, they may not be very regular at first. This means you might not know when to expect your next period. If you haven’t started having periods by the age of 16 years, see a health professional. It’s normal to have some pain during your period, but if it’s excessive pain that stops you from normal activities (dysmenorrhoea), talk to your doctor or health nurse.
The vagina is the opening that leads from your external genitals (between your legs) to the uterus (womb) and your other internal reproductive organs. The skin you can see between your legs on the outside of your genitals is called the vulva. The neck or opening of the uterus inside the vagina is called the cervix.
Many people think the hymen is like a piece of gladwrap that seals the end of the vagina and that the first time you have sex it is broken. The hymen is a collar of tissue attached to the vaginal wall just inside the vaginal opening, with an opening in the centre. All women are born with a hymen. The thickness and elasticity of the hymen varies according to the level of oestrogen (female hormones) in the body.
Women sometimes bleed the first time they have sex, because some hymens are more elastic than others. There is no way of predicting who has a stretchier hymen, and who will bleed and who won't. Some women develop a small tear in the hymen edge when it stretches and this may bleed. Usually this is not serious and heals quickly. Others may feel some pain or discomfort. The important message here is that we cannot tell by looking at someone's hymen whether they’re still a virgin or not.
It is normal and healthy to have some vaginal discharge following puberty. This discharge is due to the female hormone oestrogen and bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. The amount of discharge varies from woman to woman, and can vary according to different stages of the menstrual cycle (your periods).
If there is any change to the colour, smell, amount or texture of this discharge, this could mean something is going on inside your vagina and could be an infection, especially if you have had unprotected sex.
It’s really important to look after your body, mind and sexual health in order to stay healthy. Looking after your sexual health means not only making sure your body is healthy and free from genital infections, but that you are emotionally happy.
Staying free from sexually transmissible infections (STIs) is important. If left untreated, they may have serious health consequences and may even leave you infertile (unable to have children).
As you become more sexually active, you will need to consider:
- regular sexual health checks
- contraception and the use of condoms
- regular pap smears – the first one should be 2 years after you first have sex, AND after you turn 18, then every 2 years after that
- your ability to negotiate sexual experiences that are healthy and right for you.