For girls, puberty usually happens between the ages of 9-16. During puberty, the ovaries start producing the hormone estrogen in large amounts and this triggers changes in the body and reproductive system.
Breasts begin to grow and develop into their own unique size and shape. There may be some tingling or soreness at this time. Hips often widen and body fat increases. Hair will form on the body around the upper lip and around the nipples. It will also grow on the legs, under the arms and in the pubic region (between the legs). Girls may begin shaving or waxing their legs and underarms.
Skin also becomes oily during puberty. A girl may sweat more than she used to. Taking daily showers and making sure the face is kept clean are important. However, even with careful attention to hygiene, acne may develop. Acne commonly occurs on the face, back and chest. Many teenagers experience acne in one form or another throughout puberty.
Girls might also notice a white, sticky discharge from the vagina. This helps keep the vagina clean. If the discharge smells or the vulva gets itchy, it might be a good idea to talk to a doctor or a nurse.
When we talk about female sexual organs, we often use the word vagina. However, the vagina is only one part of the female genitalia (sex organs).
Vulva: The outer female genital and pelvic organs are also called the vulva. Click HERE to see a picture of the vulva. It includes:
Vagina: The passage through which menstrual blood flows during menstruation, and for a baby's passage into the world during birth; the space that connects the uterus with the outside body.
Clitoris: Small, sensitive organ located just above the opening of the urethra. It is made of erectile tissue, and can swell during sexual arousal. Urinary opening- A short thin tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
Hymen: A thin membrane that covers part of the vaginal opening, but almost never covers it completely. Click HERE to see pictures of different hymens.
Note: The hymen is often linked to virginity. For information about that go to Are You Ready? Ė Virginity section.
There are also organs inside the woman's body that we cannot see. Click HERE for a picture of the inside of the female reproductive system.
Uterus: A small pear shaped organ that holds the lining that is shed each month during menstruation. This organ also holds the fetus until birth.
Ovaries: Produce female cells (eggs) and sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone). They are the size of almonds.
Fallopian tubes: Two narrow tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. The egg travels in these tubes.
Cervix: The tip of the vagina and the base of the uterus. Although sperm swim through it, it can expand so that a baby can pass through it, finger, dildo, or penis cannot go through it.
One of the biggest events for girls is the beginning of their period. Some girls are excited and proud about it, while others feel sad because their period is a symbol of their movement from childhood to adulthood. Others have mixed emotions. Donít expect your period to be regular for the first while. It is common to have a period one month and then not get it again for a couple of months. It takes a few years before you can be sure that your periods are regular.
At birth, girls are born with about 400,000 cells that contain immature eggs. These sex cells live in the ovaries. For as long as a woman menstruates, one of these sex cells matures into an egg each month, and is released by the ovary. The egg travels through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. This is called ovulation. If an egg meets with a sperm (becomes fertilized) during its travels, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus and develops into a fetus.
If the egg that is released during ovulation does not meet with a sperm, it disintegrates and flows out of the vagina. Because the egg is not fertilized, there will be no baby, and the soft lining of the uterus that the fetus uses for nourishment isnít needed anymore. This uterine lining flows out of the body through the vagina. It is a thick reddish brown fluid that is made up of blood, tissue and mucous from the uterus. The usual amount of fluid is about 4-6 tablespoons per period. Periods usually span a period of 3 to 7 days.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. That means there are usually 28 days between the first day of your period and the day before the first day of your next period. Some girls have short cycles (22 days between periods) or longer cycles (40 days apart). There are other factors that can influence the length of a cycle, such as stress, nutrition, athletic activity and weight change.
Keeping track of your cycle can help predict when your next period will come. Try circling the first day of your period on a calendar and drawing a line through the dates where there is flow. If this is done for every period over the course of a year, a pattern may be noticeable. This will also help you to see any dramatic changes in your cycle. You may want to see a nurse or doctor if this happens.
Between 2 and 10 days before the period starts, you might experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome). This can vary for each girl, but symptoms can include: mood swings, depression, bloating, breast tenderness and headaches. Hormones in the body that are regulating the menstrual cycle cause PMS.
If you find PMS to be a problem, it is advisable to see a health professional. There are some remedies, medical and natural, that may be able to help. Once your period begins, you might experience pain or cramping in the lower abs, or aching in the lower back or inner thighs. Some tips for bad period pains include: taking a warm bath, doing mild exercise, using B vitamins or primrose oil, taking pain medication or using a heating pad on the abs.
Pads are worn inside the panties and tampons are inserted inside the vagina.
Inserting a tampon may be unpleasant or awkward if you are not comfortable putting something inside your vagina. If you want to try a tampon, it can help to get someone you trust to show you how to use it.
There are many different types and sizes of pads and tampons. It is best not to use high absorbency tampons, especially on days when your period flow is light. Tampons should be changed at least every four to six hours. Otherwise, bacteria may build up and cause an infection. Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but very serious disease that is linked to wearing a tampon for too long or to wearing a higher absorbency tampon than is needed.