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Female body

Here are some common questions asked by teenagers about their bodies.


  • At what age do you go through puberty?

    You’ll probably start to notice changes from age 10 upwards, but there’s no right or wrong time to start. Some people go through puberty later than others. This is normal. If you have no signs of puberty by the age of 16, see a doctor for a check-up.

  • What is a vulva?

    Your vulva is the part of your body, on the outside of your genitals, made up of the clitoris and the labia.
    Vulva doesn’t mean anus (bum hole) or your vagina – your vagina is inside, leading up to your womb.

    To find out more you can click on the link below which will download a helpful booklet with more information.



  • Is discharge from the vagina normal?

    Yes, this is perfectly normal. Girls start to produce more vaginal discharge (fluid) as they go through puberty and the hormones in the glands of the vagina and cervix (neck of the womb) begin to work. The fluid helps to keep the vaginal area healthy, and protects it from damage or infection.

    Before puberty, there may be very little discharge. After puberty, what’s normal for one girl will not be normal for another. Some produce a lot of fluid and some produce very little.

    When you start your periods, you’ll probably notice that your discharge varies at different times during your menstrual cycle. It might be colourless or creamy white in colour, and it may become more sticky and increase in quantity.

  • My discharge smells. Is that normal?

    It’s not normal if the discharge becomes smelly or green, or if your vaginal area is itchy or sore. These may mean that you have an infection, such as thrush, which is common but easily treated. If you’ve had sex without using a condom, there’s a risk you might have a sexually transmitted infection.

    If your discharge is different from what’s normal for you, see a doctor or nurse at your GP surgery or Unity clinic. Advice is free and confidential even if you’re under 16.

  • When should you start your periods?

    Periods often start  between the ages of 10 and 16, and many girls start when they’re around 12. As everyone develops at different rates, there’s no right or wrong age for a girl to start. Your periods will start when your body is ready, and there’s nothing you can do to make them start sooner or later.

    If you haven’t started your periods by the time you’re 16, you should visit your doctor for a check-up.

  • What should you use when your periods start?

    To be prepared for your first period, keep sanitary towels or tampons at home, and carry some in your bag.

    Sanitary towels are thin pads that line your underwear to soak up the blood as it leaves your vagina. Tampons are inserted inside the vagina to soak up the blood before it leaves the vagina. Tampons have a string that hangs outside the vagina, and you pull this to remove the tampon.

    Don’t flush sanitary towels or tampons down the toilet. Wrap them in paper and put them in the bin. Most women’s toilets have special bins for sanitary products.

    There are different kinds of towels and tampons for different blood flows (light, medium and heavy). Use whatever you find most comfortable. Try different kinds until you find one that suits you. You might need to use different kinds at various points during your period. You need to change your towel or tampon several times a day.

    You’ll find instructions in the packet on how to use them. Sanitary towels and tampons are available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and some newsagents and petrol stations.

    There’s a life-threatening infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which affects around 20 people in the UK (men and women) every year. It’s not known why, but a significant proportion of cases occur in women who are wearing tampons, particularly highly absorbent (‘heavy’) ones.

    If you’re worried about anything to do with periods or want more information, talk to an older woman, such as your mum, big sister, the school nurse or a teacher. Your doctor, or a Unity clinic can also help.

  • Is my period normal?

    Don’t worry if your periods aren’t the same as your friends’ periods. Everybody is different. Bleeding can last up to eight days, although it usually lasts about five days. The bleeding is heaviest during the first two days.

    During your period, your blood flow may seem heavy, but the actual amount of blood is equivalent to between five and 12 teaspoons. However, you may have periods that are heavier than normal. This is known as menorrhagia or heavy menstrual bleeding, and you can take medication to treat it, so talk to your doctor if you’re worried.

    The average length of the menstrual cycle (from the first day of your period until the day before your next period) is 28 days, although anywhere between 24 and 35 days is common.

    Your hormone cycle may affect you physically and emotionally. Some people don’t have any symptoms, but on the days leading up to your period you may have symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. These include:

    • headaches
    • bloating
    • irritability
    • backache
    • feeling depressed
    • a general feeling of being upset or emotional
    • difficulty sleeping
    • difficulty concentrating
    • breast tenderness
    • some weight gain (up to 1kg)

    Once your period has started, these symptoms usually improve. When your period has ended they disappear.

    Periods can sometimes be painful. The precise cause of painful periods is unknown, but you may feel pain in your abdomen, back or vagina. It usually starts shortly before your period begins, and lasts for a few days. Painkillers can help.

  • What if my period is late?

    If you’re worried about your period, visit your doctor or clinic. Periods can be irregular for many different reasons, including stress and the food you eat.

    Another reason for a late period is pregnancy. If you’ve had sex without using contraception and your period is late, take a pregnancy test as soon as possible.

    You can also do a pregnancy test yourself, using a test kit bought at a pharmacy or supermarket.

    Please see our pages on Pregnancy for more information

  • Are my breasts too small?

    No. Everybody is different and everyone’s body develops at its own rate. Don’t worry about what size is ‘normal’.

  • Does everyone have orgasm through sex?

    Only about a third of women experience orgasm regularly during intercourse/ penetration. A third can reach orgasm with intercourse/penetration but need extra stimulation e.g. being touched. A third never achieve orgasm during intercourse/penetration but can be by being touched or through other types of foreplay such as oral sex.

  • How do I know if I have breast cancer?

    It’s unusual for teenagers to get breast cancer. Lumps, bumps and changes to the breast are common, and most of them are benign (non-cancerous).

    There’s no set method of checking your breasts, but get to know what they look and feel like so that you’ll notice any changes. However, it’s normal for your breasts to change in size or become more tender during your menstrual cycle.

  • When must I have a cervical screening test?

    A cervical screening test (sometimes called a smear) is a test where cells are taken from a woman’s cervix (located above the vagina) to check for changes that could lead to cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can be prevented if it’s detected early through cervical screening.

    In England, cervical screening tests are offered to women from age 25 onwards, every three to five years. You should have them whether you’re straight, gay or bi-sexual. Women who have sex with women need to have cervical screening as well as women who have sex with men.

  • What is the hymen?

    The hymen is a very thin piece of skin that stretches across the vagina, up inside the woman’s body. Nobody really knows what it’s there for and it serves no purpose. Every girl is born with a hymen, but it can break when using tampons, playing sport, or doing other activities, including having sex.

    When the hymen breaks there can sometimes be a small amount of bleeding but this is nothing to worry about. If there is bleeding regularly when you have sex this is something that might need checking out as this can sometimes be a symptom of an STI.

  • Do you put on weight when you're on the Pill?

    No, there’s no evidence that the contraceptive pill causes weight gain. Some people put on weight while they’re taking the Pill, but so do people who aren’t taking it.

    If you’ve got any questions about the Pill or any other methods of contraception, such as the injection, implant or patch, please look at our Contraception information. Or you can speak to a doctor or nurse at a GP surgery or Unity clinic

    You can get free and confidential advice about sex, contraception and abortion even if you’re under 16.

  • Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period?

    Yes. A girl can get pregnant if she has sex with a boy, at any time during her menstrual cycle, and can get pregnant the first time she has sex.

    That’s why you should always use contraception.

    There are lots of different methods, including:

    • Implant
    • Injection
    • Patch
    • IUD
    • IUS
    • Combined Pill or Progesterone Onlu Pill (POP)
    • Diaphragms and Caps
    • Condoms

    Only condoms help to protect you against STIs and pregnancy, so use condoms as well as your chosen method of contraception every time you have sex.

  • What is the clitoris?

    The clitoris is a small soft bump in front of the entrance to the vagina. It’s very sensitive, and touching and stimulating it can give strong feelings of sexual pleasure. This is how most girls masturbate. Most girls and women need the clitoris to be stimulated in order to have an orgasm. This can happen during foreplay or penetration. Women are very different when it comes to what makes them orgasm and how long it might take.

  • What is female circumcision?

    “Female circumcision” is not really a term that is used anymore. The correct term is female genital mutilation or FGM. This practice is illegal in the UK. It involves cutting off some or all of a girl’s external genitals, such as the labia and clitoris. It is NOT the same as male circumcision which has health benefits. There are no medical benefits to FGM.

    For further information you can visit the following websites:

    Daughters of  Eve

    Desert Flower Foundation

    Integrate Bristol

    Forward UK

  • What is FGM?

    Female Genital Mutilation is a procedure where the female genital organs are deliberately cut or injured when there is no medical reason for this to be done.


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