Please note: In this article, we are working towards using inclusive language. However, we understand that it may confuse readers who are not used to it. Since we may be at different places in our understanding and inclusive language is not common just yet, we would like to provide some context to help make it easier to understand while also being respectful and careful.
Context: Throughout this article, the term “girl” is mentioned, which some may interpret as a person with a uterus. Please know that not everyone who identifies as a “girl” or “woman” has this anatomical part, which is why we are shifting to the term “people or bodies with uteruses” instead. People are different and identify in ways that best make them feel who they truly are. Indigenous people knew this pre-colonization, and we are remembering it now.
Puberty is when your body starts to change as you move from being a kid to an adult. Some people go through puberty before the rest of their friends. Others grow later and have to wait and watch their classmates change. Either way, it’s important to remember that everyone goes through it, at their own pace.
When does puberty start? For girls, puberty usually starts between the ages of 9 and 11 years old, although some start a little sooner and others a little later. Girls often start puberty before boys.
What happens to a girl’s body during puberty? There are many different changes that happen when girls go through puberty. For example, your breasts will start to change in size and shape, your hips will start to widen, and pubic hair will begin to grow on your private parts and under your arms. Also your clitoris will grow a little too, and the inner lips of your vulva will become more prominent. (For more information on these body parts check out some anatomy).
During puberty, the vulva becomes more sensitive. It can swell when sexually excited through sexual thoughts, masturbation or touch, or through sexual activity with another person.
What’s a period? At some point during puberty, you will begin to get your period (also known as “menstruation,” “menses,” or “moon”). Periods are part of a monthly cycle that most bodies with uteruses will experience. What happens is that every month, the body will prepare for pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, then menstruation happens. The blood and other fluids that come out of the vagina during a period is usually heaviest for the first few days. Some folks get cramps before or during their periods. Other common symptoms include bloating, lower back pain, acne, tender breasts, etc. If you have a lot of cramping or severe symptoms, you can talk to your health care provider about this to see what can be done to help.
What is discharge? Discharge is liquid that comes out of the vagina. It is also called “cervical fluid.” It can be clear, white, yellow, or greenish, and it can leave a stain on your underwear. Texture also varies from gummy or thick to slippery and stretchy. Noticing discharge during puberty is perfectly normal. Products like “panty liners” can help prevent underwear staining or make the experience more comfortable.
Normal discharge is the result of the uterus (or womb) cleaning itself. No need to worry about it unless there is a strong odor or the vulva becomes itchy or irritated. If that happens, please see a health care provider.
How does puberty affect my emotions, moods, and thoughts? During puberty many teenagers start to see the world in different ways. It’s normal to have more sexual thoughts, and you might realize that you are attracted to guys, girls, or maybe both. Also you might start to feel things more intensely. One minute you may feel on top of the world, and the next minute you might feel down in the dumps.
Remember that this is your journey. Your body is unique to you and it is a special time that you and your peers experience together.
Acknowledgement: This fact sheet was adapted from PlannedParenthood.org, a website that provides education about reproductive and sexual health.