Sexual Health Facts
Girls experience a number of physical changes between the ages of 10 and 16 as they go through puberty. This includes the development of breasts, increase in body hair and the process of menstruation.
The Menstrual Cycle
This is the process in which an egg develops and is released from an ovary (ovulation), and the lining of the womb is prepared for a possible pregnancy. The lining of the womb is then shed, as a period if a woman doesn’t get pregnant. The menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of a period until the day before the next period starts. On average, the length of the menstrual cycle is about 28 days.
A female is most likely to get pregnant around ovulation – the middle of the menstrual cycle, as this is the most fertile time. 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.
The menstrual cycle may affect girls physically and emotionally. Periods can sometimes be painful (abdomen, back or vagina). Painkillers can sometimes help. Some women may have symptoms of premenstrual syndrome which include:
- Headaches/ backache
- Bloating/ some weight gain (up to 1kg)
- Breast tenderness
- Irritability/difficulty concentrating
- Feeling depressed
- A general feeling of being upset or emotional
- Difficulty sleeping
The cervical screening test (sometimes called a smear) is a test offered to all women aged 25 and above, every 3-5 years 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.
The menopause is the end of menstruation (usually around the age of 52 years). The woman’s ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. She will no longer have a monthly period or be able to have children. The menopause is caused by a change in the balance of the body’s sex hormones which causes both physical and emotional symptoms including:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- vaginal dryness
Many women find that making changes to their lifestyle and diet helps improve menopausal symptoms. Taking regular exercise, reducing stress levels and avoiding certain foods can help reduce hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings.
Growth and: Boys
Boys go through puberty anytime between 10 and 18 years. Their voice ‘breaks’ and becomes deeper and they begin to have a change in body structure and an increase in body hair and genital size.
Erections occur in males of all ages, including babies and old men when the penis fills with blood. They occur without warning and are quite common during sleep.
Testicular cancer mostly affects young men, between the ages of 15 and 35. Warning signs include: a dull ache in the balls, sensitive small hard painless lump areas, one ball growing larger than the other, one ball growing heavier than the other and blood coming from the penis.
Most young men ejaculate for the first time between the ages of 10 and 18 – usually at the age of 13 or 14. Sexual excitement causes muscles at the base of the penis to contract hard spurting out a milky/creamy coloured thick or watery liquid called semen.
Sperm is produced in the testicles (balls) and released in fluid called semen during sexual activity. Sperm are needed to fertilise an egg in the woman to make a baby. It only takes one sperm to fertilise an egg.
Circumcision is an operation to remove the piece of skin (the foreskin) that covers the tip of the penis. It is usually done for religious reasons (most common in the Jewish and Muslim communities). If you have been circumcised, it’s nothing to worry about. It won’t affect your ability to have sex.
Female genital mutilation (also called female circumcision) is illegal in the UK. It involves cutting off some or all of a girl’s external genitals, such as the labia and clitoris.
Sex and Young People
If you think you might have sex, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it feel right?
- Do both of us feel the same way about each other?
- Have we discussed using condoms and /or contraception?
- Do I feel I can say ‘no’ at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be okay with that?
When you decide to have sex, there’s the possibility of pregnancy and/or catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia. Therefore both of you have a responsibility to have a conversation about contraception and condoms before you have sex.
You need to use condoms to reduce the risk of catching an STI. If you’re a boy/girl couple, you need to use an additional form of contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy. If you have lesbian, gay or bisexual sex you can still get or pass on STIs. You still need to know about contraception in case you have straight sex as well.
There are many different contraceptive methods most of which are used by girls. However, both partners will have to consider which method should be used as a pregnancy would affect both of you.
Many people have sex or lose their virginity when they’re drunk. After a few drinks, you’re more likely to lose your judgment, and you may do things that you wouldn’t do normally. You may regret your actions in the morning, and you won’t be able to undo what has been done. People are more likely to have sex without a condom when they’re drunk, which can lead to an STI or unintended pregnancy.
Pregnancy and after the birth
One in ten women get depressed within weeks (or sometimes months) of their baby’s birth. Postnatal depression can result in anxiety, sleeplessness and extreme tiredness, leaving a woman feeling very stressed and unable to cope. It is important that she seeks help from her health visitor or GP.