Each woman is different and this section is targeted at women! Here you will find basic information about life changes, emotional changes and other changes that are rarely talked about. We will discuss diversity of breast size, masturbation and sexual desire.
If you are a person who identifies as a woman and was not assigned female gender at birth some of the information on this page will not be relevant to you, however some of it will be. If once you have read this page, you still have questions or are seeking information you are welcome to contact uson our confidential helpline 061 316661.
In this section you will find information on:
- Menstrual Cycle
- Body Changes
- Breast Size
People talk about puberty like it’s a thing we all understand. In fact, puberty is different for everyone and the only thing that is certain for everyone is that going through ‘puberty’ means that your body will change.
Puberty is a stage of sexual development and growth experienced by humans, generally experienced, around the age of 10 to 18. Mainly, people experience the beginning of puberty between the age of 13 and 14. Puberty can continue until the early 20′s. If a person begins taking oestrogen then they may experience a change similar to puberty.
One of the changes can be the start of your menstrual cycle (period) which is, following ovulation, the break down of the lining of the womb and its release from your body through the vagina. How often your periods arrive, how much blood you release and how long each period lasts varies from woman to woman.
As well as bodily changes, you will experience hormonal changes that you may find can be quite difficult. During puberty you may find your thoughts and emotions developing, which may include you becoming aware of a physical, and/or an emotional attraction to some people. This is the beginning of sexual attraction. It may mean that at some point you start thinking about developing sexual relationships, and may have a desire to masturbate more often.
You may find that your thoughts and also dreams become sexual and that you start to become curious about sex. Your body can respond to these thoughts and emotions in many ways and sometimes these may be embarrassing, examples are:
- Hardening of nipples
- Vaginal wetness
- Sweaty palms
- Reddening of face (blushing)
- Get tongue-tied
- Night time orgasms/ejaculations (wet dreams)
Understanding what you are feeling, the changes you are experiencing and communicating this to others, may or may not be easy at times. If you have a friend, a parent, teacher or someone else you trust, keep them in mind if you are struggling, confused or frustrated and need someone to talk to.
Not all women experience the menstrual cycle, but most do. The ‘menstrual cycle’ is the name given to the changes of hormones within the body that cause the womb lining building up and breaking down (period/bleeding), and the ovaries releasing ovarian eggs (ovulation). This can begin at any age but usually begins between the ages of 12-16. The cycle is also called the monthly cycle as the average time from one period to the next is about 28-30 days.
Just before, during and just after ovulation is when a person is most likely to get pregnant. If a woman has her period it is usually a sign that she is not pregnant.
You may feel more or less aroused at some points in your menstrual cycle and this can affect the kinds of decisions you make about who you have sex with and when.
During your menstrual cycle you may find that your vaginal fluids change consistency. At ovulation, it may become lighter in colour and stickier. Some women find that just before their period starts their vaginal fluids have a stronger smell and a thicker consistency.
You may also find that the amount of vaginal fluid you secrete changes at different points in your menstrual cycle. It is important to know what is usual for you, as you can be more alert to changes and seek medical advice when necessary.
The ‘menopause’ is the name given to the period of time after puberty when the hormones within the body change again. This is usually after a woman has released all her ovarian eggs (the average is one per month), and the menstrual cycle begins to stop. This can happen at any age, but usually between the ages of 45-60. This is also called ‘the change of life’. It can also be caused by removal of the ovaries.
As well as periods becoming erratic; lighter, heavier, more frequent, less frequent, longer or shorter; you may also experience symptoms similar to those you may have experienced during puberty:
- Moods swings, irritability or sudden tears
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Weight gain
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Cold flushes and clamminess
- Sore breasts
- Weakening of fingernails
- Ringing in ears (tinnitus)
There may be a change in the libido, some women experience a higher desire for sexual pleasure after menopause and some women experience a lower desire for sexual pleasure after menopause. Menopause does not have to signify the end of your sexual activity, only your reproductive ability.
Some women experience a vaginal dryness which can be remedied by using water based lubrication (available from your chemist).
If you experience anything that causes you concern then please consult a medical professional as there are treatments available for most of the symptoms listed here.
Your body will change throughout your life, it never stops changing. Some changes are due to ageing, some because of changes in circumstances or lifestyle and others may have a medical reason.
During puberty there are a lot of changes that happen over a few years. Some of the things you may experience include:
- You may get taller
- You may gain or lose weight
- Your hips may widen
- Your breasts may get bigger
- Hair may grow, darken and thicken on specific parts of your body; legs, genitals, face, arms, underarms
- Your nipples and breasts may become sensitive for a while and during your menstrual cycle
- Your joints (knees, ankles, shoulders) may become painful for a while, these are usually called growing pains
- Spots and black heads may appear on your face, neck, chest back or other places
- You may sweat more and notice a much stronger body odour which could mean you need to shower and wash your clothes more often
These body changes can have an effect on your day to day living. You may suddenly experience a phase of being self conscious; you may find you are overly aware of different parts of your body. Females who are experiencing body changes because of puberty can often experience mood swings without realising it. Learning to manage your mood swings and their effect can take time so be patient with yourself.
As you grow older the changes are less pronounced than they were during puberty but your body still continues to change.
Some of the things you may experience throughout your life include:
- Lines on face, neck, body, arms, legs
- Greying of hair, including pubic hair
- Moles, freckles, skin tags may appear or become more pronounced
- Eyesight changes
- Altered body shape
- Weakening of the pelvic floor muscles (possible incontinence)
- Possible increase of vaginal dryness
- Less ovarian egg production
- Hearing changes
- General health changes
- Needing to pee (urinate) more often
- Change in sleep patterns
- Menopausal changes
Some of these changes are due to simply getting older; others can be brought about through experience, lifestyle, stress, environmental factors and health (eg: stopping taking oestrogen). Please refer to our other pages in this women’s sexual health section for more information or contact your medical professional if you experience anything that causes you concern, including:
- Increasingly painful/heavy or loss of periods
- Unusual (for you) lumps
- Unusual (for you) Discharge
- Loss of libido (interest in sex)
Many women worry that their breasts are smaller than other women’s. This may be because we do not have a realistic idea of what other women’s breasts actually look like.
Many factors can influence breast size, your breasts can become smaller or larger depending on how your weight changes throughout your life, where you are in your menstrual cycle and other factors such as illness. Breasts come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are high on the chest, some are low on the chest, some are curved, some are firm, some are soft, some have large nipples and some have small nipples.
As women, we do not view our breasts as other people do, as we look down at our breasts from above. The best way to see your breasts as they really are is to look at yourself naked in a full length mirror.
If you have difficulties with breast pain, sore nipples or pain under your armpits, consult a medical professional.
Most females rub or stimulate their clitoris or vagina to get aroused or have an orgasm. Masturbation can start at any age but a female may not be able to orgasm until during or after puberty. You can however, experience pleasure without orgasm.
Masturbation is not a health risk, you will not go blind, you will not grow hairs on your fingers and you cannot rub it off! Some people masturbate everyday, others more than once a day, and others not at all, this is a personal choice.
Masturbating can help you to understand how you like to have your clitoris and vagina touched and what turns you on. In turn, this may help you develop healthy and pleasurable sexual relationships. Some people include masturbation as part of their sexual activity with others.
There is a myth that the older you get, the less likely you are to want to masturbate, age does not necessarily diminish your libido or desire for pleasure. In fact, many women find that they become more active and assertive about pleasure and sex as they grow older.
If you find that you do not get aroused when you wish to, or when you are having sex, this could be due to stress, tiredness, alcohol or other drugs; it could be the first signs of a medical condition so please consult your medical professional.