Puberty for People with Vaginas
What is puberty?
Puberty is when your body grows into an adult body. Adult bodies not only look different, but can reproduce (create a baby). These changes are controlled by hormones. Hormones are chemicals that send messages to different parts of your body.
Lots of physical, emotional, mental and social changes happen during puberty. These changes may feel exciting, weird or scary—or even all at once! That’s completely normal. It can also be hard to start puberty before or after your friends. Talk to a parent, family member or other adult you trust about what you’re feeling.
Puberty can be a bit different for everyone. If you’re not sure if something is normal, talk to your doctor or health care provider, or a parent or other family member.
It’s good to understand your own body so you can respect and take care of it! It’s also important to learn about the development of others who many not have the same experiences as you (i.e. those with a different gender assigned at birth).
You may notice we use slightly different language when we talk about “boys” and “girls.” Instead of saying “boys,” we often say “assigned male at birth” or “people with penises.” Instead of saying “girls,” we often say “assigned female at birth” or “people with vaginas.” This is because not everyone identifies as the gender they were raised as. To learn more about gender identity and what it means to be transgender, click here.
Puberty can be an especially challenging and confusing time if you’re transgender or not sure about your gender identity. Remember: you are not alone. We talk more about being transgender and how to find support here.
If you have a vagina, puberty usually starts when you’re 8-13 years old and ends when you’re 15-16 years old. People with penises usually start puberty a bit later, when they’re 9-15 years old. Different people develop at different rates. It’s normal if some people in your class look much older, and others look much younger. There’s nothing better or worse about starting puberty earlier or later.
Puberty starts when your brain releases a hormone that sends a signal to your ovaries. This signal tells the ovaries to release a hormone called estrogen.
During puberty, people with vaginas:
Grow breasts and change shape
Grow hair in new places
Have a growth spurt
Sweat and smell more
May get stretch marks
Periods (or menstruation)
When to talk to your doctor about your period
Your breasts beginning to grow is usually the first sign of puberty for people with vaginas. First, you’ll probably notice small lumps underneath your nipple and areola (the area of different-colored skin around your nipple). These are called breast buds. Your breasts might feel a bit sore when they’re growing. It’s normal (and common) for one breast to be larger than the other, especially during puberty. Remember that you’re probably the only one who can tell. Usually, your breasts will be the same size or close to the same size at the end of puberty.
Bras can help support your breasts and keep them in place, especially during sports or exercise. It’s up to you when or if you want to start wearing a bra. When you want one, talk to your mom or other family member about going shopping. Sales people at department stores or specialty bra shops can measure you and help you find the right bra for you.
It’s normal to feel self-conscious about your breasts. Remember that breasts come in all shapes and sizes. Your breasts are unique, and that’s pretty awesome! There is no way to make your breasts grow larger or faster, or to make them smaller. Creams, massages, and exercise do NOT change the size of your breasts.
Your hips will also begin to get wider.
The hair on your armpits, legs and pubic area begin to grow. The hair starts out light, but will grow darker and thicker during puberty. Pubic hair will begin to grow near your vaginal opening, and then grow in other areas on and around your vulva. You may also grow pubic hair on your inner thigh area, and notice facial hair (like on your upper lip) and arm hair get darker and thicker.
Whether to remove some or all of your new hair is completely up to you. There is no medical reason to remove it. Some people like the way their hair looks and feels. Others don’t.
If you want to shave, talk to your parent or caregiver first. They can give you tips on how to do it safely. If you want to shave, make sure you:
- Use your own razor.
- Use a fresh razor.
- Shave in the shower. This softens your skin.
- Use shaving cream.
- Shave in the direction of hair growth. This reduces the chance you’ll get painful ingrown hairs.
There are lots of other ways to remove your hair as well. These include depilatory creams, waxing, sugaring, epilators and other methods. Be sure to read the instructions carefully and talk to a trusted adult before removing your hair.
Removing your pubic hair is especially tricky. The skin is more sensitive than other areas and it is easy for infections to spread there. Just like other hair, there is no medical reason to remove your pubic hair.
This means you grow a lot taller in a short amount of time. How much you grow depends on your genetics, what you eat, and so much more. You may notice that you outgrow your clothes quickly. Your feet will also grow.
Combined with developing breasts and growing wider hips, this means you’ll probably gain weight. This is normal and healthy. If you’re worried about how much you weigh, talk to your health care provider.
During puberty, your sweat glands become more active. Combined with bacteria and hormones, this means you might start smelling more than you used to. To stay fresh, take a shower every day, and after you exercise. In addition, use deodorant and/or antiperspirant. Deodorant helps block the smell of your sweat, while antiperspirant makes you sweat less. There are also combination deodorants and antiperspirants, which do both. It may take a few tries to find a kind that works for you. If you’re still self-conscious about how you smell or how much you sweat, talk to your doctor or health care provider.
You may also notice a stronger smell coming from your genitals. This is normal. In addition to sweat glands under your arms, you also have sweat glands on your vulva (or external genitalia). To keep clean, change your underwear every day. Wash the part of your vulva with hair with scent-free soap. Just let water run over the parts that don’t have hair—soap can irritate this part of your vulva. Do NOT put soap or water inside your vagina, or douche. These will irritate your vagina.
Stretch marks look a little like jagged stripes that are raised and a bit lighter than the rest of your skin. They’re often on your inner thighs, hips or breasts. That’s because these are areas that grow very fast during puberty. Stretch marks are completely normal.
You may notice some clear or white discharge in your underwear, often before you get your first period. It may be stringy and clear like uncooked egg whites, white and slightly lumpy, or somewhere in between. This is called vaginal discharge, and it’s completely normal. You may notice that what it looks like, smells like, and how much there is changes depending on the time of the month. This discharge is how your vagina cleans itself, which is pretty cool!
This kind of vaginal discharge is different than vaginal lubrication, which is what your vagina makes when you’re aroused (or turned on).
If your discharge looks like cottage cheese (lumpy and white) and smells yeasty (kind of like bread), or smells strongly of fish (especially after sex), you should talk to your doctor or health care provider. This could be a sign of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (BV).
You may start to get acne (also called pimples or zits). During puberty, your body starts to produce more androgen. Androgen is a chemical that makes your skin make more oil. Sometimes, hair follicles get plugged by this oil and dead skin cells. Bacteria can grow there, and can create an infection. This infection creates inflammation. This inflammation is a pimple.
While acne is common on your face, you can also get acne on your back, chest and other parts of your body. It may be hard, but try to not pick at your acne! That will just make it worse and could potentially cause scarring. To help, wash your face with a gentle cleanser twice a day. You can also use over the counter anti-acne creams and gels. Look for ones with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Be sure to follow the directions carefully.
If your acne is deep and painful, severe, or affects how you feel about yourself, talk to your doctor. They can prescribe different medications that can help.
Usually, your period will start around two to three years after your breasts begin to grow. Your first period is called menarche.
Your period is when your body sheds its uterine lining. During your period, blood comes out of your vagina. This usually lasts for 3-8 days. You might have cramps, feel tired or moody, have headaches, or feel bloated. When you’re on your period, there’s no reason you can’t do everything you normally do.
You can use pads, tampons or a menstrual cup during your period. These keep blood from staining your clothes. You can buy them at the drug store or grocery store, or ask a family member for them. Make sure to follow the instructions. It’s important to change your tampon every 4-6 hours.
Period blood can look a lot of different ways. It can be bright red, dark brown or black, or even pink-ish or purple-ish. You may also have small blood clots (or gel-like blobs). This is all normal.
Your period is part of your menstrual cycle, which is how your body prepares for a possible pregnancy. Getting your period is a sign that you could become pregnant if you had penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. If you are having PIV sex and don’t want to get pregnant at this point in your life, you can use birth control (or contraception) to prevent pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider to start birth control.
Having your period is completely normal and nothing to be embarrassed about!
Periods can be really different. Often, people get worried about their periods when everything is completely normal. However, you should talk to your doctor or health care provider if:
- You haven’t gotten your first period (menarche) by the time you’re 15, or you do not have menarche three or more years after your breasts start to grow.
- You soak through a pad or tampon every 1-2 hours, or have blood clots that are larger than a quarter.
- You’re in so much pain during your period that you cannot do the things you normally would, like go to school or play sports.
- You have been getting your period for more than two years and it is still irregular. After two years, a “regular” period comes every 21-35 days. If you get your period more frequently than once every 21 days, or less frequently than once every 35 days, it is considered irregular. Keep in mind that if it’s been less than two years since you started getting your period, a regular cycle is every 21-45 days.
- You have had penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex and your period is late.
This doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just a good idea to check in with a health care provider to make sure your body is developing like it should be!
Wet dreams are sometimes called nocturnal emissions, or sleep orgasms. This is when you have an orgasm while you’re asleep. You may wake up while having an orgasm or when you’re about to have an orgasm. You might notice that your underwear is a bit wet. This is from vaginal lubrication.
Sometimes, they happen when you have a dream about sex or something that turned you on. You may not be able to remember the dream. Other times, wet dreams aren’t related to dreams at all.
Wet dreams are more obvious for people with penises because they ejaculate. However, many people with vaginas have them too. This is completely normal, and nothing to feel embarrassed about. It’s also completely normal to not have wet dreams!
Your body isn’t the only thing that changes during puberty. You’ll also begin to experience new feelings and emotions.
Some people feel self-conscious about their changing body. This is normal. If you feel anxious or bad about your body, learn more about healthy body image.
All the hormones running through your body can cause mood swings. This means you may be in a good mood and then suddenly become angry, irritated or sad for no reason. Dealing with mood swings can be tough. Learn more about how to deal with your emotions.
You may begin to have crushes on (or have romantic feelings for) people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you want or are ready for a relationship. It’s ok to enjoy the feeling of liking someone without acting on it! If you decide you do want to date, make sure you understand what a healthy relationship looks like.
You might also begin to think about sex and have sexual feelings. It’s normal and ok to think about sex, and to have questions about it. Some people (but not everyone!) begin to masturbate (or touch themselves for sexual pleasure) during puberty. Learn more about sex and sexuality.
Your interests, values and friendships might change as well. This is a normal part of becoming more independent and getting to know yourself.
Dealing with all of these changes can be tough. If you ever feel confused or overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust. You’re not alone.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.