Girls and Young Women

Girls and Young Women


There’s a lot of choice available when it comes to contraception, it’s all about finding the right one for YOU!

Useful links to find out more:

Scarleteen website - written for young people use their 'bingo' tool to find out what's best suited to you - also full of other great pages and articles, have a browse!

NHS  - visit the NHS for the most up to date infomation about what's available

Download the family planning association contraception guide here:

The FPA guide to contraception

The FPA guide to contraception



When should you start your periods?

Girls usually start their periods between the ages of 10 and 16. Most 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, visit your doctor for a check-up or pop in and see the Nurse at Cornerhouse Young People’s Drop-in.

What should you use when your periods start?

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

Both tampons and pads are safe and suitable. You may want to use pads for your very first period, though, as tampons can take a bit more getting used to.

Sanitary pads 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 pads 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 pads and tampons for light, medium and heavy blood flow. 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 pad or tampon several times a day.

You'll find instructions in the packet on how to use them. Sanitary pads 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 – men and women – in the UK every year. It's not known why, but a lot of these 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, pop into Cornerhouse’s Young Persons drop-in and speak to a worker in confidence.

Is my period normal?

Don't worry if your periods aren't the same as your friends' periods. Every girl 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 5 and 12 teaspoons. However, you may have periods that are heavier than normal. This is known as menorrhagia, and there's 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 women 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. They disappear when your period has ended.

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, pop into Cornerhouse’s Young Persons drop-in and speak to a worker in confidence.

Girls' periods can be irregular for many different reasons, including stress. 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 pop into Cornerhouse’s Young Persons drop-in and speak to a worker in confidence.

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 moist and protects it from damage or infection.

Before puberty, most girls have very little discharge. After puberty, what's normal for one girl won't be normal for another. Some produce a lot of fluid and some produce very little.

When you start your periods, you'll probably notice 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 your vaginal area is itchy or sore. These symptoms may mean you have an infection, such as thrush, which is common and easily treated.

If the discharge becomes smelly or green and you've had sex without using a condom, there's a risk you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

If your discharge is different from what's normal for you, pop into Cornerhouse’s Young Persons drop-in and speak to a worker in confidence.

Your Body and Puberty

Puberty is when a girl grows up into a young woman. Every girl goes through it, but it can be a tough time. Here are the changes to expect.

When will I start puberty?

Puberty usually starts between the ages of 8 and 14, but every girl is different. We all grow and change at different rates, and there's nothing you can do to make it happen sooner or later. Your body will change when it's ready.

Your breasts may grow quickly or slowly. You might have your first period, then not have another one for months. There's no such thing as "normal", so don't panic if your experience is different from other girls.

If you feel confused, you're not the only person. Try talking to someone you trust, such as your mum, dad, sister, friends, or a teacher or pop into Cornerhouse Young Person’s Drop-In.

What will happen to my body at puberty?

During puberty, it's normal to experience the following changes:

Growing taller

You'll get taller, and this might happen quite quickly.

Breasts and hips get bigger

Your breasts and hips get bigger. You might feel itchy or uncomfortable when this happens. This is normal.

Hair grows on your body

Hair grows under your arms and around your vagina. Some girls develop hair on other parts of their body, such as their top lip. This is normal.

Periods start

Your periods will start at some point during puberty. You might get period pains before or during your period.

Vaginal discharge begins

You may notice your vagina produces vaginal discharge (fluid). This is normal. It's your vagina's way of keeping clean and healthy. The discharge should be colourless or white, and shouldn't smell. If it looks green or yellow and smells, see a doctor as you might have an infection.

Spots and sweat appear

Hormones can make you sweaty or spotty, but as long as you have good personal hygiene, you can still look and feel healthy.

Feelings go up and down

You might have mood swings and feel emotional, but your feelings will settle down eventually.




Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a viral infection that can be sexually transmitted and may cause warts to develop. There are 100 different viral strains of HPV and 80 of these are thought to affect the genital area. There are two specific HPV strains that are most commonly associated with the development of cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb) which kills about one thousand  women in the UK every year. Other HPV strains may also prompt the development of cervical cancer. HPV has also been linked to other cancers such as cancer of the vulva, anus and vagina.

Who should be vaccinated?

The HPV vaccine is recommended for 12-13 year-old girls, and can be given to girls as young as 9. The vaccine is also recommended girls/women up to the age of 18 who have not yet received or completed the vaccine series.

Why is the HPV Vaccine recommended for young girls?

This is because the vaccine is most effective in girls/women who have not yet acquired any of the HPV viral strains covered by the vaccine. So ideally, females should get the vaccine before they are sexually active. Girls/women who have not been infected with any of those HPV viral strains will get the full benefits of the vaccine.

Will sexually active females benefit from the vaccine?

Females who are sexually active may also benefit from the vaccine, but they may get less benefit from the vaccine since they may have already acquired one or more HPV type(s) covered by the vaccine. Few young women are infected with all of these HPV types. So they would still get protection from those types they have not acquired. Currently, there is no test available to tell if a girl/woman has had any of the HPV types.

HPV vaccination provides the best protection against HPV infection that is available for people who have not already been infected with HPV.

Will girls/women who have been vaccinated still need cervical cancer screening (smear tests)?

Yes, although new research suggests women who have been vaccinated won't need to have as many screens and those who have not. However,  with or without the vaccination there are three reasons why women will still need regular cervical cancer screening. First, the vaccine will NOT protect against all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, so vaccinated women will still be at risk for some cancers. Second, some women may not get all required doses of the vaccine (or they may not get them at the right times), so they may not get the vaccine’s full benefits. Third, women may not get the full benefit of the vaccine if they receive it after they’ve already acquired one of the HPV types.

What about vaccinating boys?

We do not yet know if the vaccine is effective in boys or men. It is possible that vaccinating males will have health benefits for them by preventing genital warts and rare cancers, such as penile and anal cancer. It is also possible that vaccinating boys/men will have indirect health benefits for girls/women. Studies are now being done to find out if the vaccine works to prevent HPV infection and disease in males. When more information is available, this vaccine may be licensed and recommended for boys/men as well.


Are my breasts too small?

No. Every woman is different, and everyone's body develops at its own rate. Don't worry about what size is "normal".

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 non-cancerous (benign).

There's no set method of checking your breasts, but get to know what they look and feel like so you'll notice any changes. 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 (formerly called a smear test) 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 upwards every three to five years. 

What is the hymen?

The hymen is a ring of thin skin that covers part of the opening of the vagina. It does not cover the vagina completely. Every girl is born with a hymen, but it can break when using tampons, playing sport or doing other activities, including having sex.

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

No, there's no evidence the contraceptive pill causes weight gain. Some girls and women put on weight while they're taking the Pill, but so do girls and women 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, pop into Cornerhouse’s Young Persons drop-in and speak to a worker in confidence.

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.







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