FAQs by Teens

Body Changes

Why do bodies change as children get older?
The bodies of boys and girls change as they get older.  About the time they become a teenager, the special chemicals in the body called hormones cause the changes to happen.   When a boy grows older, his voice gets lower, his penis and testicles grow larger and he gets more hair on his body. When a girl grows older, she grows breasts, her hips grow rounder, and she gets more hair on her body.  All of these changes are part of the normal development of the human body.

Why are my breasts bigger/smaller than all my friends’ breasts?  OR Why is my penis larger/smaller than my friends’ penises?
Just like feet and ears and all other body parts, breasts (or penises) are different sizes and shapes on different people.  Sometimes body size is related to family traits but sometimes it is just you developing into your own unique self!  Some teens are comforted to know that teenagers develop at different rates – some early in adolescence, some later.  Most girls reach full development by age 16; boys by age 18.

Menstrual Cycle (Periods)

Why do girls have periods?
A girl’s period or menstrual cycle is her body’s way of preparing for pregnancy. Once she gets her period, it means that she is physically able to become pregnant and have a baby – even if she doesn’t necessarily feel ready!  Periods happen as a result of hormones released from a gland at the base of the brain called the pituitary gland. These hormones cause an egg to be released. At the same time, the lining of the uterus (or womb) is becoming thicker – like a soft and spongy bed, ready for the egg.  If the egg does not get fertilized, the uterus lining starts to break down. The blood and tissue from this lining comes out through the vagina over the course of a few days – this is the period.

Which is better to use – pads or tampons?
This is a personal choice and often depends on the comfort level a girl has with her own body and her activity.  Many girls start out using pads, but might want to use tampons when they do sports or go swimming. You’ll want to talk to your mom or another woman you trust when you are trying to decide which is right for you.

How old are most girls when they start their period?
The average age for a girl to have her first period is 12 -13 years.  However anytime between 9 – 16 years is considered normal.

I’m 14 and haven’t had my period?  Is this OK?
A girl’s period, also known as menstruation, begins about 2 to 2½ years after her first signs of puberty (breast development is usually the first sign of puberty, but sometimes pubic hair comes first). Many girls start their periods around 12 or 13 years.  However, some girls start puberty a little earlier or later than others.

You can ask your mom how old she was when she got her first period. Girls who get their first period later than average often find that their moms or other female relatives also went through puberty later than average.

Just because you’re 14 and haven’t gotten your period yet doesn’t necessarily mean that anything’s wrong with you. Some girls, though, might not be getting their first periods for other reasons like stress, certain illnesses, hormone imbalances or excessive exercise.  If you have questions or concerns about when you’ll get your period, talk to your doctor. And let your doctor know if you don’t get your period by the time you’re 15, or by 3 years after you started puberty.

What causes cramps?
Lots of girls have abdominal cramps during the first few days of their periods. Cramps are most likely caused by the tightening and relaxing of muscles around the uterus.  The good news is that cramps usually only last a few days. Cramps can be treated by soaking in a warm bath, putting a hot water bottle on your stomach, exercising, or taking a medicine like ibuprofen.  If you have severe cramps that keep you from your regular activities, check with your doctor.

Is something wrong if I had one period and now haven’t had one for another couple of months?
It’s not unusual, especially in the first 2 years after first starting to have periods, to skip periods or to have an irregular menstrual cycle. Illness, rapid weight change, or stress can also make things more unpredictable because the part of the brain that regulates periods is influenced by events like these.   Many girls get regular periods most of the time, but occasionally skip a period or get an extra period during times of pressure or stress. Usually irregular periods are part of the normal changes that can happen when you’re a teen. As you get older, your cycle will probably become more regular. If you are concerned, it is always OK to talk to your doctor.

Sexual Activity

What’s the right age to have sex?
This is a tough question because the answer is based on each person’s own values and beliefs.  Some people believe that sex only belongs in a long-term, monogamous relationship – no matter what the age of the partners.  Other people believe the decision should be based on the  educational, emotional or financial status of the people and their ability to care for a baby if a pregnancy occurs.   Communication is so important.  Talk about this with your partner and also with your parent or other caring adults in your life.

What should I do if my boyfriend/girlfriend asks me to do “it”?
The decision to do “it” is YOUR decision.  This is true for any intimate contact from holding hands to sexual intercourse.  Consider your personal values, talk with a family member or trusted adult, think about the consequences and be prepared to clearly communicate your decision to your partner.  Saying “no” is always OK – even if he/she buys you dinner, says he loves you, threatens to break up with you, makes you cookies, etc. etc.  Sex is not the way to prove you love someone; often NOT having sex is the best way to show love and respect for your partner and his/her future goals and health.

Is it true that a girl can get pregnant if she hasn’t ever started her period?
Yes, a girl can get pregnant before she gets her first period.  Getting pregnant is related to ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary).  Because a girl can ovulate before having her first period, it is possible to become pregnant.  And pregnancy isn’t the only concern about having sex — any time a girl has sex, especially unprotected sex, she runs the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

My boyfriend is older than me. Can we get in trouble?
Young women go with older guys for a variety of reasons including thinking it is cool, wanting to be popular, wanting a more mature guy, or looking for love. Older guys may be more experienced, more mature, and able to drive, but they also have more expectations. That means more pressure about a lot of things, including sex. In fact, girls who date older guys are much more likely to have unintended pregnancies than those who date guys their own age. Even if someone tries to put the pressure on, you should only do what you’re comfortable with. Whether they are the same age or older than you, no means no.

If you and your boyfriend are sexually active, be aware that every state in the USA has laws which dictate at what age a person can legally consent to sex, called “age of consent” laws. If a person has sex with someone who is below the age of consent, they can be in legal trouble.  This applies to older women as well as older men.

Is it possible to masturbate too much?
Medically speaking, masturbation is perfectly normal for males and females.  The only time masturbation becomes too much is when in interferes with things like school, family, friends or work.  Some people masturbate once a day or only once in a while and some people don’t masturbate at all.  Everyone is different.

Is there a safe time of the month to have sex and not get pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
No, it is possible to get pregnant at anytime in a women’s monthly menstrual cycle.

There are certain times during the month that you are more likely to get pregnant, but it is possible to get pregnant at any time. It’s even possible during your period.  Abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy. It is also possible to get an STD at any time.   You can reduce the risk of pregnancy by using birth control and condoms.

I think I might be pregnant.  What should I do?
For your own health and the health of your unborn baby, it is important to confirm the pregnancy and involve adults in the situation.  As scary as that may sound, adults can help you get the care you AND the baby need. For suggestions on how to talk with your family, check out this article at kidshealth.org.

My friend was forced to have sex.  How do I help her?
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault and it’s not her fault.  You are not alone.  Encourage your friend to talk to someone who understands what she is going through.  Help is just a call or click away at RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.


Birth Control

What is abstinence?
To abstain means to “choose not to do”.   In terms of sex, abstinence means to choose not to have sex.  Sexual abstinence can mean different things to different people so it is important to be clear with a romantic partner about what abstinence means to you. Abstaining from all sexual activity including oral, vaginal and anal sex is the only 100% way to avoid pregnancy and STDs.

If I’m on the pill, is it necessary to use a condom too?
Using a condom in addition to birth control like the pill or another hormonal method is a wise decision.  The condom serves as extra protection in case the primary method fails (pill is forgotten, shot isn’t given on time) and can help reduce the possibility of pregnancy.   Just as importantly, a condom is the only birth control method that also helps reduce the risk of STD transmission.  While polyurethane condoms are available for people who are sensitive to latex, a latex condom remains the best choice for safer sex.

 Does birth control work all the time?
Abstinence is the only birth control method that works all of the time.  Some of the other methods like the birth control pill, shot, and implant have high success rates but a slight risk of pregnancy is still possible.

Can I get pregnant if he pulls out?
Yes, you can still get pregnant.  Before a man ejaculates (cums) there is a certain amount of pre-ejaculate (pre-cum) that comes out of his penis when he is sexually excited.   That pre-ejaculate may contain a small amount of sperm which could cause pregnancy.  Pulling out can also be risky because it requires a lot of self control, experience and trust which might be difficult for teens or for those just beginning to have sex.


What are STDs and how do you get them?
Sexually transmitted diseases are diseases which are transmitted from person to person through sexual contact such as oral, vaginal and anal sex.  Some STDs can be also be transmitted through intimate touching with an infected person.

What kind of people get STDs?
Anyone can get an STD.  STDs do not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity, education level or anything else.  It is what a person DOES, not who they are that puts him/her at risk for STDs.

Can STDs be cured?
Some STDs can be cured, but some STDs cannot and lead to lifelong challenges and, in the case of HIV, even death.

How do I avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
The best way to avoid an STD is to abstain from sex (not have sex).  This includes oral, anal, and vaginal sex.  If you are sexually active, using a condom will reduce your risk of STDs.  However, because condoms do not work 100% of the time and some STDs are spread through skin-to-skin contact, transmission is still possible with a condom.

How do I know if I have a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
The only way to know for sure if you have an STD is to be medically tested.  Oral, anal, and vaginal sex all put you at risk for STDs and many people who have STDs do not have symptoms.  A person who does show symptoms might notice:

  • sores, bumps, or blisters near the mouth, rectum or sex organs
  • burning or pain when urinating (peeing)
  • discharge (fluid) from the penis or vagina
  • itching around the sex organs
  • flu-like feelings with fever and chills
  • women may have bleeding in between her regular period

If you have any of these symptoms, stop having sex and see a health care professional.  Having sex may put your partner at risk of infection.

When should I get tested for a STD?
If you are sexually active, you should be tested at least once a year. You should also be tested each time you switch partners. An STD will not go away without treatment. Getting tested allows you to know your status and treat any infections you do have. It will keep you and your partner healthy. Go to an STD clinic or your health care provider to be tested.