Your Body

Young Women

Don’t believe the hype

Sometimes when you look at magazines (and TV, films, games and adverts for that matter), it can seem like there’s always a ‘perfect’ woman looking back at you. It can be difficult feeling confident about yourself and your relationships when you’re faced with images of slim, tanned, 'sexy' women – who always seem to have equally gorgeous fans or guys on hand to admire them. But none of this is reality. Many images around us have been digitally altered  ('photo shopped') to make them look more 'attractive'.

It’s also not true that young women (or young men) need to dress or act in a certain way. Some people really enjoy make-up and dressing up. Some enjoy sports, some cooking, some like reading and some like going out dancing. There is no ‘right way’ to be -
you have the right to be your own special, unique self!

Keeping it real

Real life is about real people – we come in all different shapes and sizes, and we like different things. We all deserve to feel good. Real life is about learning to enjoy our own bodies and developing confidence and self-esteem (see Feeling confident).  It's also about respect for ourselves and other people – even when they are different from us, or like different things. See relationships for lots of advice on feeling good about yourself and your relationships. 

It's not just magazines and other media that are unrealistic. Mobile technology means it is easy to access pornography online, and this often portrays women with unrealistic body shapes who seem to exist just as sexual objects.

Quite often their bodies have undergone excessive surgery to look like that. They may even have been pressured, hurt or felt degraded in taking part in a pornographic film.

Pornography can distort the way we see bodies and sex, and build up unrealistic expectations in both young women and young men about how their bodies should look, and how sex should be, so it's not helpful to use it as a 'guide' to how you should look, or how you should have sex.

Is everybody doing it?

In Scotland, most girls don’t start having sex until they’re 16 or older.

Sometimes it can seem that there is lots of talk about having sex and you might feel that everyone is doing it – but they’re not. In Scotland, most young women don’t start having sex until they’re 16 or older. The reality is that many young women who have sex before they’re ready regret it afterwards, so it’s worth sticking by your own feelings.

If you’re thinking about having sex, see ‘Am I ready for sex?’ for more information – the ‘right time’ to be having sex is when you feel ready and have all the information you need to stay safe.

And just because you've had sex once, it doesn't mean you have to keep having it - especially if it did not feel right.

What do you want?

It can be tough at times. There can be a lot of pressure, even from your mates, to behave a certain way, to get yourself a boyfriend (even if you fancy girls), or to lose your virginity. It can be hard making choices that are actually your own. But it can help to talk to someone about sex, sexual health and relationships. Healthy Respect drop-ins can offer you free, confidential advice about any health issue, but particularly sexual health, whether you’re having sex or not.

What Does Puberty Mean For young women?

Puberty is the word used to describe all the changes that begin happening to your body from the age of about 10. For more information on puberty starting visit

Get the lowdown.

What’s normal?

Puberty can start earlier or later than this (between 8 and 16), and it usually starts a bit later in young men than in young women. It is different for everyone, and there is no ‘right time’ when this should happen to you. Don’t worry if your body is changing slower or faster than your friends. But if you’re feeling concerned, or you have no signs of puberty by 15 and would like to talk to someone, talk to a parent, carer or other trusted adult, or visit a young person friendly service or call one of the helplines.

Changes to our bodies

The changes that go on turn girls into young women. During puberty, the body usually begins to change shape - you’ll grow taller, and your hips and breasts will start to get bigger. The body starts to sweat more. You may get spots as your skin gets more oily, and hair will grow in your armpits and around your vulva (another name for genitals). You can also feel very tired, and hungrier than usual, as your body is using up energy to help your growth and development.


It is different for everyone, and there is no ‘right time’ for your periods to start.
For young women, changes happen inside the body too – and your period (menstrual cycle) starts. From this point on, if you have unprotected sexual intercourse (sex without a condom or contraception), you can become pregnant. A tiny egg is released from the ovaries, and the lining in the uterus becomes thick and soft. If the egg isn’t fertilised by sperm from a man, then the lining passes out of the body through the vagina. This is sometimes called menstruation, and happens roughly once a month for about three to seven days. You can use towels or tampons during your period, it’s your choice. Change them as often as you need to so that you feel comfortable, and at least every few hours.
A whitish coloured discharge from the vagina is normal. It might change slightly in texture and colour during the cycle of your period, but this is perfectly normal. It’s just your body’s way of keeping the vagina moist and clean.

Sexual feelings and masturbation

Sexual feelings can get stronger during puberty, and you may feel strong crushes on people of any gender. It’s totally normal to feel aroused (sexually excited) more often, and you might feel like masturbating (touching or stroking your clitoris - the part of your vulva most sensitive to touch). There are quite a few myths about masturbation being harmful, but none of them are true. In fact, masturbation may even be good for your health, as it can be way to get rid of stress. It might also help reduce the stomach-cramping you get with your period. It can also be a way to find out about sexual feelings, your body, and what feels good.

Emotional changes

It’s not just physical changes that take place during puberty - you might also get more moody. Do you ever get the feeling that you don't want to talk to anyone, or that people at home or school are really annoying you without having to do anything? You might feel really angry, or sad, or may just want to hide away? Both the changes to your body and emotional changes are caused by hormones (chemical messengers) in the blood. So, if you are finding it hard to get on with people at the moment, it could be the hormones.
It can be hard for other people to know how to treat you when you are going through puberty, so try to help them understand what you are going through if you can.

Want more info?

If you need more information about puberty, or are feeling anxious about something, see our address book  for drop-ins and other organisations that can help. You could also have a look online - Get the Lowdown has lots of information - or talk to an adult you trust.