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Have you ever looked in the mirror and not been happy with what you see? Do you ever think; I look fat in this, look at the state of my hair today, my boobs are too big, my penis is too small...? You are not the only person who thinks like this, so don’t panic. If you asked anyone if they were completely happy with the way they looked, the answer would probably be NO! Our brains are trained to think this way every time we look in the mirror because our society is heavily influenced by the idea of an ‘ideal’ body image. This has a lot to do with magazines, music videos, films, celebrities and the ever-expanding images that appear in our social media feeds.

We are all different, we come in different shapes and sizes and that’s what makes us all unique. Being young, our bodies change all the time, they are still developing. Your body will change and that’s a good thing, don’t be frightened as it changes, just remember everyone around you will be changing too.

Don’t let the worries of your changing body get to you; your friends and family will be happy to speak about it and your friends might even be desperate to talk about the same issues! We are all different, that’s what makes us special - it is really important to remember that when thinking about what is normal.

Puberty is the name for the time when the body starts to change and develop from a child to an adult, causing lots of different changes. Skin can become greasy and spotty, hair can start growing in places it hasn’t before and sweating and body odour may become an issue. These changes affect everyone differently and at different ages, for girls, this is mainly between the age of 9 and 16 and for boys, most changes will happen between the age of 10 and 18. As well as the physical changes, there are also likely to be emotional changes and young people may get angry, upset, worried and distant, sometimes for no particular reason. This is completely normal and is due to the changes in levels of hormones in the body. It’s always best to try and talk to young people about how they are feeling and reassure them about what’s normal.

Puberty is different for girls and boys, for more information on the different stages of puberty and what happens to girls and boys.

A period is part of a body cycle, known as a menstrual cycle, where a girl or woman bleeds from her vagina for a few days each month. Girls usually start their period between the ages of 11 and 17, although sometimes they can start earlier or later. Every month an egg is released (ovulation), this along with the lining of the womb makes its way through the vagina which makes the period. A period usually lasts between 2 to 7 days where you will have to use sanitary products (towels or tampons) to catch the blood produced.

It may be a good idea to keep a diary with a note of when you get your period, most girls get them every 4-5 weeks however some are very irregular. It is good to keep a note so you can try and work out when your next period may be due. It’s also a good idea to keep some protection with you, either towels or tampons and some clean underwear just in case your period starts when you’re not expecting it. Throughout your period the blood might look very different, it might be watery or thick, red or brown, this is all normal.

You may experience some cramping and other symptoms such as mood swings, low mood and bloating, but again this is perfectly normal and worth talking to a trusted adult about if you feel it is getting too much to handle.

Even if you have not started your period, if you’re having sex you can still get pregnant and catch sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so remember to always stay protected. To speak to specially trained staff in confidence, young people aged 20 and under can access young people drop-in clinics.

As your body changes, you might want to touch and explore it in ways that you have never thought about before.
Masturbation is the term used to describe touching or rubbing your genital area for sexual pleasure. There are different ways of masturbating. There is no correct way; you just masturbate in a way that feels good to you.

Boys often hold the penis at the shaft and move their hands up and down, others may want to rub their penis. Girls may like to like to use their fingers or rub their vagina or the area around their clitoris. The pleasurable feeling experienced when masturbating is called orgasm and is felt throughout the body.
There are many myths about masturbation:
- It does not, no matter how many times a day you masturbate, affect sex life or make you infertile
- It is natural for both genders and all ages to masturbate so don’t be scared or feel guilty, it is a great way of exploring and identifying what you like and don’t like sexually
- You can masturbate as often as you want, if you don’t want to at all, don’t feel like you have to
- The most important thing to remember is that if you do decide to masturbate, it should always be done in private. For some people, masturbation can lead to feelings of guilt or shame, particularly if there are religious or cultural taboos that tell people it is inappropriate or wrong, but it is completely normal and extremely common.

Sex and gender are two different terms that we often confuse. For most people, their gender and sex are the same but for others, they are very different.

For most living things ‘sex’ describes two main categories; male and female, according to their reproductive systems. Sex is identified at birth when a baby is born and the doctor looks between the baby’s legs at their genitals. A female will have a vagina (as well as ovaries and a womb internally) and a male will have a penis and testicles.

Gender is a socially constructed term and is often more about how masculine or feminine people act and present themselves. Gender is nothing to do with biology and reproductive organs, it is how you feel and express yourself as an individual, like the clothes you wear and the activities you take part in. Some people are born without their sex and gender matching up and the general umbrella term for this is ‘transgender’.

When individuals or groups do not “fit” their expected gender norms they often face stigma and discrimination, which can adversely affect health. It is important to be sensitive to different identities that do not just fit into binary male or female sex categories.

Your sexuality, or sexual orientation, is basically a way to describe the feelings you have for someone you fancy or are attracted to. The most common definitions are as follows:

- Heterosexual/Straight: a person physically and emotionally attracted to someone of the opposite sex, so a male attracted to a female and a female attracted to a male.
- Gay: a male physically and emotionally attracted to another male or a female physically and emotionally attracted to another female (more commonly used in males).
- Lesbian: a female physically and emotionally attracted to another female.
- Homosexual (gay/lesbian): People who are homosexual are attracted to the same sex. Homosexual men are often called gay and homosexual women are often called lesbians but can also be called gay.
- Bisexual/Bi: People who are bisexual are attracted to both males and females.
- Pansexual: People who are attracted to other people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Asexual/Ace: People who are asexual or ace don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone and feel no desire to have sex.

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