Female Development

On This Page

Puberty Schedule
Developing earlier than your classmates?
Developing later than your classmates?
A Note on Bras
Menarche: Your first Period More on Menstruation
Pressures to Grow Up
A Note to Parents on Early Development

On Other Pages

Why evolution ensures an awkward development
Masturbation
Menstrual Cycle, Your Period
PMS
Sexual Organs, Genitals
Losing your virginity
Peer Pressure

Puberty Schedule

Puberty Female (see female sex organs)
During puberty higher levels of the hormone, estrogen, induce developmental changes in the female body. Rates of development can vary widely, thus the following is only a rough outline of typical development. Many of these changes, as you will see, overlap. Some girls may begin puberty at age 7 while others won't start until they're 16. The rate and timing at which you develop also depends on your nutrition and genetic makeup. If you stray from the following schedule, don't be alarmed. Everyone develops at their own pace. Girls that begin breast development relatively late might become the most well-endowed women in class. No matter when you start, you will cover the following stages at your own pace until you've become a full-grown woman.

Schedule and race

The time at which a girl starts puberty depends partly on her race according to a recent study, which was unfortunately only done on Blacks and Caucasians...

Among Caucasians...

15% showed signs of puberty by age 8
5% showed signs by 7

Among African Americans

Almost 50% show signs by age 8
15% show signs by age 7

We apologize for being unable to provide other minority specific information.

Before puberty a girl starts with...

No pubic hair
A flat chest

Her inner vaginal lips are scarcely visible.
Her outer vaginal lips are relatively small.

Ages 10 to 11 (possibly as early as 7)

The pituitary gland in the head releases hormones that cause the ovaries to produce estrogen. This causes some immature eggs in the ovaries to ripen, one of which forms a follicle, a small gland inside an ovary, that produces even more estrogen. Increased levels of estrogen cause the following...

Enlargement of the nipples and areola
(the pigmented area around nipple). Fat tissue and milk glands develop under the skin around the nipples forming small mounds called breast buds. As your breasts develop, they may feel somewhat tender or sore. The breasts become fully develop around four years after the breast buds form. However, it could take them anywhere from 6 months to 6 years to develop fully.

About 2 years after areola enlargement, testosterone in your body will cause pubic hair to have grown.
Clear or milky vaginal secretions will increase. These secretions clean the inner walls of the vagina. Tiny glands in the inner and outer lips will produce secretions, changing the way the vulva smells. Never use a vaginal deodorant or douche bag, both of which will irritate the sensitive tissue of your vulva. Instead, simply wash with soap and water during a bath or shower to avoid unpleasant body odors. A healthy vagina is essentially self-cleaning. If your vaginal discharge changes color, causes irritation, or develops a foul odor, visit a physician, to determine if you have a vaginal infection.

As the breasts develop they will become almost cone-shaped. The nipples and areola will darken. The areola may form a secondary mound or bump on the breast. Many girls will develop nipples that sink into the areola. This is perfectly normal. Once fully mature the nipples may or may not stick out. Everyone's breasts grow at their own pace, and develop their own shape according to a woman's nutrition and genetic makeup. With all the padded push-up bras and boob jobs existing today, it's easy to get the wrong impression as to what a normal breast size is. We usually assume it's larger than it actually is. Most of the breasts you'll see on television are larger than average. Some women develop very large areolas while those of others are very small. It's very common for a woman's two breasts to develop at different rates making one much larger than the other during puberty. Once fully grown they will develop to approximately the same size. However, most adult women have one breast slightly larger than the other. Most of the supposedly perfectly symmetrical breasts you see on models and actors in Hollywood are illusions made possible by the magic of padding to make them appear equal in size. If you are self-conscious about the shape of your breasts, don't worry. They will grow to be beautifully mature breasts, and you can count on the fact that your future mate will love breasts no matter what size, shape or form they come in.

A Note on Bras

Once your breasts have grown large enough to make you uncomfortable, you'll want to consider using a bra to cover and support them. There are a number of reasons to wear a bra: you want to limit their movement during dancing or exercise. You like the round shape they give your breasts. They're sensitive to rubbing. Or you don't want your nipples to stick through your shirt. Those girls with larger breasts should use a bra. If they don't, the lack of support with time could stretch the ligaments that support the breast and cause them to sag. Talk to your mother or a salesperson in the underwear section of a store to help you pick out a bra that fits you well. A bra that has worked for one woman for years may not be as comfortable on you. Try several different styles and a couple different sizes before settling for one. If your breasts grow fairly large, you may experience some fatigue or backache. Find a good supportive comfortable bra that doesn't dig into your skin. It may take a little while for your muscles to develop in order to support your breasts. You can strengthen your back using certain exercises (see "back owners manual"). Don't jump into breast reduction surgery. Wait to see how the rest of your body develops.

Menarche: Your first Period

Once you turn 11, you weigh around 100 pounds, and your breasts are fairly well developed, it's time to prepare for menarche (your first menstruation).

Menarche occurs on average just before age 13. Although it can occur anywhere from age 9 to 14. According to the same previously mentioned study, Caucasians experience menarche on average at the age of 12 years and 9 months. Blacks experience menarche on average at the age of 12 years and 3 months. Once again we apologize for not being able to provide other minority specific information. Early and late starters tend to run in families. However, whatever the family pattern is, periods are unlikely to occur until you've attained a bodyweight of about 100 pounds and a 17% body fat. If you don't have your first period by 16, you should consult a physician.

Here's how it happens...
One of your eggs will have grown into a follicle producing 2/3 of your body's supply of estrogen. This high supply of estrogen will have caused your uterine lining to thicken. The follicle may protrude from the surface of the ovary and rupture, releasing an egg into the fallopian tube (a process called ovulation). Or the egg may never leave the follicle. For your follicle to continue growing at its accelerated pace, it needs a constant supply of follicle-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland in your head. Once the level of estrogen in the blood reaches a certain point, the production of follicle-stimulating hormone will be turned off. As a result, the follicle will deteriorate. This will cause your estrogen levels to plummet. Without high levels of estrogen your uterine wall will stop thickening. Blood vessels in the uterine wall will be cut off, and a layer of uterine lining will shed. A small amount of blood, uterine lining tissue and mucous will flow out your uterus and through your vagina to the outside of your body. This will be your menarche (first menstruation or first menstrual period). Your period will last for 3 to 7 days. The amount of flow will vary within that period. Once menstruation begins you will notice monthly changes in the consistency of your vaginal discharges. At first your menstrual flow may be brown in color. As your periods become more regular the flow will become more of a bright red. During your first few periods, you will probably experience a very small amount of blood loss. As an adult, your period will produce about 3 tablespoons of blood. Although 1 teaspoon to a 1/2 cup is also normal.

Your first period will be unexpected. You might want to keep an extra pair of underwear and some pads in your locker at school or in your purse in case it happens away from home.

Contrary to what you might hear, having your first period does not require you to act like a full-grown woman. You are still free to act exactly how you feel comfortable. There is no hurry to grow up. A girl becomes a woman gradually, through lessons, experiences, emotional growth, and the pursuit to define herself as an individual. Don't feel like you need to grow up in a hurry. Take your time to adapt to your changing body.

More on Menstruation

Initially menstruation is irregular. It could happen a few weeks apart or a few months apart. During this time, you are probably not yet ovulating or are not producing the monthly hormonal levels required for regular menstruation to occur. If you don't have your second period for another 6 months, consult a physician. It takes around 1 or 2 years after menarche to acquire a normal schedule, usually by age 16 or 17. At that point many eggs will ripen each month. Usually one or occasionally two or more, ripen fully in any given month. When an egg has ripened fully, ovulation occurs, during which the ovary ruptures releasing the egg into the opening of the fallopian tube. Usually one egg is released from one ovary per month. The ovary involved in ovulation alternates month to month. The other eggs, which fail to mature fully, are reabsorbed into the body. After traveling through the fallopian tube and failing to be fertilized, the uterine lining is shed and you begin your period. This will occur about once every 28 days unless you become pregnant or until menopause, which occurs in the late 40's or 50's, when the egg supply runs out. However, some women never actually acquire a normal schedule. (see uterus and the menstrual cycle for more detail)

Once you begin ovulating you are physically able to become pregnant from sexual intercourse. Technically, this could possibly occur just before your first menstruation.

If your period does become regular, you will have an easier time predicting when it will occur, and will be able to prepare yourself with a pad or tampon. Marking the day your period starts on a calendar can be helpful. You can use a tampon before you ever have sexual intercourse. The vagina and its opening are somewhat stretchable. You might try starting with a small thin size tampon. Some brands offer junior sizes. You may find insertion a little difficult until you get used to it. Replace the tampon every 4 to 6 hours, and more frequently during the heaviest flow. Don't forget to take the last one out when your period has completed. If you find tampons uncomfortable, use a pad. If you're using a tampon, you can still go swimming during your period.

Early in your life, once your period starts, you may experience headaches, irritability, menstrual cramps, sweating, nausea or backache. A warm bath and ibuprofen may help. Girls usually outgrow this type of discomfort.

Estrogen keeps sebum production down. Sebum is a substance secreted by your sweat glands. Once estrogen levels plummet as they do just before your period, larger quantities of sebum are produced. This can plug your pores, causing pimples to form. Thus, acne can be common just before your period, while you go through puberty.

Ages 10 to 11 continued

The growth spurt begins. The growth plates in your bones will begin to grow rapidly starting with the bones at your hands and feet, followed by the lower arm and leg bones, then the upper arm and leg bones, then the hips and shoulders, finally the entire trunk and chest. This is the same order in which a dog's bones grow, and is the reason puppies can have huge awkward feet. You might feel a little awkward as well during this time because of the goofy order at which your body grows. Because you grow so fast your brain needs time to adapt to its new skeleton. Until it can do this you might lack some coordination.

Ages 11 to 12 (possibly as early as 8 or as late as 16)

The vulva will appear to change. The outer lips will become plumper, while the inner lips become fleshier and more moist. The vaginal opening will become longer and wider and the clitoris will enlarge.

Courser curlier and possibly darker pubic hair begins to develop along the edge of the outer vaginal lips and/or on the mons. Your pubic hair will continue to grow over the next couple years acquiring a curlier, darker appearance.

Approximately 1 year after menarche
Regular ovulation begins

12 to 13

Within the next 2 years or so, you'll experience your fastest period of growth, as much as 3 inches per year. You will already have a head start on boys. They don't begin a growth spurt until ages 11 or 12. As a result you will probably be looking down on many boys in your class. If this makes you feel self-conscious, don't worry. They will quickly catch up with you, and the faster rate at which they will grow will render them even more awkward or uncoordinated than you might feel now.

Your pubic hair will continue to grow and become coarser forming a dense coat.

Age 14

Your growth spurt will slow down, allowing boys to catch up with you over the next few years. At the end of your growth spurt, you will have developed a larger skeleton, more muscle and a storage of fat around your hips and within your breasts, resulting in a more womanly appearance.

The breasts are usually fully mature by age 18. When fully mature, the secondary mound underneath your areola will have blended in with the surrounding rounded breast shape. The nipples will project outward. Your milk glands and ducts would have fully developed. (They won't start producing milk until you've had a baby.)

Once fully mature, vulvas vary greatly in appearance, especially the inner and outer lips, and may not closely resemble a typical textbook illustration. The inner and outer lips of the vulva will have become fleshy. They may have considerably changed in color, becoming darker or rosier. The inner lips may be contained within the outer lips or they may extend beyond the outer lips. One side of the lips may extend further than the other side.

Your pubic hair will complete its growth covering the mons, outer lips and extending over the edges of the thighs. You'll probably want to remove the hair that would be exposed when wearing a swimsuit to avoid embarrassment. Consult your mother, a beautician or another close woman friend for advice on what to use. Plucking can be tedious and painful. Shaving can work, but it might leave your skin irritated and rough as the hairs grow back. (See feminine shaving) A commercial depilatory (hair removing cream) intended for this part of the body can work well. Hot or cold waxing at home or at the beauty salon can also work well.

Developing earlier than your classmates?

Early development can be a source of embarrassment for girls. It can also make others assume they are older than they really are. This makes it more likely for them to be subjected to adult pressures before they've developed the tools to deal with them. Boys are attracted to early developing girls. As a result early developing girls can be exposed to sexual harassment, sexually transmitted disease, and for those who start menstruating early, pregnancy. Some girls ovulate before their first period so it is actually possible for a girl to become pregnant before her first menstruation. Remember, while your body has started developing early, your mind, emotions, and psychological development does not have to occur any faster than that of your classmates. Don't sweat it. If you're between 6 and 8 and you're developing breasts or pubic hair, you are still a normal person and should go on living like a 6 to 8 year old. If you are older than this and are developing breasts and pubic hair, you are not even considered to be early. Breast reduction is not the answer. The rest of your body will catch up if your breasts are proportionately large. What seems large now will seem just right by the time you're fully-grown.

Developing later than your classmates?

Late development can also be a source of embarrassment for girls. It can make them very self-conscious about their body, and thus have effects on their self-esteem. Remember, everyone develops at their own pace. If you haven't had a period by the time you're 16, consult a physician. Otherwise, sit back, live healthy and let nature take its course. Breast enlargement is not the answer. Everyone develops at her own natural pace. Even though you may have relatively small breasts now, you could be scheduled to grow magnificent breasts in your late teens. Have patience. If you interfere with your body's natural schedule you'll not only be violating your own body, but you could have serious complications.

Pressures to Grow Up

Academic pressure, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure and sexually explicit media are all forcing you to grow up faster than you have to. You don't have to live up to the standards of the hottest current pop star. Once a celebrity returns to her dressing room, removes her makeup, fancy clothes, and escapes all the backup dancers and sexually explicit imagery, she is a normal teen, just like you. In fact she may be missing out on her youth. Many girls spend their early years wishing they were old enough to attract older boys, then old enough to drive, then old enough to drink. Then they spend the rest of their life wishing they were kids again. This is sad. Every age has its own wonderful perks. When you're young, you are figuring out who you are and what makes you unique. You are building your independence, and strength under the financial and supportive "umbrella" provided by your parent(s) or guardian(s). You are learning to make better decisions for yourself and learning what path you want to walk. If you act older than you are, leave your strengthening group of girl friends, and hook up with some guy before you've learned to live on your own, then you are guaranteeing that you will always be dependent on someone else. If you're trying to display your independence from your parents, it won't help to acquire a new dependence on a guy. Remember, becoming a woman involves much more than your first menstruation. It requires physical, emotional, and mental development and experience. This is a good thing. It means you don't have to feel pressured to act older than you are. Girls are not fully-grown physically until they are in their mid-teens. Mental growth continues indefinitely throughout life. So don't feel pressured to rush it. Despite all the messages from movies and magazines and despite the highly sexualized clothing some of your classmates might wear, you can develop at your own pace. You can take as much time as you need, to gain confidence in yourself. Take part in sports with other girls to gain strength of body and character. Investigate the world around you and the many options it holds for you. Take as much time as you need to discover who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to get there. It's your life so remain in control of it.

For Parents: Early development

If you're daughter is between 6 and 8 years old and is developing breasts or pubic hair, they should still be considered normal and should go on living like a 6 to 8 year old. If your child is 3 to 5 years old and is developing breasts or pubic hair, consult a physician.

Open, relaxed and comfortable communication is the most important thing you can do for your child during puberty. A child who is not comfortable talking to adults will act according to whatever is suggested by her biological impulses, her peers or the media and culture around her. Young girls want their mothers to be their main source of information about puberty. They appreciate a mother's stories of her own experiences. You can help your child by opening discussions from an early age and making them fun and pleasant. Do not tell your child she is a woman because she is menstruating. A 10 year old who's wearing a bra and a maxi pad needs to know she is still a child, or else she might be unfairly shoved into adult specific pressures that she is not psychologically prepared for, and might be forced to miss out on crucial developmental stages.

Even if she thinks of herself as a child, her appearance can attract adult type pressures. So be aware that boys will be attracted to her and might assume she's older, and thus might make passes at her before she's ready to deal with them. Supply her with clothing, books, and music appropriate for her age in years, not the age she resembles physically. Encourage time spent with the family (immediate and extended), where peer pressure to act sophisticated isn't a problem and where people value her for who she is, instead of how sexy or popular she is.

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