HomeBiological aspects of sexualityAnatomy & developmentAt puberty girls develop a child-bearing capacity

At puberty girls develop a child-bearing capacity

From a young age, most girls demonstrate a more passive and timid personality than most boys. Girls often focus on social activities rather than physically active play. This gender difference is apparent before puberty. Women need to deal with men who can be ruthlessly aggressive. Women have evolved a survival strategy of being more passive and cooperative. Men tend to disrespect this female amenability, which is considered a weakness in men. To be motivated to care for children, women need certain characteristics. Foremost, they need to be less driven than men are about following their own pursuits. Secondly, they need to enjoy nurturing others.

At puberty a girl’s body starts producing oestrogen and progesterone, which cause physical changes and often have an impact on emotional responses including depression. Oestrogen causes the breasts to grow. In girls the appearance of the breast bud is the first sign of puberty, though the appearance of pubic hair precedes it in about one-third. Growth of pubic hair begins at 12.3 years of age on average. The uterus and vagina both develop simultaneously with the breasts. The labia and clitoris also enlarge. The fallopian tubes also develop. At the same time, the way the body stores fat changes, which makes a woman’s waist, hips and buttocks more curvy.

Female adolescence focuses on the development of reproductive function rather than responsiveness. The age of first menstruation ranges from 9 to 25 years. The median girl’s periods start at 13. The early cycles are irregular and do not include ovulation. A period lasts around 5 days each month and involves losing the cell lining of the womb (more like gelatinous clots than liquid blood) that builds up each month in preparation for pregnancy. Regular ovulation does not begin until sixteen to eighteen years of age. After puberty, oestrogen and progesterone control the menstrual cycle including ovulation and periods. A girl’s growth is complete by 15.8 years old.

Most women ovulate anywhere between Day 11 and Day 21 of their cycle, counting from the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP). Women use sanitary pads or tampons to absorb the blood. Some women spend days in bed with stomach cramps and have pre-menstrual tension (PMT), which can make them bad-tempered. Other women experience no period pains at all. Tampons have lessened women’s self-consciousness over menstruating.

A woman has a life-time supply of eggs within her body from the day she is born. After puberty, a woman ovulates automatically (without conscious awareness). One mature egg is released from an ovary each month. After the egg is released, it moves down into the fallopian tube where it stays for about 24 hours. A woman can conceive (if sperm are present from a recent ejaculation) during that time. If the egg is not fertilized during that time, the egg disintegrates and menstruation (blood flow) begins 2 weeks later. A woman can be impregnated any time she has intercourse. A man only needs to ejaculate into her vagina (or close to it). Sperm can sometimes enter the vagina if a man ejaculates just outside. To know the days when she is fertile, a woman needs to keep a temperature chart. Few women do this and so they tend to assume that they may conceive any time after their period ends.

The opening to the vagina lies between the urethra and the anus. A woman should wash (with soap) the pubic hair either side of her labia majora (outer lips or skin folds). As a woman ages, the skin either side of her labia majora becomes wrinkly and slightly baggy, very similar to the skin of the scrotum (the equivalent male anatomy). There is no need to clean inside the more delicate labia minora (inner lips). A man’s anus is isolated to the rear but a woman’s is close to her vaginal opening. Many women think genitals are dirty. They will not touch their genitals even in the shower. So they never insert a finger into their vagina. There is nothing inherently unclean about the vagina. A man urinates from the end of his penis, which allows him to direct the urine stream away from his body. A woman likes having soft toilet paper even for urinating because when she urinates, her public hair gets wet.

Female anatomy is more susceptible to infection than the male because of the proximity of the orifices: urethra, vagina and anus. A woman should wash between her buttocks and anus separately by reaching her hand down behind. She can insert a finger into the vagina to check for discharge. Some of these are healthy while others arise from infections such as thrush. These discharges can mark underwear, which women tend to find embarrassing. A woman considers her monthly period to be an unhygienic and distasteful body function that is often associated with unpleasant smells. She hides any view of her menstrual blood flow from others, including her lover, because she considers the whole process to be very unattractive. For this reason, women are appalled by some men’s fascination with women’s underwear.

A boy has experience of arousal well before he comes to his first sexual encounter. Most boys also know the pleasures of orgasm and ejaculation. But a girl has none of these experiences. Very few girls masturbate. Those who do, are unaware that the artificial mechanism they use when alone (surreal fantasies) does not work with a lover. If women were aroused with a lover, they would also be aroused by images of nudity as men are. There are no real-world erotic stimuli that cause female arousal, which is largely a subconscious phenomenon. So women identify sexual activity with negative phenomenon such as ugly genitals and smelly discharges. This contrasts with the much more positive male experience based on their erotic arousal.

… the capacity to reproduce is not synonymous with the capacity to be aroused erotically and to respond to the point of orgasm … (Alfred Kinsey)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)