MyHealth.Alberta.ca Network

Student FAQs

We have included a list of common questions from students in Elementary, Junior High and High School, to help you prepare responses to questions you may receive during class or from the question box. The responses provided are just a starting point and your response may change depending on your student and individual school policies.

A yeast infection is a common infection caused by a type of fungus called Candida albicans. Yeast infections usually happen in warm, moist parts of the body, like the mouth or vagina. We all have this fungus in our bodies, but it’s usually kept in balance. Things like taking antibiotics, using scented pads or tampons, wearing clothing that’s too tight or not breathable can change this balance and make yeast infections more likely.

Treating a yeast infection is simple, but it’s still important to visit a health care provider for the right diagnosis, since other infections can cause similar symptoms that need a different treatment. If you do have a yeast infection, your doctor will probably prescribe a pill to swallow or a cream, tablet or suppository to put in the vagina.

Like most parts of the body, breasts can be sore from time to time, especially if they’re pushed. One of the most common times that breasts might feel sore is when they’re beginning to develop.

You might first notice a small button-like lump beneath the nipple area (called a breast bud). The breast buds and nipples may be a little tender during puberty. It’s also common for the breasts to be sore or tender during menstruation.

Breasts start developing at different ages, and continue developing at different rates. Breasts may start growing anytime between age 8 and 16, and it could happen even earlier or later than this. Starting earlier or later does not have anything to do with how quickly breasts will develop, or what size they will eventually become.

Hair, no matter where it is on the body, helps to protect our bodies and regulate our body temperature.

Almost half of all males will have a temporary swelling of the breasts during puberty because of hormones. This swelling goes away over time. If you’re worried about this, talk to a health care provider.

The sweat glands make more sweat when puberty starts, which means you sweat. When the sweat mixes with the bacteria on the skin, you get a body odour. You can cut down on the smell by keeping your skin clean by taking a bath or shower every day. If you don’t shower or bathe every day, at least wash your feet, neck/ears, armpits and groin area every day. It also helps to wear clean clothes and underwear every day. Some people find that wearing deodorant helps.

Puberty is when the body begins to develop and move into adulthood. Once puberty starts, the pituitary gland releases hormones that cause physical changes. You will notice things like that you’ll grow taller, you will start to fill out, you may get acne and you may sweat more. Females will notice that their breasts start to develop and they start menstruating. Males will notice that their voice changes. There are also social and emotional changes in puberty, like being more interested in what your friends think, and becoming better at handling emotions.

The pubic hair may be one of the first signs you see that puberty is starting. Pubic hair appears at different times and grows at different rates for everyone. It also changes in both quantity and texture as puberty progresses. Most people begin puberty around ages 8-15.

Almost all the parts of the body have hair, but some hair (like on the head or eyebrows) is more noticeable, while some hair is so small (like on your cheeks) it can be very hard to see. Hair in different places has different functions. The colour of hair is determined by how much melanin the hair has. Different parts of the body make hair with more or less melanin. The eyebrows are usually the darkest coloured hair on your body.

During puberty, hormones cause the voice box (larynx) to grow larger and and make the vocal cords thicker. While this is happening, some people may notice their voice sounds like it’s cracking or jumping between high and low sounds. It often happens with no warning.

It can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year for the voice to finish changing. While the female voice also changes, you usually notice it more in males.

Females tend to go through puberty earlier than males. This means that females often have a growth spurt earlier than males. By the end of high school, most people have stopped growing taller. Everyone is different, which is why there are people of all different heights.

Acne (pimples and zits) are normal, especially during puberty. This is because the skin makes more oil, blocking the pores in the skin with oil and dirt. Washing every day with mild soap and water is a good way to take care of your skin. Some people can have bad acne and need to use special creams or medicine. Talk to an adult, parent or health care provider you trust if you’re worried.

Yes, deodorant is safe to use. The Canadian Cancer Society has never found proof that deodorant or antiperspirants increase the risk of cancer. Using deodorant or an antiperspirant is a personal choice.

Breasts may start growing anytime between ages 8 and 16. Some females start earlier or some later. Starting earlier or later doesn’t have anything to do with how fasts the breasts will grow, or what size they’ll be.

One of the first signs that the breasts are starting to develop is a small, tender bump behind each nipple called a ‘breast bud’.

Yes, it’s normal and common for the breasts to be sore and itchy as they grow. The nipples can also feel sore. As the breasts grow, the skin stretches, causing them to feel itchy or sore.

Female breasts are mostly made of fat and other tissue, not muscle. This means that exercise won’t make your breasts bigger. However, there is a layer of muscle (pectoral muscle) on the chest wall just behind the breast tissue. Exercising these pectoral muscles can make your breasts look bigger but doesn’t actually make them bigger.

Almost half of all males will have a temporary swelling of the breasts during puberty because of hormones. This can cause the breasts and nipples to be sore and tender. This swelling should go away over time. Talk to an adult, parent or health care provider if you’re worried.

Puberty usually starts between 8 and 16 years in females and 9 and 14 years in males. Some people start earlier and others later. It may be fast for some, and slower for others.

Peri-menopause is the time leading up to menopause. Most women will notice the physical and emotional changes of peri-menopause in their late 40s or early 50s when:

  • their monthly cycle begins to change
  • estrogen and progesterone production changes
  • the number of stored eggs in the ovaries decreases

Menopause is when a woman has no menstrual period for 12 months in a row.

No two women go through menopause in the same way. Some have no symptoms while others have many physical and emotional symptoms.

TSS stands for toxic shock syndrome, which is caused by a bacteria. More than 9 out of every 10 cases of TSS cases are linked to using tampons during menstruation. Better teaching about how to use tampons has helped decrease the risk of TSS.

Some symptoms of TSS are headache, sore throat, sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhea, achy muscles and a rash that looks like a sunburn.

To prevent TSS, change tampons every 3 to 4 hours, no matter how light the bleeding is. Because tampons shouldn’t be left in longer than 8 hours, some women choose to wear a pad at night.

It is extremely unlikely for a tampon to get stuck in the vagina. Tampons are attached to a string a few inches in length that hangs through the vaginal opening. The tampon is removed by pulling gently on the string. If a tampon did get stuck, it is important to seek medical attention, as there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if the tampon is left in too long.

Yes, you still have your regular periods after having your tubes tied (tubal ligation). The body just absorbs the unfertilized egg instead of it coming out in the menstrual flow.

Although the average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, irregular periods are common during puberty. If there is a chance of a pregnancy, you should take a pregnancy test and see a health care provider. If it’s not possible that you could be pregnant, but it’s been a while since your last period, speak with a health care provider

No. Tampons are just one of the ways you can choose to use to manage your menstrual flow. Virginity is a term that refers to whether or not you have ever had sexual intercourse, and is not affected by using tampons.

It’s very unlikely for a tampon to get stuck in the vagina. Tampons are attached to a string a few inches long that hangs out the vagina. You take the tampon out by pulling gently on the string. If the tampon won’t come out, see a healthcare provider right away because of the risk of TSS if the tampon is left in too long.

Tampons are safe when you follow the instructions correctly. Using a tampon the right way can prevent a rare but serious infection called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Some symptoms of TSS are headache, sore throat, sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhea, achy muscles and a rash that looks like a sunburn.

To prevent TSS, change tampons every 3 to 4 hours, no matter how light the bleeding is. Because tampons aren’t meant to be left in longer than 8 hours, some women choose to wear a pad at night.

PMS is short for premenstrual syndrome. A week or so before menstruation the body begins making more of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones can cause feelings and symptoms that together are called PMS. Symptoms of PMS can include cramps, tender breasts, sore back, tiredness, bloating, headaches and feeling irritable or emotional.

Menstruation is a normal part of life. You can do everything you’d do if you weren’t having a period.

This is perfectly normal. Puberty takes place over several years. It also happens in stages, not all at once. While menstruation usually begins around 11 or 12 years, it can start as early as 8 and as late as 15, which is also normal.

Blood, soft tissues and other fluids make up the menstrual flow. The colour can be anywhere from bright red or pink to a darker red.

There are commercials on TV that use a blue fluid to show menstrual flow on a pad.

Menstrual cramps are caused by the uterus contracting to push out the menstrual flow. The hormone changes that happen during the menstrual cycle can also lead to cramping. The cramps are usually just before or just when the period starts (the bleeding part of the menstrual cycle).

Cramps can feel like a dull ache or a sharp squeeze in the lower abdomen (the area between the belly button and groin). It may also feel like pain in the lower back, hips and thighs. Some females have no cramps with their periods, other have bad cramps. The cramps can also change throughout a person’s life.

Yes, it’s normal. It can take up to a few years for the menstrual cycle to become regular. Some people never have regular menstrual cycles. However, if your cycle is regular and suddenly becomes irregular or stops, see a health care provider.

If you can’t change right away, try tying a sweater or jacket around your waist. Change your clothes as soon as you can. Use a calendar or app to track your periods so you’re not caught by surprise. Make sure to carry extra pads or tampons and wear darker clothing when you’re having your period or when it’s due. Remember to rinse your clothes as soon as you can so your clothes don’t stain.

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When you first get your period, you may feel like your underwear is wet. It may not feel much different from any discharge you’ve had before. Sometimes you can feel a small gush of blood, especially if you stand up after you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while.

Although it can look like a lot more, there’s only about 60 to 180 ml (4-6 tablespoons) of blood every period. Some people lose less blood and some more.

No, only you know you’re having your period. It’s not something other people can see or tell by looking at you.

You can change them as often as you want but make sure you always change them before they’re soaked. You can buy pads in different thicknesses and absorbencies. You may need to try a few types of pads to find the type that works best for you. You might find that you can use thinner/lighter pads at the beginning and end of your periods, and thicker/more absorbent pads at night. It’s important to follow the directions that come with the pads.

If you get your period unexpectedly and don’t have a pad or tampon ask a friend, teacher or school nurse for a pad. If you can’t find a pad or tampon, make a pad with toilet paper or paper towel until you get home. It’s a good idea to keep extra pads or tampons in a backpack, bag or your locker just in case.

You act the same as when you’re not having your period. Menstruation is a normal part of life— you can carry on as normal.

No, menstruation stops during pregnancy and during menopause. Menopause is when the ovaries no longer produce estrogen and stop releasing eggs (ovulating). Menopause is a gradual process where the body permanently stop having periods.

Some people may feel bloated, tired, emotional and irritable before their period starts. Others may have tender breasts and menstrual cramps. Some things that can help make you more comfortable are a warm bath, exercise, a heating pad or pain medicine. If you ever find menstrual cramps hurt too much or you have other symptoms that are bothering you, talk to a parent, an adult, school nurse or health care provider.

No, you don’t have to use pads (sanitary napkins). People can choose from a few items (pads, tampons and reusable menstrual cups) to use. Pads absorb menstrual blood and stick onto the inside of the underpants so it doesn’t move around.

Only a person with a uterus and ovaries can menstruate.

Most people get their first period when they’re around 11 or 12. Some start as early as 8 years and some as late as 15 years—everyone’s different.

Menstruation is also called ‘having your period’. Sometime during puberty, ovaries begin releasing one egg (ovum) each month. If a sperm fertilizes the egg, it could grow into a baby. To get ready for the fertilized egg, the uterus builds a thick lining of blood and tissue. This lining is where the fertilized egg would grow into a baby.

If the sperm doesn’t fertilize the egg, the egg and the lining of the uterus flow out the vagina. This flow is called menstruation or a period. Menstrual flow usually lasts 3 to 7 days. The time between the beginning of one period to the next is called the menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle lasts about 24 to 38 days, but can vary from person to person.

The stretch marks happen because of the weight the person gains and because their uterus is growing. This causes the connective tissue under the skin to stretch in the second and third trimesters. Stretch marks are usually on the skin covering the abdomen, breasts, thighs and buttocks.

The first thing to do is to take a pregnancy test. If the pregnancy test is negative, keep taking the Pill as normal. If the pregnancy test is positive, see your health care provider. Taking the Pill when you’re pregnant doesn’t increase your risk of miscarriage or that your baby will have a birth defect.

During pregnancy, the placenta and the umbilical cord connect mom and baby. Drugs can pass through the placenta to the developing baby. Drugs are used during pregnancy can also affect the baby.

Using illegal drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin and marijuana) and misusing prescription drugs (e.g., Ritalin® and OxyContin®) during pregnancy can put the baby’s health at risk. Taking prescription medicine and over-the-counter (OTC) medicine when pregnant can cause serious health problems for the baby. The effects depend upon the type of drug the baby is exposed to.

Taking drugs during pregnancy puts the baby at risk for low birth weight, poor weight gain, developmental delays, withdrawal symptoms after birth (e.g., jittery, hyperactive, irritable) and possibly death. Never take any drugs or medicine when pregnant unless the doctor or pharmacist says it’s okay.

Drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can put the baby’s health at risk. Alcohol isn’t safe at any time during pregnancy. If a person drinks alcohol during pregnancy, the part of the baby that is developing at that time can be damaged (like the brain, eyes, ears, liver or kidneys).

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy puts a baby at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Babies with FASD are born with birth defects and brain damage. The brain damage can affect both behaviour and thinking. There’s no cure for FASD and it doesn’t get better or go away.

A baby that doesn’t have FASD can still have fetal alcohol effect (FAE). This is a form of FASD but with fewer problems. There are no safe limits when it comes to drinking alcohol—don’t drink alcohol when you’re pregnant.

The vagina gets quite stretched when a baby is born vaginally. However, it’s usually back to the size it was before by 6 to 8 weeks after the baby was born.

Pregnancy can occur as soon as ovulation has started. A sign that ovulation has started is the onset of menstruation. On average, menstruation begins between 8 and 16 years.

No, you can’t. There may be some bleeding called ‘breakthrough bleeding’ or ‘spotting’ at the time the period would have been due.

No, sperm have a head, a cone-shaped middle, and a tail, but no eyes. Sperm cells travel to the egg by moving their tail back and forth in a swimming motion. Even without eyes, sperm still find the egg because there is a chemical around the egg that attracts the sperm and signals that the egg is ready.

A miscarriage is sometimes called ‘losing a baby’. A miscarriage is when the baby dies in the uterus in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s most common in the first 12 weeks. Most miscarriages happen because the baby isn’t developing normally. This is a very sad time for families.

If you’ve started to ovulate when you’re 12, you can become pregnant. A sign that ovulation has started is the start of menstruation.

During birth, the baby travels out of the uterus through the cervix and into the vagina. The vagina stretches as the baby moves out of the body. The uterus squeezes very hard during labour to push the baby out. These strong cramps are called labour pains or contractions.

Labour pain is one of the first signs that a baby is ready to be born. There are usually doctors, nurses, midwives and family members there to help make the woman feel more comfortable during labour. Some positions and movements in labour can help with the pain. Sometimes women choose to have medicine to help manage the pain. If the baby is having problems coming out of the vagina, sometimes the doctor will do a surgery called a caesarean section to take the baby out through the mother’s abdomen.

Both males and females have a reproductive cell. The male reproductive cell is the sperm, and the female reproductive cell is the egg. Within each of these cells, there are chromosomes that decide the biological sex. Eggs only carry X chromosomes and sperm carry an X or a Y chromosome. If a sperm with a Y chromosome fertilizes the egg, the cell develops into a male (X+Y). If a sperm with an X chromosome fertilized the egg, the cell develops into a female (X+X).

The most common way to tell if a baby will be male or female is by an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a medical procedure that takes a picture of the baby in the uterus. This picture usually shows the male or female genitals (if the baby is in the right position). Many people choose not to know the sex of the baby until the baby is born.

It takes about 9 months, or 40 weeks for a baby to fully develop and be ready to be born.

No, human eggs do not have shells.

A baby is made when a sperm fertilizes an egg then implants into the wall of the uterus. Once there, it grows and develop into a baby.

In Alberta, students who ask to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA)/Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) club are guaranteed the right to start the group in their school, have regular meetings in a safe space, have an adult supervisor/sponsor and name the club. Below are steps to starting a GSA or QSA:

  • Find a teacher or staff sponsor. They can get information about how to support you from the Alberta Teachers’ Association or Alberta Education.
  • Talk with the school administration.
  • Find other students who may want to help start up the group.
  • Pick a meeting space.
  • Advertise the group and planning your first meeting.
  • Set up ground rules/group agreements.
  • Think about possible activities, like hosting guest speakers, holding events with other school groups or writing articles for the school newspaper or website.

Trans is a shortened version of the word transgender, which is a person whose gender identity or expression is different from their biological sex (for example, a person with a penis who identifies as a woman. Being transgender is neither good nor bad—it’s just how some people are.

For a health care provider to know what your health needs are, it’s important that they understand your sexuality. Because the teen years are a time of sexual development and emerging sexuality, some people, including some doctors, may believe that any sexual expression may be part of sexual exploration as opposed to orientation.

When a person identifies as gay, they are gay. You are an important part of your health care team. If you feel comfortable, it may help to talk to your doctor about your concern. You may also think about finding a doctor who is more open to accepting your sexual identity.

‘Coming out’ is the process of revealing one’s identity as LGBTQ to themselves and then, if that person wants, to other people. Everyone and their situation is different, so there’s not one right way to come out.

Some people will ‘practice’ by first coming out to people they know will have a positive or neutral reaction before they tell people who may have a more emotional reaction. Other people tell those closest to them first, even if they’re not expecting a positive response.

If a person is worried about their safety when they tell someone, it’s important they speak with a professional support person, like a guidance counsellor. Together they can come up with a safety plan for this conversation. A safety plan may include telling someone in a public location.

Here are some tips that might help when coming out to parents:

  • Choose a calm time to talk (e.g., not during or after an argument).
  • Let your parent(s) know you want to talk to them about something important.
  • Ask if now is a good time to talk. If it is, go ahead. If not, set up a time to talk.
  • Tell your parent(s) why you want to tell them this information (e.g., it could be about wanting to stay close, being honest and authentic, being respectful or honouring the relationship).
  • Say what you want to say and let your parents know what you want and need from them.
  • Remind your parent(s) that you are still the same person.
  • Stay calm.
  • Remember that while you’ve had time to process this, it may be very new to your parents. Sometimes parents already suspected you may identify as LGBTQ* but were waiting for you to tell them.

An LGBTQ support service may have other ideas, resources and supports related to coming out to parents.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Polyamory is having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time and with consent of all partners involved.

Pansexual describes a person who feels sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Demisexual is a term to describe a person who only feels sexual attraction if they already have a close emotional bond with that person.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Asexual is a term to describe a person who doesn’t feel any sexual attraction or desire to have sex. They may or may not still feel emotional/romantic attraction.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Gay men don’t always get AIDS—this is a myth. HIV was first discovered in a population of men who have sex with men; however, that’s not where it started. Risky activities include unprotected sex, sharing needles and piercing/tattooing. Anyone who does these activities can get HIV/AIDS.

Because everyone expresses and explores their sexuality differently, there isn’t one way that people have sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is anytime one person’s body touches another person’s genitals in a sexual way. This can include oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex or even hand sex.

Tranny is an offensive slang term to describe a person who is transgender. A person who is transgender is a different gender than their birth sex (e.g., a person with a penis who identifies as a woman). A pregnancy can happen anytime a penis or semen is in contact with the vaginal area. So yes, depending on their anatomy, people who are transgender can become pregnant.

Gay is a word to describe people sexually or romantically attracted to people the same sex as they are. You don’t have to do anything. However, many people find it helps to learn more about what being gay means to them, so they might look for information and support.

Some people decide to ‘come out’ or tell people important to them that they’re gay. If a person needs support telling other people, or if they are worried that they might not be safe because of their identity, it’s important to speak with a trusted adult, like a counsellor at school.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Gay is a word to describe people sexually or romantically attracted to people the same sex as they are. If a friend tells you they’re gay, it means they trust and care about you enough to share this part about who they are. It doesn’t change who they are or who you are. It also doesn’t mean that they have a crush on you if you happen to be the same sex. It can make the friendship stronger if you thank your friend for trusting and caring about you enough to tell you.

 

When people have same sex parents, like having two moms, they often pick one parent to celebrate Mother’s Day and the other parent to celebrate Father’s Day. They may also call both days ‘Parent’s Day’.

When people have one parent, they might celebrate that parent on both days, or choose to celebrate another special adult on one of those days. People who don’t have mothers or fathers sometimes choose other special adults to celebrate on those days.

 

Transgender is a word used to describe people told they’re one gender because of their genitals, but they know inside that they’re a different gender. An example of this would be a person who was born with a penis told he’s a male because he has a penis, but they actually knew they were a girl. Some say it feels like they’ve been born into the wrong gender.

Gay is a word to describe people who are attracted to people the same sex as they are. It’s normal to start having sexual thoughts and feelings in puberty. You may find you have these thoughts and feelings about people who may be the same or different biological sex than you.

Having sexual thoughts and feelings about someone the same sex as you doesn’t automatically mean you’re gay. If you notice that you always have sexy thoughts and feelings about people the same sex as you, it might mean that you could be gay.

Gay is a word used to describe people who are attracted to people of the same sex.

Yes. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. Sexual assault is against the law. All sexual activity without consent, no matter the age or gender is a crime. This includes all forms of sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching (e.g., kissing) to sexual intercourse.

Yes, stalking is a sign of abuse. It’s also against the law. The examples below are some of the signs of stalking. Trust your instincts and get help if you feel you or someone you know is being stalked, especially if you see any of these behaviours:

  • following someone around or parking close by and watching where they live or work
  • too many or unwanted texts, emails, phone calls or visits
  • contacting friends, relatives or co-workers and asking them questions about someone’s actions or whereabouts
  • threatening behaviours, like leaving notes on someone’s vehicle windshield or the door to their home or where they work

Every person is different when it comes to how old they are when they start to think about sex. Some people have sexual thoughts at an early age, whereas others hardly think about it at all: Both are normal. There’s no magical age when it’s suddenly okay to think about or to want to have sexual intercourse. When it comes to actually having sexual intercourse, only you can decide when you are ready. When thinking about having sex no matter what your age, it’s important to think about the possible consequences.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to have sexual intercourse? Do I feel lonely? Am I being pressured? Do I love my partner?
  • Will my decision affect my moral, religious and family values?
  • Will I feel guilty or bad afterwards if I have sexual intercourse?
  • How will I protect myself from pregnancy and STIs?
  • Do I trust my partner? Are they pressuring me? Are we close? Can we talk about safer sex and birth control?
  • If the birth control fails, are we ready to deal with a pregnancy?

Talking to a parent or a supportive adult can help you decide if you are ready to become sexually active or not.

When people start exploring ways to be intimate with each other, this may include kissing, sexual touching and sexual intercourse (e.g., oral, anal, vaginal).  This is a very personal choice and only you can decide what is right for you.

No matter what you decide, you always have the right to give consent first and NEVER feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do. Consent means that both partners agree to the sexual activity and everyone understands what they’re agreeing to.

Consent is:

  • needed for every sexual activity
  • understanding what you’re saying “yes” to
  • asking your partner if they understand what they’re saying “yes” to
  • checking in with your partner and agreeing that either of you can change your mind at any time

People can’t give consent if they’re:

  • high or drunk
  • forced, threatened, bribed, intimidated, or offered a reward to do something sexual

Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault. If you’re having a hard time deciding whether you want to have sex or not, talk to a parent or an adult you trust.

 

A 16 year old can legally consent to sexual intercourse, unless the other person is in a position of authority (e.g., a coach, teacher or employer) or the sexual activity will take advantage of the person (e.g., pornography, prostitution, trading sex for safety).

This question also relates to personal values and is different for everyone. It’s important to decide if the relationship is healthy or not. Any healthy relationship, no matter what the age, has respect, trust, honesty, fairness, equality and good communication.

Often, when there’s a big age gap between partners, especially when one person is a teen, some elements of a healthy relationship can be missing. There may also be more sexual pressure in these types of relationships. To learn more about the age of consent to sexual activity, see Consent.

It’s normal to have disagreements from time to time. Disagreements give you a chance to explore things that you disagree about, and it can help make your feelings clear.

Disagreements that often turn into fights that include yelling, criticism or harsh words are signs of an unhealthy relationship. It’s a problem if you’re fighting all of the time, or if you say cruel things when you’re arguing. Remember—physical fighting (punching, hitting) is NEVER okay.

Signs of a healthy relationship are:

  • respect
  • honesty
  • communication
  • being able to be yourself
  • feeling safe
  • trust
  • equality
  • support

Take some time to think about what these fights are about. Can they be worked out in a positive and constructive way? It can help to talk about relationship issues with a parent, an adult you trust or a counsellor.

A pelvic exam is when female reproductive organs are examined to make sure they’re healthy.  A Pap test is one part of a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam you might be checked:

  • to make sure the reproductive organs are healthy
  • for sores and lumps on the genitals
  • for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • for infections in the vagina (e.g., yeast or bacterial vaginosis)

Breasts don’t always have milk in them. When a woman is pregnant, her body makes hormones to get the breasts ready to feed the baby after it’s born. Once the baby is born, the hormones signal the breasts to start making milk. When the baby breastfeeds, milk leaves the breast and the hormones keep signalling the breasts to make more milk.

These words, like most anatomical and medical words come from Latin. Penis comes from the Latin word for tail, and vagina comes from the Latin word for a sheath or covering.

Impotent means that a person with a penis can’t get or keep an erection.

The hymen is a fold of tissue inside the vagina that partially covers the opening. The hymen is usually there at birth, although people can also be born without a hymen. Hymens can be different shapes and sizes.

When breasts are growing, they change shape and size until they are fully developed. During this time, you may notice that one breast is bigger. Breasts usually even out as they develop, but if they end up being slightly different sizes that’s normal too.

Semen is sticky because it has a sugar called fructose in it.

It’s not very common, but some people are born with both a penis and a vagina or parts of each. This is called ‘intersex’.

It is normal for people to have sexual feelings towards others. These feelings can make people want to be really close to someone. This is a normal and healthy part of growing up.

No. While sperm and urine both pass through the urethra, they can’t come out at the same time.

The scientific term for a wet dream is nocturnal emissions. A wet dream is when a penis gets erect (hard), and ejaculates (releases semen) while a person is asleep. A sign that a nocturnal emission has happened is waking up in damp pyjamas and bed sheets. Wet dreams will happen to some males but not others. This may be embarrassing, but nocturnal emissions are completely normal.

An erection happens when the penis fills with blood, making the penis larger and harder. Erections usually go away on their own or after ejaculation (releasing semen through the urethra).

Before birth, the penis develops with loose skin covering the end of it, called the foreskin. Circumcision is a procedure to remove the foreskin. It’s usually done by a doctor or trained religious person. A circumcised penis looks different from an uncircumcised penis because there’s no foreskin covering the end, but both work the same way.

Breasts are made of nerves, arteries, blood vessels, milk ducts, fat tissue, connective fibers and lymph channels.

Yes.  You can get pregnant anytime you have sexual intercourse. Use a condom with a hormonal method of contraception such as the pill, patch and ring every time you have sex to help to protect against pregnancy and STIs.

Every person is different when it comes to how old they are when they start to think about sex. Some people have sexual thoughts at an early age, whereas others hardly think about it at all: Both are normal. There’s no magical age when it’s suddenly okay to think about or to want to have sexual intercourse. When it comes to actually having sexual intercourse, only you can decide when you are ready. When thinking about having sex no matter what your age, it’s important to think about the possible consequences.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to have sexual intercourse? Do I feel lonely? Am I being pressured? Do I love my partner?
  • Will my decision affect my moral, religious and family values?
  • Will I feel guilty or bad afterwards if I have sexual intercourse?
  • How will I protect myself from pregnancy and STIs?
  • Do I trust my partner? Are they pressuring me? Are we close? Can we talk about safer sex and birth control?
  • If the birth control fails, are we ready to deal with a pregnancy?

Talking to a parent or a supportive adult can help you decide if you are ready to become sexually active or not.

As long as sperm doesn’t get near or in the vagina, there is no risk of pregnancy. There is a high risk for STIs, so it’s important to use a condom or dental dam every time to decrease the risk.

Yes, because when you have unprotected anal sex a pregnancy is still possible if sperm gets on or in the vagina.

Anal sex is when a person puts their penis into another person’s anus.

Oral sex is when a person stimulates another person’s genitals with their mouth.

Sometimes sexual intercourse is uncomfortable the first few times. Some people find using a lubricant helps. If you still have pain after the first few times, speak with a health care provider.

Only you can decide when you are ready to have sexual intercourse. Whatever age you are when thinking about having sexual intercourse, it’s important to think about the possible consequences.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to have sexual intercourse? Do I feel lonely? Am I being pressured? Do I love my partner?
  • Will my decision affect my moral, religious and family values? Will I feel guilty or bad afterwards if I have sexual intercourse?
  • How will I protect myself from pregnancy and STIs?
  • Do I trust my partner? Are they pressuring me? Are we close? Can we talk about safer sex and birth control?
  • If birth control fails, are we ready to deal with a pregnancy?

Talking to a parent or a supportive adult can help you decide if you’re ready to become sexually active.

Masturbation is touching and rubbing the genitals for pleasure. It’s a way people explore their bodies and learn about their sexual feelings.

Whether someone chooses to masturbate or not is a personal choice. The only time it might be a problem is when they’re masturbating so much that it interferes with developing healthy relationships or is affecting their everyday activities. While it’s normal and natural, it should be done in private.

An orgasm is the physical sensation of sexual excitement resulting from stimulating the genitals.

Sexual intercourse is a physical act between two people. Usually it refers to the way one person’s body touches another person’s genitals in a sexual way, such as inserting the penis into a vagina, or anus. Sexual intercourse can be uncomfortable the first few times for some people.

A penis has 2 functions, urinating (peeing) and sexual intercourse.

Masturbation is when you touch your own genitals to make them feel good. Some people choose to masturbate while others choose not to. Either choice is normal.

There are times in your cycle when it may be less likely to become pregnant, but these times are very hard to predict, especially if your periods aren’t regular. It can take several months of tracking to become familiar with your menstrual cycle. It’s always better to use birth control at all times during the menstrual cycle to prevent a pregnancy. Where you are in your menstrual cycle doesn’t affect how likely you are to get an STI. STIs spread through oral, anal and vaginal sex. Use a condom every time you have sex.

The cost depends on where you buy it and the type of method. To find out about the cost speak with your health care provider or go to a sexual health clinic. Many sexual health clinics offer some types of birth control for no cost for people who qualify.

There are many kinds of birth control methods. They include:

  • barrier methods (e.g., male and female condoms)
  • hormonal methods (e.g., pill, patch, IUD, injection, ring)
  • non-hormonal methods (e.g., IUD, fertility awareness)

It’s important to talk to your doctor or go to a sexual health clinic to find out what birth control method will work best for you.

A dental dam (also called latex barrier, oral barrier, and oral dam) is a thin piece of latex or polyurethane used to cover the vulva or anus to prevent the spread of STIs during oral sex. It’s easy to make an dental dam out of a condom:

  1. Cut the closed end of the condom so that you end up with a latex tube
  2. Cut down the length of the tube.
  3. Unroll it to make a rectangle.

The video Latex Barrier Demonstration shows how to make an oral dam.

IUDs are a safe form of birth control that works very well to prevent pregnancy. Like all birth control methods, there are risks.

Some women who have the copper type of IUD may have cramps and heavier periods.

Some women with the hormone type of IUD may have:

  • irregular bleeding or spotting
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness
  • acne
  • weight changes
  • mood changes

With both types of IUDs, there is a small risk of the IUD falling out. IUDs don’t protect you from STIs and HIV—that’s why it’s still important to use a condom every time you have sex.

The birth control pill works 99.7% of the time when the exact instructions are followed all the time (perfect use). The timing of intercourse doesn’t affect how well the Pill works when taken correctly. The Pill works 91% of the time when the directions aren’t followed exactly (typical use). Most pregnancies happen because people forget to take their pill.

The Pill works to prevent pregnancy by changing the hormone levels in your body over a whole month. It must be taken every day to provide protection. It does not work like a condom, preventing pregnancy for that episode of sexual intercourse.

Remember—when a female is sick and throwing up or has bad diarrhea, the Pill may not work as well. It’s important to either not have sexual intercourse until the next cycle of pills are started or to use condoms as a back-up method until then.

Talking to a doctor or other health care provider about any health concern can be stressful. Writing down questions and concerns before the appointment can help. You can also ask an adult or friend you trust to come to the appointment.

Medical appointments and medical information are always confidential. If you’re worried about talking to your family doctor, you can make an appointment at a sexual and reproductive health clinic for birth control.

It’s okay to use the Pill for many years—there’s no need to take a break. Like any medicine, the Pill does have side effects so may not be the best choice for people with health concerns such as migraines, heart disease or who smoke.

If you choose to have sex, the ‘dual method’ is the best protection from pregnancy and STIs. For example, this means using a male or vaginal (female) condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch or ring.

Never use two male condoms or a vaginal and a male condom at the same time, as the risk of both breaking goes up.

Yes, pregnancy can occur the first time people have sexual intercourse. Using a condom every time you have intercourse combined with a hormonal method of contraception such as the pill, patch and ring will help to protect against pregnancy and STIs.

Some people may feel some menstrual-like cramps, but shouldn’t feel any pain. The cramps are caused by the uterine muscles contracting.

During a surgical abortion, a numbing medicine (local anaesthetic) is injected into the cervix, something like the way a dentist freezes the gums. Medicine for pain or sedation is sometimes given by mouth or through a vein. The person having an abortion is usually awake but sleepy during the procedure.

Having to make tough decisions about your life can bring up both positive and negative feelings. It’s important and okay to express your feelings, even the negative ones. You might find it helps to talk to a trusted friend or adult about what’s going on.

A person makes the decision to have an abortion because they feel that at that time in their life, it’s the right thing to do. At another time in their life, they may make a different decision. Some people feel sad or emotional for a few days or weeks after an abortion, but many just feel relief.

It’s not common to have any serious, long-term emotional issues after an abortion. Emotional issues are more likely if:

  • the abortion is against religious or moral beliefs
  • the pregnancy was wanted but the woman’s or baby’s health were at risk
  • the abortion was related to an upsetting life event
  • the person was having serious relationship problems
  • the person had mental health concerns even before becoming pregnant

If there are no complications, a person should be able to become pregnant again after an abortion.

A pregnant person has 3 choices:

  • continue with the pregnancy and choose to parent
  • continue with the pregnancy and choose adoption
  • end the pregnancy by choosing an abortion

If you find yourself having to make this tough decision, talk to your parents, a supportive adult or go to a sexual and reproductive health clinic for support and non-judgemental information. It’s important that you fully understand all the choices you have when making this decision.

A pelvic exam is when female reproductive organs are examined to make sure they’re healthy.  A Pap test is one part of a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam you might be checked:

  • to make sure the reproductive organs are healthy
  • for sores and lumps on the genitals
  • for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • for infections in the vagina (e.g., yeast or bacterial vaginosis)

Using condoms every time you have sexual intercourse lowers the risk of HPV. Keep in mind that the virus may be on skin that isn’t covered by a condom, so HPV can still be passed on even if condoms are used.

The HPV vaccine protects against 9 of the most common and harmful types of HPV. The vaccine works best when given before sexual activity begins, before any exposure to HPV. But people may benefit from the HPV vaccine even if they have been sexually active. This is because the vaccine may offer protection from the types of HPV they haven’t yet been exposed to. There is a vaccine for HPV that is offered to Alberta students in Grade 6. The vaccine is also offered to students who have not received both doses of the vaccine in grade 9.  

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that can lead to certain types of cancer. You can get HPV by having skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person.

No, the Pap test only looks at the cells from the cervix. The doctor would have to collect samples of the fluid around the cervix to test for other STIs.

STIs spread through sexual contact involving the genitals, mouth or rectum. They also spread:

  • by skin-to-skin contact (e.g., kissing, non-penetrating sex or body rubbing)
  • by mixing infected body fluids (such as blood, semen or vaginal secretions)
  • by sharing needles, other drug paraphernalia and through needle stick injuries
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby as the baby’s being born during a vaginal delivery, or through breastmilk

Infestation-type STIs (e.g., scabies and pubic lice) can be spread when sharing things like clothing, bedding and linens.

Use a condom or dental dam every time to decrease the risk. The only way to prevent an STI is not have any sexual contact (abstinence). This includes intercourse and oral sex.

Yes, you’re at a high risk for STIs even from having oral sex. Use a condom or dental dam every time to decrease the risk. The only way to prevent an STI is not to have any sexual contact (abstinence). This includes intercourse or oral sex.

You can lower your risk of HPV by using condoms every time you have sexual intercourse. Remember though, that the virus may be on skin that’s not covered by a condom, so HPV can still be passed on even if condoms are used.

There is a vaccine that can help reduce the risk of getting HPV. In Alberta, the vaccine is available to females  9 to 45 years and males 9 to 26 years. The vaccine protects against 9 of the most common and harmful types of HPV. The vaccine works best when given before sexual activity begins, before there’s the chance of being exposed.

People who are sexually actually may still benefit from the HPV vaccine. This is because the vaccine may still protect them from the types of HPV they haven’t been exposed to. Alberta offers the HPV vaccine to students in Grade 5. The vaccine is also offered to students who haven’t had all three doses of the vaccine by the time they’re in Grade 9. The public health nurse gives three doses of the HPV vaccine in the arm over six months.

A virus is a kind of germ that’s so small even a regular microscope can’t see it. Viruses are the smallest and simplest of all germs, but they are also some of the deadliest. Different viruses cause different diseases. Vaccines can prevent some viruses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by a virus (such as herpes and HIV) can’t be cured, but can be treated to help manage symptoms.

Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Different viruses cause the different kinds of hepatitis. The most common types of hepatitis are hepatitis A, B and C. People infected with hepatitis may have none, some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever
  • feeling tired
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • joint pain
  • the skin or the white part of the eyes turn yellow (jaundice)

Although they cause the same type of symptoms, how bad the disease is and how long it lasts is different for everyone. Each of these viruses spreads differently:

  • hepatitis A (hep A) is spread through contaminated food and water
  • hepatitis B (hep B) is spread through both blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids
  • hepatitis C (hep C) is spread only through direct blood-to-blood contact, or through bodily fluids that contain blood

There’s a vaccine for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. In Alberta, the hep B vaccine is offered in Grade 5. There’s no vaccine for hep C.

About 9 out of every 10 people with hep B get better. About 7 or 8 out of every 10 people infected with hep C go on to develop a chronic or lifetime infection. With both hep B and C, the chronic infection can lead to a serious liver disease (cirrhosis) or cancer of the liver later in life.

Depending on the type of viral hepatitis, you can also reduce your risk of infection by:

  • washing your hands properly before and after preparing and eating food
  • practising safer sex
  • not sharing personal objects that may come into contact with blood (e.g., needles, razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers)

Many people with an STI have no symptoms. It’s important to know when to be tested. Have tests done regularly if you’re having sex with new partners or your partners have other sexual partners. Think about seeing your doctor or going to a sexual health clinic every 3 to 6 months to be tested. Speak with a doctor or nurse as soon as you can if you have any of the symptoms below:

  • discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
  • pain or discomfort when urinating (peeing)
  • pain during sex
  • new or different bleeding from the vagina
  • lumps or bumps on the genitals
  • pain in the scrotum or testicles
  • genital sores
  • genital itching
  • genital irritation or pain
  • rash on the genitals

Even if you notice just one symptom, get tested. If not treated, STIs can affect your health and fertility for the rest of your life.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that can lead to certain types of cancer. You can get HPV by having skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person. There is a vaccine that can help reduce the risk of getting HPV. In Alberta, the vaccine is available to females 9 to 45 years and males 9 to 26 years.

People who have AIDS may die because their body’s immune system is so damaged that their bodies can’t protect them against, or fight infections and illnesses.

You don’t, unless the person makes it known they have HIV. It may take several years before someone infected with HIV has obvious symptoms and develops AIDS.

Not yet. Scientists are working very hard to find a vaccine. There is medicine (anti-retroviral drugs) that can slow the virus and keep it from spreading in the body.

No, only humans can get HIV. Animals can’t get or spread HIV.

Yes. HIV spreads by coming in contact with certain body fluids from someone with the virus. The body fluids that can carry HIV are:

  • semen
  • vaginal secretions
  • blood
  • breastmilk

You can’t get HIV from hugging, holding hands or being near someone with HIV or AIDS. You also can’t get HIV or AIDS from toilet seats, drinking fountains, doorknobs, dishes, drinking glasses, food or pets.

People can get HIV if they are in contact with certain body fluids from someone with the HIV virus. Body fluids that spread the virus are blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breastmilk. These infected fluids get into another person when someone:

  • has sexual intercourse with someone infected with HIV
  • uses needles that have been used by a person infected with HIV (e.g., by tattooing, body piercing or intravenous drug use)
  • is in contact with the blood of someone who has the virus

A mother infected with HIV can give the virus to her unborn baby or to her baby when breastfeeding.

Someone infected with HIV may develop AIDS when the HIV has damaged their body’s immune system and their bodies can’t protect against or fight infections or illnesses.

AIDS is a disease caused by a virus called HIV. Someone infected with HIV may develop AIDS when the HIV has damaged their body’s immune system and their bodies can’t protect against or fight infections or illnesses.

This can be a sign of an STI—see a doctor or go to a sexual health or STI clinic.

If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to go to your doctor, a sexual health or STI clinic as soon as you can to be tested.

  • discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
  • pain or discomfort when urinating (peeing)
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • lumps or bumps on genitals
  • pain in scrotum or testicles
  • genital sores, itching, irritation or pain
  • a rash on the genitals

Even if you have one symptom, get tested. If not treated, STIs can have lasting effects on your health and fertility.

Yes, testicular cancer is most common in males between 15 and 29 years.

All males should know what their testicles normally feel like. Many people find the cancer by noticing a change in one or both testicles. The best time to feel the testicles is just after a warm bath or shower. The heat from the water makes the testicles descend deeper into the scrotum and the scrotum relax.

Carefully feel each testicle for any changes, such as a lump or any tenderness. At the back of each testicle is a tube (called the epididymis) that collects and carries sperm. This tube feels like a soft cord or a small bump. While one testicle is usually a bit bigger, it may help to compare the two sides for differences.

See your doctor right away if you find a change. The doctor may order tests to find out what the change could mean.

Prostate cancer is rare before age 40. The risk of prostate cancer goes up with age. While some males in their 40’s do get it, the risk is higher after age 50.

Cervical cancer happens when some of the cells on the cervix become abnormal, then grow out of control. Abnormal cervical cells rarely cause symptoms. A person may have some of the symptoms below if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer:

  • bleeding from the vagina that’s not normal (e.g., bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause)
  • pain in the lower belly or pelvis
  • pain during sex
  • vaginal discharge that’s different than usual

Cervical cancer is mostly prevented by screening and follow-up care. Regular Pap tests will find any abnormal cell changes in the cervix early—before they have a chance to become cancer.

HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancers in women. The HPV vaccine protects people against HPV infection. The HPV vaccine is given to all grade 6 students and any grade 9 students who didn’t receive it in grade 6.

 
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