Elementary FAQ

Additional questions and answers may be found in the junior and senior high sections.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

Only a person with a uterus and ovaries can menstruate.

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.


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, 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Back to top