Being comfortable with our own bodies has a huge influence on the relationships we form and how we value ourselves. It also impacts on our sex lives.

Knowing your own body and knowing what is normal for you can help you be more confident and know when you need to seek help.

It is important to remember that everyone is different, and so are our bodies. We come in all different shapes and sizes, and that is what makes us unique – wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?!

Likewise, we are all attracted to different types of bodies, so why shouldn’t we be happy with our own?

Check the sections below to find out more about the topics.

Knowing your body

We’re all different. Bodies change over time and there are lots of different body shapes.

This variety is normal and we are all attracted to different things – if we were all exactly the same, life would be pretty boring right?

Instead of comparing yourself to others, it’s more important to know what is normal for you - getting to know your body is really helpful and can make you feel more comfortable with what you have.

Knowing your body can help you spot things such as lumps and bumps that aren’t normal, making it easier to get help quickly when something isn’t right.

We suggest having a look, at different body parts regularly, sometimes with the help of a mirror for those areas that aren’t so easy to see.

For those with testicles, have a warm bath or shower to soften the scrotum (balls). Hold your scrotum in the palm of your hands and gently use the fingers and thumbs of both hands to examine for lumps or bumps.  If you do come across a lump, do not be alarmed as this could be lots of different things, but it would be best to visit your GP to get it checked out.

For those with vulvas, take a look with a mirror and get to know it! Keep an eye out for any new lumps and bumps that might appear and keep an eye on changes to discharge and periods. If you are worried about anything unusual or strange, speak to a GP to get some support. Don't be embarrassed - whatever it is, they will have heard the same from other people, and will be able to help you with it.

For those with breasts, examine them using a flat palm pressing again the breast in different directions. Be sure to check all of each breast including the top and bottom and not just the surface.  Keep an eye out for changes in shape and size, skin texture and colour of the nipple and surrounding area.

Puberty

Puberty is a period of both physical and mental change for someone who is growing up and reaching sexual maturity.

These changes vary depending on gender and everyone goes through puberty at different ages and speeds. The average age for puberty to start is around 11-13 but lots of us will see changes start earlier or later than this.

During puberty, people with male sex organs may notice that their voice becomes deeper - sometimes referred to as your voice ’breaking’. Facial hair can also begin to grow as well as hair under the armpits, and on the legs, chest and private parts. The penis and testicles may grow or change shape and some may also develop 'man boobs' (technically known as Gaenocomastia).

In people with female sex organs, puberty can bring their first period. Boobs or breasts will also grow during puberty, and come in all shapes and sizes, including different size and colour nipples.

There are other body changes that can happen to anyone, including weight change, growth spurts and changes to the skin – which can become oily, greasy or spotty. Acne is also something that may happen during puberty and adolescence, and although it can make you feel self-conscious, it is extremely common and there are lots of different medications that a doctor can give you to help.  For more info on acne, check out the NHS Choices website.

During puberty, many young people start getting sexual thoughts and begin exploring their bodies, using masturbation to start experimenting with what they do and don’t like.

For more info on puberty, visit these websites and search puberty for a variety of great articles:

Gender identity

Your gender identity is the gender you identify yourself as.

Gender identity doesn’t need to match your gender at birth, it can be something completely different. It also doesn’t come down to your clothes or style, it is about how you feel and who you are.

For example, someone may be born with a vulva but identify themselves as a boy or man.  Someone can be born with a penis but identify as being a girl or a woman.

There are lots of different gender identities out there, so although the most common may be male or female, other people may identify as something else like polygender (you identify with multiple genders and may change from day to day) or non-binary (you don’t identify with being male or female).

Someone’s gender identity doesn’t determine their sexuality. Gender is who you are. Sexuality is who you are attracted to. See Sexuality, below, for more information.

Transgender is a term often used by people whose gender is different from their biological sex.

Transphobia is a term used when someone is afraid of, or prejudiced against transgender people and doesn’t believe in equality and inclusion for all genders. When someone is transphobic, they can cause hurt, upset and exclusion for people who fit into minority gender groups.

For more information, help and support around gender, contact LGBT Youth Scotland:

Sexuality

Your sexuality is who you are attracted to and, like gender, there are lots of ways that people identify themselves.

For example, if someone is attracted to the same sex they may identify as homosexual, gay or lesbian. People who are attracted to both males and females may identify as bisexual.  Pansexual is also common and is when someone is attracted to a person because of who they are, rather than their sexuality or gender. When someone is attracted to the opposite sex they may identify as being heterosexual or ‘straight’.

Sexuality shouldn’t determine or limit what a person can do, or the opportunities that they have, such as getting a job, going to university or getting married.

Homophobia and biphobia are terms used for someone who has a fear of, or is prejudiced against those who identify as homosexual or bisexual.  It is non-inclusive and makes people from minority sexuality groups feel excluded.

For more info, help and support for any questions you may have around sexuality, contact LGBT Youth Scotland:

Periods

Periods, otherwise known as menstruation, happen to those born with female reproductive organs.  They start when someone reaches puberty and reaches sexual maturity, meaning their body is ready to make a baby.

Egg cells are produced in ovaries and are released in a cycle that repeats monthly, although exact cycles differ from person to person.  The egg travels from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes and into the womb for fertilisation.  If the egg cell is not fertilised by sperm, it needs to leave the body so a new egg cell can start its cycle.

A period happens when the lining of the uterus (womb) sheds it’s lining to help carry the egg out of the body.  Periods are made up of blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus, which leaves the body through the vagina.

Different people experience different kinds of periods. Some periods are light and last a few days, some last for a couple of weeks. Some are heavy with lots of blood, and those people might also get period pain or cramps in the lower abdomen. Some people have their period at the same time every month and some people have irregular periods.

Whatever kind of period you get, it’s important to know what is normal for you. Changes to your period can indicate health problems as well as other things. They can also be affected by stress, diet and major lifestyle changes.

If you are worried about a sudden change to your period, go and speak to a health expert for support. Changes could be an indication of an STI if you have had unprotected sex. Likewise, if you have had unprotected sex and missed a period, it could a sign that you are pregnant.

Tampons and sanitary towels are hygiene products used during your period.  Sanitary towels are placed inside underwear to absorb any blood or tissue that leaves the vagina. Tampons are inserted into the vagina to absorb blood before it leaves the body. Many people can be anxious about using tampons, especially when they first start their period, and it is important to use the products you feel most comfortable using. Whichever product you use, it is important to change sanitary products regularly, and more often if you do get heavy periods.

Body hair

Body hair usually starts to appear during puberty and grows in lots of different places -  around the legs, private parts, armpits, chest, arms, back, face and neck.

Hair grows in different places for different reasons. Mainly, to act as a barrier to prevent infections getting into the body and to keep body parts at the right temperature.

Some people choose to shape their body hair or to remove it, by shaving, waxing or trimming areas like armpits, chest and legs. Whatever you decide to do with your body hair is your choice and for nobody else to decide.

When it comes to pubes, shaving or waxing can increase your chances of catching an STI. This is because shaving and waxing damages the surface of the skin, creating small cuts that allow infections to get into your body more easily.

Vulvas and vaginas

Vulva is the word to describe the external parts of the female sexual organs.

Vulvas are made up of outer lips (labia majora), inner lips (labia minora) and the clitoris.

Vulvas come in lots of different shapes and sizes. They are all completely normal and make you unique! Some people worry about what their vulva looks like and whether it is ‘normal’. Sexualised media like porn has given us a very narrow view of what a ‘normal’ vulva looks like.

Lots of people think vulvas have to be small and compact, with labia minora being smaller than labia majora and neatly, or completely shaved. But, in fact, vulvas with bigger inner lips than outer lips are very common, and shape, texture and colour of labia minora varies from person to person.

The important thing to know about your vulva is whether or not it is normal for you. Get to know it, take a look with a mirror regularly and keep an eye out for any unusual lumps and bumps.

For more info about vulvas and labias, visit http://www.labialibrary.org.au

The vagina is the passage linking the vulva to the cervix and uterus (womb). The vagina is where a finger, penis or sex toy is inserted during sex and, during birth, a baby exits the body through the vagina.

Vaginas are amazing things! They produce natural lubrication when aroused to make sex easier and more comfortable. They also self-clean! If your vagina produces discharge (white fluid), this is completely normal and is your vagina cleaning itself. It is also completely normal for your discharge to vary at different times of the month. However, if you start experience unusual discharge when you don’t normally get any, or you get smelly, coloured discharge this could be a sign on an infection and you should seek medical advice.

Even though vaginas are great at self-cleaning, it is important to wash regularly. The skin around your vulva may be sensitive to perfumes and other ingredients found in soaps and shampoos. We recommend washing with warm water and non-perfumed products to avoid irritation. There is no need to put any products inside the vagina, just wash the external parts of the vulva.

Penises and testicles

Penises can be lots of different shapes and sizes. They can be straight or curved, short or long, circumcised or uncircumcised, and all things in between.

All of these differences are completely normal and may change through puberty.

A penis has lots of different parts to it, but basically there is the top (or ‘the head’) and ‘the shaft’. Inside the penis, there are tubes that link it to the bladder (for peeing) and the testicles (for semen).

The testicles or ‘balls’ are found inside the scrotum and are where sperm and semen are produced.  Sperm are tiny cells which can impregnate an egg that is inside the womb – leading to pregnancy. Semen is a whitish liquid that carries sperm and help them travel to reach the egg.  Testicles come in different shapes and sizes and it is common for one to hang lower than the other.

Penis and testicle sizes can also change depending on temperature.

When aroused, the penis becomes erect to prepare itself for sex. This is sometimes known as a hard on. It is normal to get erections at odd times, such as first thing in the morning, and they can be affected by pressures in your life, such as stress, tiredness and anxiety. Losing an erection at an awkward moment can happen to the best of us, but is completely normal. If you are worried about this, speak to your GP for further support.

It’s important to regularly check for lumps and bumps around the genitals. The head of the penis can be sensitive to perfumes and other ingredients found in soaps and shampoos, particularly under the foreskin. We recommend washing with warm water and non-perfumed products to avoid irritation.