Most teens and pre-teens have a lot of questions about sex and sexuality. This is normal and natural. It also is normal to feel shy or embarrassed about raising these issues with adults or healthcare providers.
Sexual development is an important part of health, similar to other measures of physical growth, such as height and weight. Sexual behavior, which is related to sexual development, has important health implications for everyone, and especially for teens. It is particularly important that to be well informed about all aspects of sex and sexual health.
Some basic information on sex and sexuality is provided in this review, which may answer some questions and raise others. Find an adult you feel comfortable with — perhaps a healthcare provider, parent, or teacher — to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.
SEXUALITY: WHAT IS IT?
Human sexuality is more than just whether you are male or female, and it is more than just the act of sex. It is a complex idea that involves your physical make-up, how you think about yourself, and how you feel about others and the society you live in.
Here are some of the things that contribute to sexuality:
Anatomic sex — Anatomic sex refers to the sex organs with which you were born. That is, you are either a boy (with a penis and testicles) or a girl (with breasts, a uterus, vagina, and ovaries). Occasionally, a baby is born with sex organs that are not normally developed and/or may appear to resemble both sexes; these individuals are said to have ambiguous genitalia or to be intersex. Anatomic sex is only one component of sexuality.
Gender identity — Gender identity relates to how you feel inside, and whether you "feel" like a boy or a girl. Most people have a combination of feelings, including some that are thought of as "male" or "masculine" and some that are thought of as "female" or "feminine". In most cases, someone feels mostly like a boy or mostly like a girl.
Gender identity and anatomic sex sometimes do not match. For example, a person can be born as a boy but feel like a girl. This is sometimes referred to as transgender.
Sexual orientation — Once you begin puberty, you are likely to begin to have strong physical and emotional attractions to others. Sexual orientation refers to whether you are primarily attracted to people of the opposite sex (heterosexual), the same sex as you (homosexual, gay, or lesbian), or both (bisexual). Sexual orientation is influenced by many factors, including your anatomic sex, your gender identity, the society you live in, and other factors, some of which are not completely understood.
Sexual orientation is believed to exist on a continuum. That is, you may feel mostly attracted to people of the same sex as you but still have some feelings for people of the opposite sex, or vice versa. These feelings are normal and may change throughout life.
ADOLESCENT SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT
Sexual development begins in the pre-teen years and continues into adulthood. The body produces hormones that cause outward changes, including breast development in girls, the appearance of facial hair in boys, and growth of hair under the arms and in the genital area of both boys and girls.
However, puberty is more than physical changes. As your body grows into adulthood, your way of thinking, emotions, and wants and needs will change as well. The factors discussed above (your anatomic sex, your gender identity, and your sexual orientation) will all become a part of how these changes affect you as a person.
You will probably start to feel strong attractions toward others. Sometimes these feelings include developing friendships with other teenagers. Other feelings include wanting to be physically close to another person. You may find yourself attracted to someone of the opposite sex, someone of the same sex, or both.
It's important to remember that these physical attractions can shift and change and that they...