Reproductive and Sexual Health

Sexual health

For Adolescents

For men

For women


Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

  • Sexual health is about well-being, not merely the absence of disease.
  • Sexual health involves respect, safety and freedom from discrimination and violence.
  • Sexual health depends on the fulfilment of certain human rights.
  • Sexual health is relevant throughout the individual’s lifespan, not only to those in the reproductive years, but also to both the young and the elderly.
  • Sexual health is expressed through diverse sexuality and forms of sexual expression.
  • Sexual health is critically influenced by gender norms, roles, expectations and power dynamics.



What is puberty? Puberty is the period during which a boy or girl growing experiences the process of sexual maturation. Puberty involves a series of physical stages or steps that lead to the achievement of fertility and the development of the so-called secondary sex characteristics, the physical features associated with adult males and females (such as the growth of pubic hair). While puberty involves a series of biological or physical transformations, the process can also have an effect on the psychosocial and emotional development of the adolescent.

The onset of puberty varies among individuals. Puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while in boys it generally occurs later, between the ages of 12 and 16. In Africa, some girls begins earlier, at about age 9, meaning that puberty occurs from ages 9 to 14.

Adolescent girls reach puberty today at earlier ages than were ever recorded previously. Nutritional and other environmental influences may be responsible for this change. For example, the average age of the onset of menstrual periods in girls was 15 in 1900. By the 1990s, this average had dropped to 12 and a half years of age.

Puberty for girls

In girls, the first visible evidence of puberty is a nickel-sized lump under one or both nipples (usually referred to as Breast bud) which occurs around the age of 9 or 10. This development may actually occur much earlier, or somewhat later.

Parents are often not prepared for the emergence of this breast bud regardless of a girl’s age, and may be particularly concerned because at the onset of puberty, one breast often appears before the other.

Menstruation (Menses/Menarche)

Girls often have many misconceptions and unfounded fears about menstruation. The time to begin discussing this subject with your daughter is when the breasts start to develop, heralding the arrival of puberty. Typically, one and a half to three years pass before the first menstrual period, or menarche.

Pubic Hair (Pub Arche)

For most girls, the second sign of puberty is the appearance of pubic hair in the pubic area. (About 10 to 15 percent will develop pubic hair before the breasts begin to bud.) At first the hair is sparse, straight and soft, but as it fills in it becomes darker, curlier and coarser. Over the next few years, the pubic hair grows up the lower abdomen, eventually taking on a triangular shape; finally, it spreads to the inner thighs. About two years after the onset of pub Arche, hair begins to grow under the arms as well.