The Female Body

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The Reproductive System

The female body is incredible. The following list describes the events in a female's body that enable her to bear children.

  • At birth, a girl baby has about 400,000 immature eggs, or ova, in her ovaries.
  • During puberty the eggs begin to mature. Each month one egg ripens and leaves the ovary. It passes through a fallopian tube where, if not fertilized by a sperm, it disintegrates. The uterus, which has built up tissue and blood to make a nourishing nest for the egg, sheds its lining about a week after the egg disintegrates. This is the event known as menstruation, or the menstrual period.
  • Gestation begins when an egg that has been released from the ovary is fertilized by a sperm. The result is pregnancy and the eventual birth of a child.
  • Lactation is the production of milk in a woman's breasts to feed her newborn child.
  • Menopause is when a woman's ovaries gradually stop functioning. Menstruation ceases, and this marks the end of the years that she can bear children.

From Girl To Woman: How Your Body Changes

The passage from girl to woman is called puberty. It begins for girls anywhere from age 8 to 16; the average age is 11. What happens to your body during puberty?

  • You experience a growth spurt. Sometimes your arms, hands, legs, and feet may seem to grow faster than the rest of your body. (But don't worry-that clumsy feeling will pass.)
  • Your internal reproductive system matures: your ovaries and uterus grow larger.
  • Secondary sex characteristics appear: budding breasts and the growth of pubic hair. It's common for one breast to begin developing before the other.
  • The shape of your body begins to change, typically becoming softer and more rounded. Your fat-to-muscle ratio increases. You will probably notice some more fat around your hips, bottom, stomach, and legs.
  • Hormonal changes bring an increase in perspiration and oily skin. That's why pimples can start occurring at this time.
  • You begin your menstrual periods. The first menstrual periods are often light and irregular. You may menstruate once, then not again for several months. A menstrual period occurs every 25 to 35 days (the average is 28 days). Bleeding lasts 3 to 7 days. Menstruation is a sign that you are able to get pregnant.

Rites Of Passage

Getting your period is a sign of maturity or coming-of-age-a cause for celebration! In America, coming-of-age ceremonies are rare because many girls are raised to think that they should talk about their periods only in private. Recently, some American families have tried to change this by honoring a girl's first period with a special dinner, a card of congratulations, or even a candlelit ceremony. But for hundreds of years, many cultures have publicly celebrated menstruation, acknowledging it as an important sign of female maturity and fertility-without which human life would come to an end!

Native American Ceremonies

  • Among the Navajo there is a coming-of-age ceremony called kinaalda. Young girls run footraces to show their strength. They also bake a huge cornmeal pudding for the whole community to taste. During the ceremony girls wear special clothing and arrange their hair to imitate the goddess Changing Woman.
  • The Nootka Indians of the Pacific Northwest consider a girl's first period a time to test her physical endurance. She is taken way out to sea and left there. She must then swim back to shore on her own, where she is greeted and cheered by the whole village.
  • The Mescalero Apaches consider the female puberty ceremony a most important celebration in their tribe. Each year an eight-day event honors all girls who started their period that year. It begins with four days of feasting and dancing. Boy singers recount the tribe's history with songs each night. A four-day private ceremony follows, in which the girls reflect on the changes in their bodies and their passage into womanhood.


Among the Aborigines of Australia, a girl is treated to the tradition of "love magic" when she gets her first period. The women of the tribe sing and teach her about the female powers and the physical changes that mark womanhood.


When a Japanese girl gets her first period, her family throws a big party. Family and friends are invited but are not told why they are celebrating. When the girl's family brings out a tray bearing a decorated pear, a candied apple, or red-colored rice and beans, the secret reason for the party is revealed.


The tribe of Ulithi calls a girl's rite of passage kufar. When a girl begins her first period, she must go to a menstrual house. She is joined by women of the village, who bathe her and recite magic spells. She will always return to the menstrual house during her period.


The Tiv tribe literally mark a girl at the time of her first period. Four lines are cut into her abdomen. The remaining scars represent her womanhood and are thought to make her more fertile.

Sri Lanka

When a girl gets her first period in Sri Lanka, the exact time and day are noted. An astrologer is consulted who predicts many things about the girl's future based on the time and the alignment of the stars. The family then prepares their house for a ritual bathing, in which the women of the family wash the girl's hair and scrub her all over. She then puts on new white clothes from her underwear to her shoes. Printed invitations are sent for a party where gifts and money are presented to the girl.

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