The physical growth and maturing that occur during puberty ultimately results in people being able to have kids – either by making adult sperm or being able to get pregnant. Along with this ability comes an increase in interest in sex and dating. Making personal decisions about dating that are healthy for you can be difficult. A parent or your medical provider are good people to talk with about making decision that feel healthy for you.
When does puberty begin?
The time that puberty starts varies by individuals. The first sign of puberty in females is generally between the ages of 9-14, and 11 and 16 for males. These are average time spans and the start of puberty has been seen earlier or later in both males and females.
People start puberty at different ages, some closer to 10, others closer to 15. Factors that impact when puberty starts include your family history/genetics, your body type and size, as well as other factors in your environment. There is no way to stop, start or hurry puberty. It is natural to feel worried when you see other people developing before you. Similarly, many young people that start puberty early are also distressed by this. If you are concerned about your body and the way it is developing, it’s important to speak with your provider about your concerns and discuss what you can expect (more below on this).
During puberty, females will notice the following changes:
- Growth in the size of breasts
- Overall growth spurt
- Hair growth under arms, on legs and in the pubic area
- Increased sweat under arms and other parts of the body
- Some white mucusy vaginal discharge
- Oilier skin with some acne
A major part of puberty for girls is the menstruation cycle which is sign that your body is now able to become pregnant. Most girls go through their menstrual cycle monthly (every 21-34 days), while others go through it at a more frequent or slower pace. The end of a menstrual cycle results in menstrual bleeding, usually referred to as your period. During your period, you will notice light to moderate bleeding from your vagina. The bleeding will typically last 3-7 days. During your period, you can wear either a sanitary pad or a tampon to collect the blood and prevent the flow from staining your clothes. Along with the bleeding, you may feel cramps in your abdominal area or your back, you may have breast pain, diarrhea, fatigue or even nausea and vomiting; fortunately these severe symptoms are not very common, but all the symptoms can be helped by medicine, so talk to your provider if you experience these. It’s a good idea to track the start and end of your periods on a calendar to help you predict and prepare for it; there are free period tracker apps for this.
Leading up to your period you may notice mood swings, bloating and some crapping. These changes are referred to as premenstrual syndrome. Learn how to cope with premenstrual syndrome here. If you’re worried about your period, discuss with your provider or an adult you trust.
During puberty, males may expect the following changes:
- Increase in height
- A change in your voice, and eventually a deeper voice
- Skin changes – oily skin and sweating
- Facial and body hair
- Darker & coarser pubic hair and hair under the arms
- A growth in the testes and the scrotum, and soon after a growth in the penis
As the penis grows erections (when the penis gets hard) occur more frequently. Erections can occur when thinking sexual thoughts, while sleeping, but also frequently happen at unwanted or embarrassing times. This is common in early puberty and happens less as puberty progresses. Shifting your thoughts to boring topics like homework or sports can help an unwanted erection go away.
Ejaculation is when liquid containing sperm comes out of the penis. This generally happens when masturbating (touching yourself), being touched, or when sleeping (called wet dreams). Ejaculating during these times is normal.
During puberty some guys have a little bit of growth of the nipple or area under the nipple. The same hormones the cause all the other body changes during puberty cause this. These chest and nipple changes generally resolve by the end of puberty. If you are worried about chest or nipple growth ask your provider.
What other changes can I expect?
During this stage of your life, you may also feel more emotions than usual such as crankiness, sadness or anger. You may also feel more affection towards your classmates or peers. Your feelings and sexuality are an important change to recognize as you grow up. This is because in addition to changes in your body, there is growth and changes occurring in your brain. The changes in the brain are amazing and allow for a more complex way of thinking and a more mature way of connecting with others.
During this time, your yearly exams are especially important and it is a great time to talk to your provider about the changes you’re going through.. Your provider may refer you to a doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine to partner with you through your teen years.
What questions do I ask?
- I’m noticing a change in my body that I hadn’t read about. Is this normal?
- How do I tell my parents that I’m noticing these things?
- (females) When do you think I can expect my period? How do I prepare for it?