Puberty

Puberty is a time of important growth that comes with physical, emotional, and social changes. During puberty, our brains and our bodies transition from their child version to their adult version. Most people start puberty anywhere between eight and 13 years old. For some of us, it happens a little before or after that. There’s no single “right” time to hit puberty. Everyone’s body, mind, and circumstances are different and so, will change at their own pace. 

In some cases, puberty starts too early or is delayed. If that’s the case for you or your child, it is important to get support from health care providers. 

An important part of taking care of ourselves during this time of transition is to get well informed about puberty and get familiar with what we can expect to happen. 

Puberty can bring on some strong feelings. Some of us will feel dread about all the changes, others will feel excitement, and some, confusion. We might even feel all those feelings at once. That said, having the right information on hormones, periods, growing hairs, and how to deal with things like mood swings, wet dreams, and crushes can help us navigate this moment in our lives. 

Click here to visit Teen Health Source for inclusive information on puberty »

So, what’s happening during puberty?

Puberty happens when changes in our hormones begin the shifts in our bodies. Basically, our brain sends a message to our glands to start producing the types of hormones that will make us grow, mature and change into the adult version of ourselves. Testes start producing testosterone, while ovaries start producing estrogen (among other hormonal cocktails). Those are the hormones that cause most of the bodily change as we grow up.

Hot Tip: We all have different levels of both testosterone and estrogen regardless of our genitals. Many people think that the genitals we have or what hormones we produce are an indicator of what gender we identify with. It’s more complicated than that and these categories are not as easy to define or pin down as we often make them. Most of us feel like the sex we were assigned at birth and our gender align, meaning we are cisgender. But for some of us, that’s not the case and puberty can certainly bring on some strong feelings around bodily changes. For more on sex and gender, visit this section of the hub. 

As levels of hormones change, our bodies start to change, too.  For those of us with ovaries, the hormones they produce brings on the development of breasts and our body shape can change, getting more rounded with our hips widening and/or with our waist getting more defined. This is also the time for menarche, which is the name we give to someone’s first period.

For those of us with testes, the increased levels of testosterone they make brings on the growth of facial hair, the development of the Adam’s apple and our voice cracking as it begins to deepen. 

During puberty, we will experience some growth spurts that will get us to our adult height. Hair starts to grow both in the genital area and in the armpits. The hair on our arms and legs might get thicker and more noticeable. Our skin might get oilier, leading to break-outs or blemishes. Cleaning our skin with a facial cleanser can help. 

This is also when we might start to notice that our sweat smells different, getting more musky – many of us will start using deodorant or anti-perspirant and showering more often to deal with that. These things might feel embarrassing, but remember that everyone around you either has or will experience similar changes. Remember: everyone will experience this differently and no two experiences of puberty will look alike. 

Crushes, feelings, fantasies, and more

During puberty, many people notice romantic or sexual feelings getting more intense. Some of us might start to fantasize or dream about sex. Masturbation is a healthy way of exploring sexual feelings and learning what feels good for you. Some people feel guilt or shame around pleasuring themselves or having sexual fantasies because of how sex is talked about around us, but having those thoughts and urges is normal and healthy. What is important when it comes to sex and sexual desire is to learn how to be an ethical and respectful person and, eventually, sexual partner. Read more here.

Having all these sexual feelings running around our heads and our bodies going abuzz might mean we start seeking out porn. Check out our section on porn here. 

Ejaculation and Erections

While erections happen from birth, during puberty, people start being able to ejaculate when they orgasm. While ejaculation usually happens during sex or masturbation, it can also happen while you sleep. That’s totally normal and is called a “wet dream”. This means you might sometimes wake up with some semen in your sheets or underwear.

While it’s often a sign of being sexually excited, erections – or boners – can happen for many reasons, especially during puberty. Getting erections at “random” times is a normal part of this time of transition and hormonal changes. Some of us may feel embarrassed or frustrated about those random boners, but it will pass in time. Some people will use tricks like sitting down at their desks, putting a backpack or jacket in front of them, or going to the bathroom to wait it out. 

Once someone can ejaculate – or ‘come’, it’s important to know that if vaginal sex happens without a condom on, coming inside of the vagina means that sperm is getting into the vaginal canal and travelling up into the cervix and beyond. This means that pregnancy is possible if this happens at the time of the month when your partner is fertile. Most people are not aware of exactly when they are fertile and so, it’s risky to rely only on timing as your way to avoid getting pregnant. If you are NOT trying to get pregnant, there are lots of great ways to reduce the risk of getting pregnant, and of getting an STI. 

For more information on puberty, click here.

Menstruation

Puberty is the time when those of us who have ovaries will get their menarche, which is the first menstrual period. Around the same time each month, an egg is released from one of your ovaries. When that happens, your body starts preparing itself for a possible pregnancy by thickening the walls of the uterus. If the egg isn’t fertilized (by meeting with sperm), then the extra lining, which is made of blood, comes out of the vaginal opening. That’s a period. Once a month (approximately, as cycles can vary from 21 days long to 35 days long), you bleed from your vagina for a few days (from approximately two to five days, although that can be pretty irregular at first).

Everyone’s periods will look a bit different, both in terms of when they start happening and also in terms of the amount of blood that comes out, how long they last, and what side-effects they experience (cramping, headaches, and diarrhea are common). 

This can sound nerve-wracking at first, but there are many great ways to manage having your period. Many people choose to use either tampons (which are highly absorbent cotton cylinders you insert into the vagina – they come in different sizes) or pads (an absorbent pad of cotton that sticks to your underwear), or menstrual cups (a reusable, washable cup that catches your menstrual blood). For more on these options, read here. 

When it comes to the aches and pains and cramps of periods, taking a warm bath or sitting with a heating pad on your lower back or abdomen can help, and so can taking over-the-counter pain relievers (like ibuprophen or acetaminophen). 

Some of us may experience more pronounced mood swings around our periods. If you experience symptoms that make it hard to function, to be around people or if you experience intense pain, it is important to seek support from family and health care providers. Some of us can get really depressed or anxious before our period start. Some of us may have endometriosis which can cause extremely painful cramping. Make sure you get the support you deserve!

For more information on puberty for those of us with ovaries, click here.

 

Puberty while Trans and/or non-binary: Puberty can be a tough time for young people who experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is when someone doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth and feel tough emotions because of the disconnect between how people perceive them and how they feel. Some people can feel distress about their body and the way others may see them because their gender doesn’t fit with their assigned sex. Puberty can make this gender dysphoria feel more intense, because suddenly, you are experiencing emotional and physical changes that might not feel aligned with your gender. If you are having a hard time with gender dysphoria, you don’t have to deal with this alone. You deserve support.

 

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