Today morning, my eleven-year-old cousin came into my room, awkward and hesitant, which surprised me because she is usually a bubbly person. Upon inquiring, I found out that she wanted to talk about some uncomfortable changes happening to her body, like tiny buds appearing around her nipples, and her pubic area darkening. I smiled and said: “Welcome to Puberty!”
She had so many questions, all of them valid, and they took me back to those days when I felt the same but had nobody to guide me through it. Puberty has a way of making us all feel alone and self-conscious, doesn’t it? So, I decided to revisit those uncomfortable days and put down everything I could to make the transition a bit easier for my cousin and other adolescents.
Let us start with: What is Puberty?
Puberty is the time when you go through a series of significant physical, psychological and emotional changes. These changes signify that you are turning from a child into an adult.
Why do they happen? Simple, to prepare your body for adulthood.
Is it natural? Absolutely! One of the things about puberty is that the body we know as ours starts to change, and any change is uncomfortable. That uneasy experience makes us feel alone; when in reality, this is the one experience every single human being goes through. It is 100% natural and healthy.
Is it easy? Not exactly. There will be many difficult parts of it but none of them are impossible to go through. We are well-equipped to deal with all of the hard parts. We just have to understand it first.
How are the changes caused?
The changes during puberty are caused by hormones. The main hormones are testosterone for males, and estrogen and progesterone for females. In simple words, when these hormones are released in your body, it signals the start of puberty, which informs the body to start making changes in itself.
The changes in adolescence are not all straightforward and immediate. They are gradual and often different in each person, which is why they can get confusing. But the general idea of it can be explained through the stages of puberty.
The Stages of Puberty in Girls:
Puberty generally starts earlier for girls, some time between 8 and 13 years of age.
The first stage of puberty in girls is between 8-11 years, and the first sign of it is that your breasts start developing. You will initially have small, firm, tender lumps called buds. But as you grow up, the breasts will become larger and less firm. It is completely normal if the left and right breasts grow at different speeds.
Some other parts of your body start to grow too – like the head, face and hands. These parts also might grow a bit faster than your limbs and torso. But don’t worry about looking disproportionate, it will get normal! Besides, girls usually stop growing at around 16-17 years.
Apart from that, your body shape will change, more specifically, your hips will widen. Soon, dark and curly hair will begin to appear on your labia. These are called pubic hair.
The second stage of puberty is between 12 and 14 years, usually 2 to 4 years after your breasts first started developing. Hair will begin growing under your armpits. Other changes include white discharge from the vagina. This discharge starts occurring a few months before you are going to get your period.
And then, the event that it was all leading up to — menstruation. You will finally get your period! Like I said, it is different for each person, and so, you might get your period sooner or later. You might even go through all the puberty changes by the age of 12, or you might experience them at a slower rate until you are 16. None of these are abnormal, it is just how you were made!
The Stages of Puberty in Boys:
The physical changes of puberty for a boy usually start two years later than girls, which is between 10 and 16 years of age.
The first stage of puberty for boys, around 11-13 years, consist of your penis and testicles enlarging. Again, it’s normal for one testis to grow faster than the other. Pubic hair will start to appear on the area above your penis and on the scrotum.
By the time you are 14, you will begin to get taller. Your head, face and hands might grow faster than your limbs and torso, and it is again normal as boys usually stop growing at around 18-20 years. Your body shape will also change as your shoulders broaden and you gain some muscle on your upper body.
At around 13-15 years of age, you will start to become a little bit hairy. Well okay, a lot hairy! Hair will start growing under your arms, on your face and on your chest. Leg and arm hair will also thicken. You might even grow more body hair into your early 20s, or you might grow very little facial or body hair. Let me tell you, boys, these all instances are entirely normal. Having or not having facial and body hair doesn’t decide what a man really is! Apart from that, your larynx, which is also called the voice box or the Adam’s Apple, will get larger and your voice will break, eventually becoming deeper and heavier.
Finally, around 14-16 years, the hormone testosterone is produced, stimulating the testes to produce sperm. Boys, you get erections in your penises pretty much from your infancy but during puberty, erections often happen for no reason at all and become more frequent. You also start to ejaculate from your penises, releasing sperm containing semen. This can happen during masturbation or even otherwise when you are sleeping, which is called a wet dream.
All this information might be a lot for you to process, but now that you understand it, it will start making sense to you as you observe the changes in yourself. What will be more fascinating is how physically different girls and boys are from each other! Speaking of which, let me ask, do you know what these differences are called?
Primary & Secondary Sexual Characteristics:
Primary and secondary sexual characteristics refer to physical traits that set apart males and females. In a sexually dimorphic species such as humans, men and women look different from one another, and these characteristics make that happen.
What is the difference between Primary & Secondary Sexual Characteristics, you ask?
It’s quite simple, really. Primary sexual characteristics are present from a person’s birth. For a woman, that would be her vagina and ovaries. For a man, that would be his penis and testes.
Whereas, secondary sexual characteristics emerge at puberty, the ones we just learnt about. Breasts, wider hips, and menstruation for a woman. Facial hair, deeper voice, and increased stature for a man.
Dealing with puberty can be a confusing experience. Along with your body, your mind also goes through changes. You might feel more emotional than usual, and that is again very normal.
Learning about your body and the upcoming changes can better prepare you for them. We, at ThatMate can make that easier for you by guiding you about your physical, mental, and sexual health. Using interactive stories and comic strips, we help you make informed decisions at every step of your teenage life. Plus, you get to experience Gamified Learning and even talk to our chat bot on the ThatMate app. So, my advice is that you let your curious voice take the upper hand, and do not hesitate to explore each question your mind throws at you.
As you start to understand your body and mind more, your observations will turn into explorations. You will have strange experiences, meet all kinds of people, meet a whole new version of yourself, and even make a few mistakes. But at the end of all this, you will get life lessons worth remembering.
Buckle up, buddy! It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride!
– Anushka Jain