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Puberty: What’s Happening to My Body?

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Puberty can be a weird time for a lot of young people. Your body will change and grow as you become an adult. Some of these changes might surprise or confuse you, or make you feel worried, embarrassed, excited, or happy. These changes happen to many teens, so you’re probably not alone in how you feel.  Read on to learn more about what you can expect during puberty.

Some changes happen to everyone during puberty, and some changes are specific to the body parts and hormones you have. In this article, we’re going to talk about body parts and hormones instead of boys and girls. Often, girls will have vaginas and start making more estrogen during puberty, and boys will have penises and start making more testosterone during puberty. But, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, someone’s gender (girl, boy, non-binary, or more) may not match the sex that they were assigned at birth based on their body parts. This is often called being transgender. Sometimes, people are born with a different combination of body parts and hormones. This is often called “intersex.”

What is puberty?

Puberty is the time when a child’s body changes into an adult’s body. Your body grows faster during puberty than any other time in your life. Puberty is about more than just getting taller. Feet, hands, arms…everything will get bigger. Some specific changes will happen depending on what body parts and hormones you have.

Puberty happens when the body starts releasing certain hormones – chemicals that tell the body how to act and grow. There are lots of different kinds of hormones in the body, but two of them are most important for puberty: testosterone and estrogen. Most people have both hormones, but they work differently depending on a person’s body.

When will puberty happen to me?

Puberty happens at different times and it can take from 1.5 to 6 years to fully finish. Puberty usually starts between ages 8 and 13 for people with bodies that produce more estrogen. For people with bodies that produce more testosterone, puberty usually starts between the ages of 9 and 15. However, puberty can start earlier or later than this. If your parents or other family members started puberty late, there’s a good chance you will too. It’ll happen when the body is ready.

Puberty can also be delayed for medical reasons. Some disorders like diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis and anemia can slow or stop sexual development. Intense physical exercise or dieting can also affect it. Some intersex people can’t produce estrogen or testosterone on their own and need to take medications to start puberty. If you’re transgender, your doctor may give you medications called “blockers” that stop your puberty.

What’s going to happen to my body?

No matter what hormones and body parts you have, everyone experiences a few common changes:

  • Growing: You’ll grow taller, and your body parts, like your hands and feet, will grow too. Often, this can make you very hungry. You might start to eat a lot or gain a bit of weight. Your body needs this food to grow.
  • Hair: You’ll get hair under your arms and in your pubic areas (on and around your genitals). Many people will also grow hair on their face, chest, and body.
  • Acne: Lots of people get pimples and oily skin during puberty. This is called “acne”. You can make this better by washing your face twice a day with mild soap and warm water. If that isn’t enough, you can talk to your doctor about it. Luckily, acne usually gets much better as you finish puberty and get older.
  • Body odour: Most kids start to notice that they get sweaty and smelly under their arms and on their body. This usually isn’t a nice smell, but you can help fix that. To get rid of the smell, try showering regularly and wearing fresh clothes. You can also use deodorant or antiperspirant to keep you from getting stinky.

Changes related to estrogen

If your body starts making more estrogen during puberty, you can expect changes to your breasts and hips. Your breasts will start to develop, usually starting out with a little swelling under the nipples. Sometimes one breast grows more quickly than the other, but they usually even out. For some people, wearing bras can be helpful at this point. Your hips will usually start to grow bigger too, and it may make them look curvier.

Puberty also causes changes that make someone able to become pregnant. You’ll probably start getting your period. It’s common for it to take a few years for your menstrual cycle to become regular. Only people with uteruses and vaginas will get their period. People with vaginas may also start to notice clear or white stuff in their underwear. This is called “vaginal discharge” and it’s just a sign that the body is growing normally.

Changes related to testosterone

If your body starts making more testosterone during puberty, you’ll notice changes to your muscles and voice. Your muscles will grow and broader chests and shoulders develop. Sometimes, breast growth can happen on the chest. This usually goes down with time. Most people will develop a deeper voice as they go through puberty. While this happens, “voice cracks” are common and can make a person’s voice squeak. This typically stops eventually.

If you have a penis, it will get longer and wider and the testes (balls) will get bigger. Everybody’s penis is different, and they all grow at different rates. You may also notice that you’re getting erections more often. An erection is when your penis gets hard and grows bigger. It often happens when someone gets sexually excited or when they play with their penis, but erections can also happen when someone isn’t even thinking about sex. This can be awkward, but it will happen less over time. During puberty, the testes start to produce sperm, which are cells that can fertilize an egg to make a baby. When the penis is stimulated by masturbation or sex, some of that sperm is shot out. This is called “ejaculation.”

Why do I feel like this?

Many people can feel a lot of emotions when going through puberty. It’s okay if you’re sad, angry, happy, excited, or scared. It can help to talk about your feelings to a trusted adult, like your parents, a guidance counsellor, or a doctor. They’ve have likely all gone through puberty, so you might be surprised by how well they understand your feelings.

If you aren’t sure about something that you’ve read here, or if you just have more questions, you can try asking your doctor, school nurse, or guidance counsellor. You can also call Info-Sante at 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse or visit Head and Hands, a free clinic for youth under 26.

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