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.
What is puberty?
Puberty is the time when a child’s body changes into an adult’s body. The body grows faster during puberty than any other time, except for when a baby is growing in the womb. Puberty is about more than just getting taller. Feet, hands, arms…everything will get bigger. Some specific changes will happen depending on your biological sex (having a male, female, or intersex body), and we’ll talk about that more later on.
Why does puberty happen?
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. People with female body parts will produce more estrogen, and people with male body parts will produce more testosterone.
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 the ages 8 and 13 for people with female body parts, and between 9 and 15 for people with male body parts. However, puberty can start earlier or later than this. It’ll happen when the body is ready.
What’s going to happen to my body?
No matter if your body is male, female, or intersex, you can expect 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.
There are also some specific changes that depend on your biological sex (what body parts you were born with):
- Breasts: Breasts 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.
- Hips: Hips usually start to grow bigger. This is normal, and it may make them appear curvier.
- Periods: Puberty causes bodily changes that make someone able to become pregnant. Inside a female body is usually a uterus with two ovaries that have thousands of eggs inside. Each month, the ovaries release an egg that can be fertilized by sperm to become a pregnancy. As this happens, the uterus is gaining more lining to prepare for possible pregnancy. When the egg isn’t fertilized, the change in hormones in the body causes the uterus to shed its lining. This shedding is called a “period.” To learn more about periods, check out the links at the end of the page.
- Discharge: It’s common for some clear or white stuff to come out of the vagina. This is called “vaginal discharge,” and it’s just a sign that the body is growing normally.
- Muscles: Because of the testosterone being released, muscles grow and broader chests and shoulders develop. Sometimes, breast growth can happen on the chest. This usually goes down with time.
- Voice: 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.
- Genitals: During puberty, the penis will get longer and wider, and the testes (balls) will get bigger. Everybody’s penis is different, and they all grow at different rates.
- Erections: When a person gets sexually excited or they play with their penis, it will often get hard and grow bigger. This is called an “erection.” During puberty, erections happen a lot, even when a person isn’t even thinking about sex. This can be awkward, but it will happen less over time.
- Ejaculation: 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.”
If you are intersex (have both or some combination of male and female body parts), or if you’re not sure about your sex, your doctor can help give you more clear information on how puberty will affect you.
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 counselor, 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 counselor.
Check out the links below for more info on the stuff in this article:
All about puberty – SexualiyandU
This article looks at all of the possible changes during puberty, in the body, in moods, and in socializing.
The basics of breasts – Scarleteen
Scarleteen looks at breast growth during puberty, breast health, and how media might make unrealistic expectations around breast size.
KidsHealth: All about puberty
A short article that explains some of the main parts of puberty. A good read if you’re just learning about puberty, or if you want to learn more.
KidsHealth: Five Things Girls Want to Know About Periods
A good resource for young girls who want to learn about periods. Whether you’ve just started your period, you haven’t had one yet, or you’ve been having them for a long time, this article can help answer some common questions you might have.
Planned Parenthood: Menstruation (Periods)
An article explaining what periods are, why they happen, and how to deal with them.
Getting Your Period – GirlsHealth.gov
Introduction to the period (menstruation)- what it is, how and when it happens, taking care of it with methods such as tampons, pads, and menstrual cups.
Male and Female genitalia development
Information on the development of the clitoris and penis, and why the two can appear different and/or similar.