You must have wondered about what will be happening to you as your body changes during this time. Not to worry, it’s perfectly normal for you to be curious about and want to know about your changing and growing bodies. It is important to learn these facts, so you can stay healthy, take good care of yourself and make good decisions about yourself as you are growing up and for the rest of your life. Besides, learning about these things is fascinating and fun, so here goes…
There is no right or exact age when puberty starts, neither is there a way to speed it up or slow it down. For most boys, the usual age is between eleven and fourteen, and nine and thirteen for most girls. No two boys or girls go though puberty in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. As such, you may find that among your peers, some are already nearing the end of puberty while others are just starting. In all, it usually takes between four and five years to pass through all the stages of puberty.
There are many changes that occur during puberty. Some of these changes will occur in both boys and girls, while others will be peculiar to your sex, i.e. whether you are a boy or a girl. Not all changes will be physiological. Some are also emotional. Here are some of the changes that you should expect to see as you go through puberty; but keep in mind these changes will not occur in everyone at the same time, so don’t get anxious if you’re not noticing these changes in yourself as your friends are experiencing them:
Physiological Changes in Girls
- Nipples gradually get bigger
- Pubic hair appears around the genitals
- Hips get bigger and wider
- Body sweats more
- Develop pimples on the face
- Body gains some weight
- Arms and legs grow longer
- Hands and feet grow biggeR
- Bones in the face grow larger and the face looks less childlike
- A tiny bit of sticky clear fluid may come out of the vagina (cervical mucus)
- Menstruation can begin
Physiological Changes in Boys
- Penis and testicles increase in size
- Facial hair starts to grow
- Pubic hair appears around genitals
- Body hair starts to grow under the arms, on the legs and chest
- Shoulders and chest get broader
- Voice gets deeper as the larynx gets bigger
- Develop pimples on the face
- Arms and legs grow longer
- Body gains weight and grows taller
- Hands and feet grow larger
- Bones in the face grow and the face looks less childlike
- May experience wet dreams and first ejaculation
- Desire for greater independence from parents’/family’s influence, and desire for acceptance among peers/friends
- Self-criticism may become evident in response to growing need to “belong”
- Mood swings may occur, with times of happiness and sadness
- Questioning of family values as teens begin to determine their own values. This will occur especially if there is conflict between family, cultural and societal values
- Romantic or sexual feelings will occur towards others, usually a friend or acquaintance
- Authoritative attitude towards younger siblings may develop, usually because teens want to elicit acceptance of developing adult status
Puberty is confusing and awkward for most people– expect to feel weird…you’re not alone! One common thing about puberty is that almost everyone worries about being normal. A funny thing about all this is that what you worry that you don’t have enough of is what someone else worries that s/he has too much of! A girl might worry that she has small breasts, while another might worry that she has too big breasts. Irony of life you might say!
The chances are that everything you’re experiencing is normal, but if you’re worried that something isn’t, talk with your parents, a trusted adult or a health professional.
What Will I Look Like?
OK, you want to look like those movie starts you’ve seen on TV, or the models in fashion magazines? Tall, broad-shouldered, perfect dentition, killer-eyes, perfect figure, wealthy, in total control of their emotions and lives… We’ve got news for you– these are not real, everyday people. Do they look like people you see at school, on the bus, or the places you hang out? Certainly not! Have you noticed that human bodies are of different sizes, shapes and colours? Your height, weight, the size of your genitals, and overall shape all depend on your family background. If all your relations are tall and broad-shouldered, it’s very likely that you’ll be too. If they are thin, fat, or have a particular eye colour, there’s a good chance that you’ll be like them. With diet, exercise, or medical procedure, you may be able to alter your look, but there’s not much difference this will do. Many of these TV stars in real life, are not as they are portrayed on TV. They aren’t perfect and free of all the challenges that we all face. The truth is that a lot are far from if not the opposite of what they are portrayed to be. They are just practicing their trade…ACTING! So when you think about the kind of person you want to be when you’re fully grown, it’s helpful and saves you a lot of trouble to look for role models in the people that you know and have interacted with, and not the make-believe characters you see on TV.
You should love your body the way it is…you’re unique! If however, you’re very concerned about your look, you may want to talk with a relative or another adult that looks like you. S/he may have some helpful advice.
Many of the physical changes that take place during puberty cause your bodies to work in many news ways, so a large part of growing up is learning to take care of your new body. Here are the essentials:
Diet, Exercise and Rest
Fat is the way our body stores food. Girls have more body fat than boys because nature prepares women to feed themselves and a growing baby when they become pregnant.
As you go through puberty, chances are that you’ll get hungry often and want to fill your stomach. Now is the time to think about your eating habit. It is essential that you eat a variety of foods to get a balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables are also essential and you should eat them in good quantity.
Exercising helps to keep your body in shape, enhances blood circulation and helps you think more clearly. It doesn’t matter the kind that you choose– whether jogging, aerobics, swimming, team sport, or dancing– as long as you do something.
After a long day, it is essential that you get enough rest to keep you healthy and alert. Between eight and ten hours of sleep each night is usually enough to achieve this, but it is up to you to determine how much sleep you need. For example, if you find that you yawn through most of the day, it may be an indication that you need more sleep.
Skin, Hair and Sweat
Girls and boys grow more hair during puberty. The amount again will depend on heredity and is not an indication of your masculinity or femininity.
During puberty, the sweat glands produce more sweat than before, therefore both boys and girls sweat under their arms and develop a new kind of body odour. This is why it is important to have regular baths at this period. It’s also important to use deodorants or antiperspirants or body spray to keep the body smelling fresh and nice. Antiperspirants reduce the amount of sweat produced by the body, while deodorants destroy bacteria that cause body odour.
Most boys prefer to shave their beards and mustaches while others don’t. For those who prefer to shave, it is proper to buy a shaving stick for personal use. Boys should avoid sharing shaving equipment with others and should clean them after each use. In order to avoid hair lice, boys should wash their hair regularly with a shampoo and oil it to keep it healthy and nice.
Boys also need to take regular baths and wash their penis and testicles with mild soap. They should also wear clean pants regularly. Sometimes, boys prefer to wear boxer shorts. These should be kept clean as well.
It is also essential for girls to wear clean underpants as well as avoid introducing chemicals such as sprays to the vagina because this can lead to infections.
The hormones in girls’ bodies make their breasts react in certain ways. For instance, they often become fuller and a bit painful just before menstruation, when the hormones are at their most active after a period they may feel softer and smaller. Every girl’s breasts feel different. Some breasts feel gritty or have lumpy areas in them, others feel like thick foam, smooth and even all over. Nipples vary too in size, colour and shape.
Monthly Breast Self-Exam
Breast self-exam means checking your breasts to see if there are any lumps or other irregularities that might be signs of breast cancer. Not all breast lumps are signs of cancer, but since cancer can appear as a small lump in the breast, it is important to examine your breasts and have a doctor check any lumps you find to rule out the possibility of breast cancer.
The self-exam should be done about once a month and right after your menstrual period and when you’re relaxed. The process involves looking at and feeling your breasts and can be done in any of the three ways described below:
In the bathroom: Raise one arm. With fingers flat, touch every part of each breast gently feeling for a lump or thickening. Use your right hand to examine your left breast, your left hand for your right breast.
Before a mirror: With arms at your sides, then raised above your head, look carefully for changes in the size, shape and contour of each breast. Look for dimpling, or changes in skin texture. Gently squeeze both nipples and look for discharge.
Lying down: Place a towel or pillow under your right shoulder and your right hand behind your head. Examine your right breast with your left hand. Fingers flat press gently in small circles, starting at the outermost top edge of your breast and spiraling in toward the nipple. Examine every part of the breast. Repeat with left breast. With your arm resting on a firm surface, use the same circular motion to examine the underarm area. If you notice any thing unusual, consult your doctor.
Cancer of the testes is not a particularly common form of cancer. But when it manifests, many men do not discover the tumor, or if they do, they do not see a doctor. The first sign is usually a painless lump in the testes, or a slight enlargement or change in consistency of the testes. It is therefore, advisable for every young man to learn how to do the testicular self-examination.
Do your self-examination after a warm bath or shower when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed. Examine each testicle gently with the fingers to check for any hard lumps. If a lump or a nodule is found, it will usually be on the sides or front of the testicle and should not be confused with the epididymis, which is located on the top and back side of the testicle. Though the lump may not be cancerous, it is best to see a doctor immediately.
Before puberty, boys’ and girls’ chests look alike. They are smooth with small raised nipples. But when puberty starts, one of the first changes you’ll notice is the growth of breasts. The inside of the breast is made up of fatty tissue and many milk-producing glands called mammary glands. If a woman has a baby, breasts produce milk for feeding the baby.
Breasts are very sensitive to touch. The areola and nipples of all breasts, even those of boys, have a network of nerves that make them very sensitive. That’s why, when it is cold, or when the nipple is touched, or when a person is thinking about something romantic or exciting, the nipples become harder and erect.
How Do Breasts Develop?
As with everything else in puberty, your body has its own timetable for developing breasts. It takes three to five years from the time your breasts begin tot develop for them to grow to their full size. Since it happens slowly, you will have time to get used to their new size.
The size of your breasts and nipples are preplanned by heredity, so expect a breast the size of your mum’s or that of a close female relative. Many girls notice their chests changing when they are about eleven years old. Of course many start to notice changes earlier and many later. The final size of your breasts has nothing to do with the age you are when they started to develop.
What Do Breast Look Like?
Breasts come in different sizes and shapes and could be lumpy or smooth. There is no perfect shape or size of breast. Some girls worry if hair grows around their nipples. This hair is coming and plucking it can cause infection. In addition, many girls have one breast that is bigger than the other or two nipples that look different. It probably won’t always be that way. Within two years, most breasts will balance out and look more or less the same. Some girls also worry about how their breasts feel, probably because of the fear of breast cancer. That your breasts are lumpy don’t mean you have cancer. Cancer of the breast is uncommon in adolescent girls. Many breasts feel lumpy all over, but if a lump stays in one place for a couple of weeks or if you squeeze your nipple and a discharge comes out, you need to see a doctor.
Puberty is the time when many girls, if they choose, that to wear bras. Bra is short for brassiere. A girl often goes with her mother, grandmother, older sister, aunt, or a friend to buy her first bra.
It is not necessary to wear a bra to keep your breasts healthy. Girls and women who wear bras do so because they feel more comfortable wearing them. Some wear a bra only when they are exercising or playing a sport, while others wear one all the time, except when sleeping. Still others never wear a bra at all. Whatever the size your breasts, you can find a bra that fits you. Bras are made with different size cups to support various breast sizes.
Feelings About Breasts
When you develop breasts, you may feel you are on display. Breasts are an obvious sign that you are growing into a woman. Sometimes, your male friends don’t know how to react to this change. They might make remarks about the size of your breasts or might even try to snap the back of your bra. Some boys, and even grown men, might try to rub against you or touch your breasts when they walk by. They have no right to do this. They aren’t thinking about your feelings and do not care about or understand your embarrassment. You can say “I don’t like it when you do that” or even a forceful “Stop it.” Talk to an adult you trust if this behaviour continues.
There are many names for menstruation— monthly cycle, period, flow, menses, etc. Once you start to get your period, you can get pregnant if you have sex. Girls usually get their periods after their breasts have started to develop and they have pubic and underarm hair. A girl’s first period is called menarche. You may notice a whitish discharge from your vagina about a year or so before your period begins. This is a sign that your body is working. The discharge dries to a yellowy stain on your underwear. It gets thicker just before your period. Most girls start their periods when they’re around twelve, but it can happen at anytime between ages ten and fifteen.
What Does a Period Look Like?
One day you will see a reddish discharge on your underpants, or notice a small amount of blood in the toilet water or on the toilet paper, or you might even get a damp feeling in your underwear. In the first few hours of your period, it is rare to have a gush of menstrual flow that stains your outer clothes.
A girl who is unprepared for menstruation might be frightened and think she has injured herself. When you menstruate, you are not bleeding in the way you bleed from a cut or injury. Your body is shedding a thin layer of tissue from the uterus over a number of days. The discharge you see when you get your period is made up of small amounts of blood and some extra lining in your uterus. It usually starts as a reddish fluid. As your flow increases, it is brighter red. After a day or so, it becomes a slight brownish discharge. It may seem you are losing a lot of blood, but the total amount of menstrual flow is only a couple of tablespoons.
Pregnant women do not get their periods. Menstruation continues until a woman is forty to fifty-five years old. The end of menstruation is called menopause.
How Do You Absorb the Flow?
To absorb your menstrual flow, you can wear a tampon, which is a plug of cotton that fits tightly inside your vagina, or a sanitary pad, which is a piece of absorbent material that attaches to your underpants.
Most pads are self-adhesive. To wear a pad, remove the wrapper and throw it in the garbage and not down the toilet, since it could clog the pipes. Peel off the paper to expose the sticky strip. Put the pad sticky-side down (i.e. on the inside of your underpants). Unless you are wearing a swimsuit or very tight clothes, it is impossible for anyone to see that you are wearing a pad. There is no way to tell if a girl is having her period just by looking at her.
When you change your pad, remove it from your underpants, fold it in half and wrap it in tissues or toilet paper and dispose of it in a garbage can. Never flush a sanitary pad down the toilet.
There are different thicknesses of pads. Try the different thicknesses till you find one that suitably absorbs your flow.
How Often Do I get My Period and For How Long?
For most girls, the length of time between the first day of one period and the first day of the next is twenty-eight days (i.e. four weeks), but many girls have periods that start twenty to thirty-five days apart.
The length of a period is different for different girls. Most periods last four days, but it is not unusual for girls to have periods as short as two days or as long as eight days. In the first year or two of menstruating, your periods may not be regular because your hormones are not into a set rhythm yet. If you are very excited or worried about something, or if you are exercising heavily or eating very little, you are likely to miss a period.
How Do I feel During this Period?
Getting your period is a normal, healthy thing. Some girls don’t notice any physical or emotional changes when they menstruate. However, many other girls find their menstrual cycles take them through a period of mood swings. You might have a surge of energy just before your period. On the other hand, you might feel tired, bloated, irritable, or unhappy, and your breasts may be sore and swollen. During your period, you may feel no different than you do on other days. You might have a tightening of the uterine muscles deep inside your abdomen. This is called cramps. Cramps can be just a slight pain but can also be very painful. Women who have severe menstrual cramps can see a doctor to prescribe drugs to ease the pain.
You were born with all the eggs you will ever have inside your two ovaries. There are hundreds of thousands of them. One egg is called an ovum and two or more is called ova. Until puberty, the eggs are immature, but at puberty, hormones in your body make your eggs ripen. Once a month, one of your ovaries starts to make estrogen and an egg starts to mature. Usually, only one egg matures at a time, but sometimes two or more eggs ripen.
When the egg is ripe, it bursts out of the ovary. This is called ovulation. Some girls feel some sensation when this happens, but most girls don’t notice it. After the egg is released, it travels from the ovary through the fallopian tube to the uterus.
After ovulation, the ovary stops making estrogen and starts making progesterone. This hormone tells the lining of the uterus to thicken in readiness for something that may or may not happen— conception. If the egg is fertilized by a sperm on its way to the uterus, a new life has started. The embryo will start to grow in the uterus and it will need the thick, nourishing lining of the uterus. If the egg is not fertilized, there is no need for the nourishing lining, so the uterus gets rid of it through menstruation. This cycle is repeated monthly.
Most girls get into the habit of circling on their calendars the day their period starts and when it ends. It is helpful to know when you are expecting your period. If you miss a period, you’ll know how long it has been since you menstruated. This is particularly helpful for women who wonder if they are pregnant.
When a girl is sexually excited or thinking about something romantic, her vagina will become wet and slippery with fluid that comes from glands inside her vagina. There’s no need to worry about that discharge, or the whitish discharge you get before and after your period. If you have a discharge that is yellowish or greenish, foul-smelling, or very itchy, then you have an infection.
Don’t be embarrassed to see a doctor about the vaginal infection; it could be from sexual intercourse, but it could also be from soap that you use, or by wearing nylon underwear, and by wiping from back to front after a bowel movement. The doctor will take a sample of the infected discharge to tell what it is and give you medicine to clear up the problem.
A douche is a cleanser sprayed into the vagina. Nobody needs a douche or a deodorant for his or her genitals. Douches, sprays and deodorants can irritate the tissue in the vagina. If you shower and bathe often, you’ll be clean. Remember that your vagina cleans itself with discharge.
Unless a girl is having sex or having problems with menstruation such as very heavy bleeding or painful cramps, there is no need for a doctor to examine the inside of her vagina and her cervix. This examination when needed is called a pelvic examination. You should however have a pelvic examination once every year after you have started having sexual intercourse and whenever you think you have an infection.
Many girls think a pelvic examination is painful. It doesn’t hurt, although it is a little uncomfortable. If you do not have a female doctor to do the examination, you should ask to have another woman in the room with you during the exam. Doctors need to examine you, but they are not allowed to talk to you in a sexy way or touch you in sexual ways.
Circumcision is an operation to cut away the foreskin. In the Jewish, Muslim and other faiths, it is a religious custom to circumcise baby boys. In some African cultures, it is a test of manhood to remove an adult’s foreskin during an initiation ceremony. Although a circumcised penis looks different from an uncircumcised one, both work in the same way and equally well too.
If you are not circumcised, you must gently roll back the foreskin and wash away the sticky white substance called smegma. Smegma is a lubricant so the foreskin can move. If it is not washed away, it can become smelly and cause an infection.
When your penis is soft, blood flows inside it. When your penis gets hard, muscles at its base tighten and trap blood inside. Your penis stands out from your body and gets darker, wider and harder. This is called an erection, or more commonly a hard-on. Your penis may stay erect for seconds, minutes or even half an hour. You might be afraid it will break, because it is so hard. It can’t. After a while, your muscles relax and your penis softens.
From the time you were an infant, you had erections. They happen when you make up in the morning, when you have to urinate, or when you feel anxious or frightened. During puberty, you might find that you have erections more often. Some will happen for no reason whatsoever, and other will happen because you are daydreaming about something sexual. It happens to all boys. It can be embarrassing to have an erection, especially if you are standing in front of a class or walking along the road. Try to ignore the erection and it will go away on its own within a few minutes.
Men and boys sometimes rub their penises quickly back and forth to give themselves an orgasm, because it gives them a pleasurable feeling. This is called masturbation, or more commonly, jerking off. Many people masturbate, and many don’t. Both boys and girls masturbate. You may decide not to masturbate because of your religious or cultural beliefs. It’s okay if you masturbate and it’s okay if you don’t. Contrary to what you might have heard, masturbation does not hurt your penis or testicles, cause you to use up all your sperm, or cause mental illness or any other bodily harm.
When you ejaculate, a white sticky fluid called semen spurts out of your penis during orgasm. This is commonly called coming and the white stuff— the ejaculate— cum. When you start ejaculating, you know you are producing sperm in your testicles. It means you can make someone pregnant.
Just before ejaculation, your sperm mixes with fluids to become semen. Your bladder closes off so no urine can come out. The semen moves along the urethra and out your penis. After a few minutes or up to half an hour, your penis relaxes and gets soft. You may be able to have another ejaculation within a few minutes or half an hour, and it may take hours or even a day. As men get older, there is a longer time before another ejaculation is possible.
You may not realize the first time you ejaculate because it may happen at night when you are fast asleep. You will wake up to find a white sticky fluid in your bed and on your body. A boy who doesn’t know what’s happening might think he has wet his bed during the night. But the fluid is semen and not urine and what you’ve had is called a wet dream. You might remember having a sexy dream during the night, though many boys don’t remember their dreams at all. Wet dreams are a part of growing up. There is no way to stop wet dreams. Your body keeps making sperm, and this is one of the ways your body gets rid of it.
If you have an erection for a long time without ejaculating, you may have a sore, aching feeling around your testicles and groin. This lasts only a while and is not harmful in any way.
Some boys try to stop ejaculation by closing the opening in their penis with a finger or cloth. The semen goes back up through the urethra and may clog in the tube that leads to the bladder. When this happens, there might be pain in the penis and cloudy urine. The problem may go away on its own, but you may get an infection and need to see a doctor for medication. This can be prevented by allowing the semen to come out your penis when you ejaculate.
When you were born, one-fifth of your body was muscle. At the beginning of puberty, your body was one-quarter muscle. It will be about half muscle by the time you’re an adult. Muscles allow your body to move. They are made of long, thin cylinders called fibers. You are born with all the muscle fiber your will ever have. Boys are born with more muscles than girls. As your bones grow longer, so does your muscle fiber, which gets longer and thicker. During puberty, your muscles thicken quickly and noticeably too because of the hormone testosterone in your bloodstream. Your muscle strength depends on how thick your muscle fiber becomes. You can increase the size and strength of your muscles by exercising and weight-lifting, but there is a limit to how thick your muscles can grow.
A Note About Steroids
Steroid is artificial testosterone and is given only for special medical reasons. Steroids make muscles bigger and stronger, but have dangerous side effects, especially for adolescent boys. They can make a boy dangerously aggressive, make him bald and increase his body hair. They can also stunt growth, cause diabetes and make a boy sterile. Adolescent boys should never use steroids to increase their muscle size or strength.
Your voice box, the larynx, grows during puberty. You will notice your Adam’s apple sticking out more in the middle of your neck. As your larynx and the muscles inside become thicker and longer, your voice deepens. Sometimes, a boy’s voice changes smoothly and gradually during puberty. Many boys find their voices “crack” during this time. One moment, you have a deep voice, and the next, you have a high, squeaky voice. This can be embarrassing, especially if it happens while you’re making a speech or public presentation. But never mind, your voice will even out as your larynx matures.
Although girls have the most noticeable breast development during puberty, boys’ breasts change as well. Your areola—the area around your nipple— becomes wider and darker, and your nipple gets larger. You may notice your chest is tender and there are small bumps or swelling. More than half of boys going through puberty notice some swelling. You are not growing breasts! This is a common part of puberty and can last for a year or more. If the swelling does not disappear after that time, you may need to talk to your doctor.