Puberty

Everybody goes through puberty. Puberty is the period of human development when a child’s body matures into an adult body. These changes might happen very quickly or very gradually over several years. Everyone’s experience with puberty is different, but there are still some changes that everyone goes through.

People react differently to puberty—some are uncomfortable with the unexpected changes, while others embrace them or adapt more quickly. When you experience the first signs of puberty, it can often be confusing and unexpected, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the process. But over time, you will adjust to these changes. Your older family members who have already gone through puberty understand those mixed feelings and may be willing to talk about them. But if you are more private or don’t want to talk about it with them, it may be helpful to read this section about what you can expect. In fact, even if you talk to others about this important stage of your life, it may still be helpful to read this section.

 In this section, we will cover:

  • The causes and characteristics of puberty
  • Descriptions of body parts that play a role in puberty
  • How bodies change during puberty through hormonal changes
  • How brains and emotions change during puberty
  • How reproductive systems work
  • How hygiene routines may need to change during puberty
What is puberty?

Puberty is the period of human development when a child’s body matures into an adult body. The changes people experience during puberty are physical, emotional, and sexual in nature:

  • Physical: changes in your bodily features and appearance
  • Emotional: changes in your feelings or moods
  • Sexual: changes in your sexual organs and your feelings related to sex

Note: Puberty is a time when a body sexually matures and becomes physically capable of having children (reproduction). While people with sexually matured bodies may be physically and sexually able to have children during or shortly after puberty, most people are not yet ready for the responsibilities of parenting at that time.

The changes that you experience during puberty may happen quickly or gradually over the course of several years. There is no “right way” or “right time” for puberty to happen. For example, one boy may start to grow a lot of facial hair and notice his voice becoming deeper at the age of 14, while another boy may not grow facial hair at all and notice his voice become deeper at the age of 13. How you experience puberty may be different from your friends and peers, and that is okay!

For some people, these changes are uncomfortable or awkward. That is not unusual! People might have lots of different feelings, both positive and negative, about puberty, and they are all normal.

What Causes Puberty?

As you grow, your brain will send a message to your glands (a group of cells that releases chemicals into the body) to start producing hormones that cause you to grow into an adult body. Hormones can be thought of as chemical “messengers” that tell your body what to do. (Your body also produces lots of different hormones unrelated to puberty that are involved in most bodily functions.)

Everyone has the hormones estrogen and testosterone in their body, no matter what sexual parts they have. But the amount of each hormone that people have is different, based mostly on their sexual parts. If your body has a vagina, that means you also have ovaries, which will start producing more estrogen during puberty than before. If your body has a penis, that means you also have testes (testicles), which will start producing more testosterone than before. The hormones course throughout your bloodstream and trigger the changes of puberty. The image below illustrates how glands send a message to the ovaries or testes. The arrows show which parts of the body are most affected by these hormonal changes.

For most people, puberty starts between ages 10 to 14, but it is perfectly normal to start puberty before or after that age. It is something you don’t have any control over. In general, girls start going through puberty earlier than boys.

Hormonal Male-Female diagram

Talking About Bodies

When talking about bodies, people have different preferences for what terms they like to use.

  • You may often hear people talk about “male bodies” or “men” when they talk about bodies with a penis, testicles, a scrotum, and more of the hormone testosterone.
  • You may often hear people talk about “female bodies” or “women” when they talk about bodies with a vagina, vulva, ovaries, and the hormone estrogen.

Almost everyone will know what you are talking about if you use this language – it’s very common. However, this language may not work for everybody. For example, some people are born intersex (a person born with reproductive or sexual anatomy or genetics that does not fit typical definitions of male and female), and some people are transgender (they feel that they are a different gender than their sex). For more information on these terms, see the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity section.

If you would like to use gender-neutral language that refers to body parts instead of referring to males and females or men and women, click the button below to be redirected. Don’t worry – all of the same information is still there, so you won’t miss anything!

Non-Gendered Language Please!
 
Body Parts

The human body is made up of many different parts. In this section, we will discuss the body parts that relate to puberty.

In our society, your sex describes your anatomy (body parts). If you have breasts, a clitoris, a vagina, a uterus, and ovaries, you are referred to as being female. If you have a penis, scrotum, and testes, you are referred to as being male. These genitals, or body parts make up a person’s sexual and reproductive anatomy, and are located both outside and inside the body.

This guide discusses just a few of the major body parts involved in puberty and the reproductive system so that you can begin to understand the basics. In addition, it is important to learn about how puberty impacts people whose sex is different than yours so that you can fully understand puberty and reproduction and how to relate better to others. 

body parts

Female Body Parts 

Female Reproductive Graphic

 

Vulva (external body part)

The vulva consists of the whole external genital area for girls and women: labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, and the opening to the urethra.

Vulvas come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The outer lips (labia majora) often have pubic hair on them. Every vulva is different, and there is no one right way for them to look.

Note: You may hear the word “vagina” (internal) used instead of the word “vulva” (external). Lots of people mix the two terms up.



Vagina (internal body part)

The vagina is a muscular canal that connects the vulva (the outside) to the internal sex organs. The vagina is typically 3-4 inches in length. The vagina has the ability to expand to accommodate the use of tampons, to give birth, and to have sex.



Clitoris (external and internal body part)

The clitoris (“clit” in slang terms) is located at the top of the vulva under the clitoral hood. The clitoris actually extends 4-5 inches inside of the body, but only the top part, under the clitoral hood, is visible. A clitoris has only one purpose: pleasure. When aroused, the clitoris may become hard and sensitive to the touch.



Ovaries (internal body part)

There are two ovaries, one on each side of the fallopian tube. The ovaries contain clusters of tiny, single cells called “eggs.” Ovaries also produce estrogen and progesterone (hormone that stimulates puberty and ovulation).



Uterus (internal body part)

The uterus is a muscular, pear shaped organ, also called the “womb.” The uterus is about the size of a fist, except during pregnancy, in which case, it stretches to hold a baby to full-term pregnancy.



Urethra (internal body part)

The urethra carries urine, or “pee” from the bladder out of the body. If you are a girl, the end of your urethra is below your clitoris and above your vaginal opening. If you are a boy, the end of your urethra is at the tip of your penis. For boys, the urethra also serves as a pathway for semen to travel through (we’ll talk more about semen in the Reproductive Changes section).

 

Male Body Parts
Male Reproductive Graphic

 

 

Penis (external body part)

A penis consists of the glans (the head), the corona (the ridge between the head and shaft), and the shaft (the long part). The urethra is the opening at the tip that allows fluids such as urine and semen to pass through.

Penises come in many shapes, sizes, and colors – there is no one way that is “better” than others. Some penises are circumcised (cut), and some are not (uncut). If the penis is circumcised, the foreskin, which covers the head of the penis, has been removed. Circumcision is done for many religious, cultural, or personal reasons shortly after a baby is born. Circumcised and uncircumcised penises may look different from one another.

The penis sometimes fills with blood, causing an erection – that is, the penis becomes stiff and sticks out. This is sometimes because of sexual feelings, but not always. During puberty, erections may happen at unexpected times as the body adjusts to changing hormone levels.



Scrotum (external body part)

The external skin sack that hold the testes. Located at the base of the penis.



Testicles (internal body part)

Testicles or “testes” produce sperm and testosterone (a hormone that stimulates puberty). The two testicles are located inside of the scrotum, below the base of the penis. Testicles are often very sensitive to touch, both painful and pleasurable. (Testicles are sometimes called “balls” in slang terms, but only in informal settings with certain people. You would usually not use this term with a teacher, for example, but you would probably use it with classmates or others your own age.)



Urethra (internal body part)

The urethra carries pee from the bladder out of the body. If you are a girl, the end of your urethra is below your clitoris and above your vaginal opening. If you are a boy, the end of your urethra is at the tip of your penis. In this case, the urethra also serves as a pathway for semen to travel through (we’ll talk more about semen in the Reproductive Changes section).

 


Physical Changes

Everyone experiences change during puberty, no matter what genitals (sexual parts) they have. Although a lot of the changes of puberty depend on what sexual parts you have and what hormones your body produces, some things change regardless of those body parts. These shifts in your body may require you to make some changes in your behavior or habits in order to stay healthy and safe.

All Bodies Change
Hair

Hair begins to grow in thicker in some places during puberty. Hair may start to grow on your legs, arms, armpits, around the genitals, under the belly button, and/or around the nipples. Some people grow a lot of body hair, and others barely notice any hair growth. Whatever amount of hair your body naturally grows is just right for you.

Managing Changing Body Hair

Hair begins to grow in thicker in some places during puberty. Hair may start to grow on your legs, arms, armpits, around the genitals, under the belly button, and/or around the nipples. Some people grow a lot of body hair, and others barely notice any additional hair growth. Whatever amount of hair your body naturally grows is just right for you.

Managing Changing Body Hair

Regardless of the amount, puberty adds more hair to bodies. People grow hair under their arms, on/around their sexual parts, and, for some people, more hair on their arms, legs, and face. When hair first begins to grow, it can cause the area of growth to be itchy. This is normal and may be lessened by keeping the area moisturized. Removing hair of any kind is a personal choice. For example,

  • People may choose to remove all, some, or none of their body hair as part of their grooming routine.
  • Some societies expect specific kinds of hair removal for certain people. For example, in some cultures and communities, women are expected to remove the hair from their legs and underarms, and men are expected to trim or shave their beards and mustaches.

Note: Just because hair removal might be expected, doesn’t mean it is required! Hair removal should be based on what you prefer and what feels right for you.

Body Hair Removal

Body hair removal is usually private and done at home or in a professional salon. If you have sensory sensitivities and want to remove some of your body hair, think about what type of hair removal options would feel comfortable for you. You should also think about hair re-growth. (For example, some people find the prickly feeling of hair growing back after shaving to be itchy or uncomfortable.) If you are not sure which option is best for you, test a small patch first.

There are many ways to remove body hair. Here are a few of the most common options:

  • Trimming: Using an electric razor, hair clippers, or scissors to trim hair down. This technique is often used for beards and moustaches. This is much like getting a haircut. If you are sensitive to sounds, note that this method involves noises that may be unpleasant for you.
  • Shaving: Using a razor to remove hair. This can be done almost anywhere on the body but should be done safely. Many people do this while in the bathtub or shower because the water softens the skin, and using soap or shaving cream makes shaving easier. Make sure to use a razor that is clean and that works for the area you want to shave – razors meant for beards are often different than razors meant for legs, etc. There are also different types of razors, such as manual blade razors and electric razors. Electric razors should not be used with water. It helps to talk to someone who has experience shaving before attempting to do this yourself the first time. If you are sensitive to smells, note that shaving creams often have strong scents. For more information, see “How to Shave Your Face,” “How to Shave Your Legs,” or “How to Shave Your Armpits.”
  • Depilatory cream: Using a chemical cream to remove hair. This method is most often used to remove leg hair. If you choose this method, make sure to read and follow the instructions on the package, since the chemicals in depilatories can be harmful if used incorrectly. If you are sensitive to smells, note that depilatories often have harsh chemical or strong artificial scents. For more information see: How to Use Hair Removal Cream.
  • Waxing: Using hot/warm wax that is made specifically for hair removal (not regular candle wax), applying it to a body part that you want hair removed from, and quickly pulling the wax off the skin. This process pulls the hair follicles out from the root. It may hurt to do this, but only for a few seconds. While this can be done by yourself, it is often done by a professional esthetician to make sure it is done correctly, avoid pain, and maintain good hygiene. For more information, see “How to Wax.”
 
Acne

types-of-acne-woman-with-pimples-vector-14585045

Acne (also called pimples, zits, blackheads, blemishes) occurs when the follicles (or pores) in your skin get clogged with oils and dead skin cells. There are different kinds of acne, and people experience acne in different amounts over their lifetime. Often when hormones shift (such as during puberty, but also during pregnancy or menstruation), acne may become more noticeable. Since oil and sweat glands become more active during puberty, some people start to get pimples or zits on their skin during this time. Acne most often occurs on the face in more naturally oily spots, but can appear on the back, thighs, or other places on the body. Acne is very common for people around ages 10-18, but it is not limited to that age range.

Acne is a sensitive topic for many people, so many people don’t like to talk about it unless they need help or support. For example, somebody may notice that they have many zits and want to talk to a parent about how to manage their acne, or, you might mention to a close friend if you feel embarrassed you are to have a zit right on your nose. People can feel embarrassed when they have pimples on their face, especially if they have a lot of pimples. Remember that many people also experience those feelings, so it is not something to be ashamed of. However, there are ways to help make acne less noticeable.

Managing Acne

Acne is not just caused by dirt, “bad” hygiene, foods, or even stress. Though these things can contribute, acne is likely caused by a combination of genetics, hormones, and environment. There are different products to help get rid of acne, some work better than others, and it may take some time to find a product that will work for you.

Here are some basic tips for managing acne:

  • Use a gentle pH balanced soap that doesn’t contain sulfur, perfume, or harsh chemicals.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Be aware of any allergies you might have.
  • Leave pimples alone and don’t touch them very much if possible. Picking at your acne could cause scarring or spread oils that could cause more acne.
  • If you must pop a zit, wash your hands before and after to keep your skin clean.
  • If your acne is particularly hard to manage, you can see a dermatologist who can help find treatments to help prevent and reduce acne breakouts.
 
Sweat and Body Odor

Sweat glands often become more active during puberty. This means that people may find that they sweat more than before. In addition, more active sweat glands can cause bodies to have a stronger odor than they had before puberty. This scent varies from person to person. Generally, sweat is not a pleasant smell.

Managing Hygiene Routines

More sweat and body odor means that you might need to change your hygiene routines. Some things to consider:

  • You may need to shower or bathe more often
    • You can take baths, where you sit in a tub of water, or you can take showers, where water sprays or runs over your body. Shower heads come in different varieties, and most allow you to change the pressure and feel of the stream of water – some feel like a hard rain storm and others feel like a stream of water from a faucet. You may need to try different pressures to find what is right for you.
    • Remember to wash your face, hair, and body.
    • Soap can be scented or unscented, and some soaps have exfoliants (slightly rough materials in the soap) to help scrub the skin. If you have sensitivities to touch or smell, choose a soap that will feel comfortable for you.
    • For more information, see “How to Take a Shower.”
  • You may need to start wearing deodorant on your underarms.
    • Deodorant helps a person cover their body odor.
    • Antiperspirant helps a person not sweat so much. If you sweat a lot and are concerned about the sweat staining your clothes or smelling foul, using an antiperspirant may be your best choice.
    • Sometimes deodorant and antiperspirant come as one combined item.
    • Much like choosing a soap, deodorant and antiperspirants come in a variety of scents and textures.
    • Deodorant is available in both spray and stick forms. Sprays come in an aerosol can and is sprayed on the armpit from about six inches away (see “How to Apply a Spray Deodorant”). Stick deodorant is rubbed across the armpit area (see “How to Apply Stick Deodorant”). If you are sensitive to particular sensations – spraying and rubbing – try different kinds until you find one that works. Finding one that you will use daily is important.
    • Fragrances cover smells, but they don’t clean your body, so they are not replacements for bathing regularly.
    • Perfume, cologne, or strongly scented deodorant can make you smell nice, but be careful not to use too much. These fragrances can bother other people, especially if they are sensitive to smell or are allergic to certain scents.

 

Growth of the Body

During puberty, people often grow more rapidly than before. Growth spurts, or periods of rapid growth, are common. This is when you may see people get taller quickly. Sometimes this rapid growth can cause muscles to ache or cramp. These aches or cramps are often referred to as “growing pains.” While they may be uncomfortable, they are simply your body’s normal response to the changes happening.

Managing Your Growing Body

Growing during puberty can cause some aches and pains, but there are ways to lessen these issues.

  • Good habits such as healthy eating, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep will help your body develop and ease some of the uncomfortable physical feelings.
  • Extra stretching, using heating pads, and massaging sore areas are all ways to help ease any growing pains that you experience.
  • Growing pains should not be unbearable or hurt too much. If you are in a lot of pain, you should seek medical attention.



Changes in Girls' Bodies

Girls experience changes during puberty based on increased estrogen levels being created by the ovaries. On average, girls undergo shifts in their bodies earlier in life than boys do. Usually these changes start between the ages of 9 and 13 years old, but each person is different and may experience the beginning of these earlier or later.

Breasts Begin to Develop

Breasts start growing during puberty. Breasts are all different shapes and sizes. They may grow over time, or they may seem to appear almost overnight. Some breasts continue developing into a person’s twenties.

Managing Developing Breasts

No matter what size and shape your breasts are, it’s likely that you will need to wear a bra. Wearing a bra can help support your muscles in carrying the weight of your breasts and can help clothing fit better.

  • Bras and other clothing supports (such as tank tops with built-in bras) come in different styles, sizes, and materials.
  • At first you may find bras uncomfortable, itchy, or distracting. Experiment and find a bra that is most comfortable to you.
  • Bras are undergarments, so they should be put on and taken off in private. Do not take a bra off in a public place. If you need to change or take off your bra for any reason, go to a private place, like the restroom or your own bedroom.
  • When someone’s breasts develop, people might stare or make rude sexual comments about them. Certain bras can make breasts less noticeable, but please note that whether you wear a bra or not, making a comment about or touching your breasts without your explicit permission is sexual harassment.

Note: Sexual harassment is never your fault, and it is illegal. You can and should tell a trusted friend or adult if this happens to you. See the section on Healthy Relationships for more information about what to do about unwanted sexual comments or touching.

 

Menstruation begins to occur

Shortly after puberty begins, most girls will experience menstruation. Menstruation is also known as “having your period.” It’s completely normal and healthy to menstruate. Menstruation is a part of the reproductive cycle, or how babies are born. (We’ll talk about this more under “Reproduction Changes.”)

Menstruation is an approximately 3- to 7-day period when blood and uterine lining come out of the vagina. The uterus produces a lining each month to prepare the body to possibly carry a baby. It takes 3-4 weeks for the lining to build up fully. If no pregnancy occurs in the meantime, the lining sheds. This usually happens once a month, about every 28 days. The first few periods may show up as a little bit of spotting (small amounts of red or brown blood and fluid), or may start with a heavy flow (a lot of blood and fluids).

Over time, menstruation typically becomes more consistent, lasting the same amount of time with the same amount of flow each month. But for some, periods never regulate fully. If you get periods that consistently last longer than 7 days or that happen more frequently than once a month, you may want to see a doctor to understand why that is happening and what options you may have for regulating your period.  Remember, everyone’s body is different, and everyone has a different “regular” cycle.

It doesn’t hurt to menstruate, but some people have cramps in their lower abdomen, feel fatigued, irritable, or experience other unpleasant symptoms before or during their period. This is normal as long as it’s not too severe – you can talk to your family about using over-the-counter pain medication, if needed. If your cramps or other symptoms cause a lot of pain or make it hard to do the things you normally do, you may need to talk with your doctor.

Menstruation continues throughout a woman’s life until sometime around ages 45-55. It can stop at different ages, depending on the person. When menstruation stops happening, this is called menopause. Once someone reaches menopause, they can no longer become pregnant.

Managing Periods

When a person is menstruating, the blood needs to be collected in some way. The most common ways to do this include using pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. If you have sensory issues or preferences that make those options uncomfortable, you may consider using other methods, like special underwear made for people who are on their period.

  • Types of menstrual products
    • Pads – are worn on the inside of a person’s underwear (outside of the body) and need to be changed every few hours. Exactly how often pads need to be changed depends on the heaviness of blood flow. Most people use pads – as opposed to tampons or menstrual cups – for at least their first few periods because they are easy to use and are worn outside the body. For more information, see “How to Change a Menstrual Pad.”
    • Tampons – are inserted into the vagina, and need to be removed every few hours. Exactly how often a tampon needs to be changed depends on the heaviness of blood flow. It’s important to change tampons regularly to prevent infections that can be dangerous. Never leave a tampon in for more than eight hours, as this can cause irritation or infection, including a potentially fatal condition called toxic shock syndrome. For more information, see “How to Use a Tampon.”
    • Menstrual cup – is a flexible cup that can be inserted in the vagina. Menstrual cups need to be removed and cleaned a few times a day and put back inside the vagina. To use this method, you need to be comfortable using your hand to properly place the cup. A menstrual cup is considered an advanced way of managing your period. It needs to be cleaned in specific ways, and it can be harder to keep private if you need to clean your cup in a public restroom. For more information, see “How to Use a Menstrual Cup.”
menstrual products

Examples of menstrual products. From right to left: pad with wings, pad sized for thong underwear, pad without wings, tampon without an applicator, tampon with an applicator, menstrual cup.

  • Menstruation is a private experience. You should usually only talk about menstruation if you need help or support. For example, someone may tell their parents when they need more tampons or pads. Other times, someone may have cramps during their period and tell a friend if they want to be comforted.
  • When in public, bring supplies. If you need to change your tampon or pad, or clean your menstrual cup, you will need to go into a bathroom stall to do so. This means you need supplies with you.
    • Your period may start at unexpected times, so it’s a good idea to keep track of when your next period is expected to begin.
    • It’s also helpful to have extra supplies with you in case your period starts early. You can keep supplies in a book bag, purse, or locker.
    • If you ever start your period when are in public and don’t have the necessary supplies, you have several options. If you are in a school environment, go to the school nurse, who usually has extra pads or tampons. You could also privately and quietly ask other girls if they have an extra pad or tampon.

 

Curvier Figures

During puberty, it is not unusual for hips, buttocks, and thighs to become fuller and curvier. Some weight gain is also normal during this time. Puberty may change your body in ways that are not what you are used to. It’s not unusual to feel uncomfortable or wary about these changes. Everyone goes through them. It’s a normal part of life, and every person grows and changes at their own pace.

Managing Changing Bodies

Body image, or how you feel about your body, can be a big issue for people during puberty. This can be even harder to handle since lots of people might compare themselves to peers or people they see in magazines, on TV, or on social media.

If you are having a hard time with the changes to your body, remember:

  • Everyone’s body is different.
  • There is no one “right way” to look.
  • If you are struggling with body image, talk to a friend, doctor, or other trusted adult to help you feel better.



Changes in Boys' Bodies

Boys experience changes during puberty based on increased testosterone levels being produced and released by the testes. On average, boys reach puberty later than girls do. Usually, puberty starts between the ages of 9 and 14, but each person is different and may experience the beginning of these changes earlier or later.

Voices may shift to a deeper sound which can cause voices to “crack”

Vocal chords, muscles in the neck that allow you to talk, thicken during puberty due to increased testosterone levels. This may cause your voice to shift into a lower range. While your voice is changing, it may make some funny noises that may be frustrating or even embarrassing. Voices may “crack” at the most inopportune times, like when you are trying to give a presentation in front of a class or sing a solo in choir. Just remember that others your age are likely experiencing the same thing.

Managing Voice Changes

If your voice “cracks,” there is nothing wrong with you, and it will stop over time. A cracking voice does not mean your vocal chords are unhealthy, but it is a good reminder to take care of your vocal chords during this change, including the following:

  • Drinking plenty of water and not overusing your voice will help keep your vocal chords healthy.
  • Singing can help strengthen the vocal chords, but should be done in a person’s comfortable note range to avoid damaging (overstretching) the vocal chords.

 

Testicles and penis become larger and longer and may change color

Testicles and penises come in different shapes in sizes. Throughout puberty, yours may change in different ways. Some people might feel self-conscious about their penis because they have been taught that penises are “supposed” to look a certain way. This is not true – whatever your penis looks like is normal and just right for you.

Managing Changes in Your Genitals

  • There is no one “right” color, size, or shape for your testicles and penis to be.
  • The size and shape of your testicles and penis may affect what kind of underwear you prefer to wear. Choosing underwear that supports but does not constrict your genitals is important.
  • There are many types of underwear (briefs, boxers, etc.) made of various materials (cotton, rayon, etc.). You may try many different styles before finding one that works best for you.

 

Erections begin to happen

Erections are when the penis becomes stiff or hard. In slang terms, erections can also be called “hard-ons” or “boners,” but this language is impolite in many settings. The hardening is caused by the penis filling with blood. During an erection, your penis may be curved up or down or stick straight out. Erections may happen if you’re having sexual feelings, but during puberty, erections can happen at unexpected times. This is because your body is adjusting to the hormones you are producing. For example, erections may happen when the penis is rubbed by clothing or someone may even wake up in the morning with an erection. Just because you have an erection, that doesn’t mean that you are sexually aroused or that you want to have sex. While unexpected erections can be embarrassing, remember that anyone with a penis has likely gone through this, too.

Managing Erections

While erections are a normal occurrence, how you should respond to them varies depending on where you are.

In public:

  • Erections should be kept as private as possible – other people may feel uncomfortable or unsafe if they notice that someone has an erection in public.
  • Some people wear loose clothes to hide their erection or go to a private place until the penis gets soft again. Others choose to wear tighter underwear or tuck their erection in the waistband of their underwear.
  • Sometimes you may get an erection in public because you have sexual feeling, like if you see a person that you find attractive. Sexual feelings are healthy and normal, but if your thoughts are causing erections, you may want to try not to think those thoughts while you are in public. Try thinking about other things that don’t give you sexual feelings until the erection goes away.
  • You can always excuse yourself and go to the restroom or cover your erection with something like a book or sweatshirt until it goes away.
  • For more information, see “Managing Erections.”

In private:

  • You can masturbate until you ejaculate, but this should only be done in private, like alone in your bedroom or alone in your bathroom at home.
  • You can also use any of the methods that can be used in public.

While it is normal and healthy to get erections and not something to be embarrassed by, erections should be kept private.

Ejaculation can begin to happen

Ejaculation is when the muscles in the penis push out semen through the end of the penis. Semen is a mix of fluids that contain sperm (we’ll talk more about sperm later), which is usually white in color. Ejaculation happens for the first time during puberty, but that first time takes place at different ages for different people. Ejaculation typically (but not always) happens at three different times:

  • When someone is engaging in sexual activity with another person
  • When someone is masturbating
  • During a “wet dream” – when semen comes out of the penis while sleeping

Managing Ejaculation

  • Ejaculation should always be done in a private place. Ejaculation is connected with sexual activity or masturbation; therefore, it is not socially acceptable to do in public.
  • After ejaculating, make sure to clean your body and any materials (clothes, bedsheets, etc.) that came into contact with semen.
Hair Growth for Boys

Testosterone is one of the factors that can trigger facial hair growth. Facial hair may grow in very quickly, grow over a period of years, or never fully grow out. Facial hair is unique to each person. During puberty, body hair might also grow in thicker, especially in areas like the stomach, chest, back, and genital areas. 

We talked about grooming facial hair under “Body Hair Removal.”  Remember, it is up to you to decide how you want to grow, trim, or remove hair on your body.

Emotional Changes

Along with the physical changes that happen during puberty, emotional changes happen as well. Two of the most common types of emotional changes include increased mood swings and sexual feelings.

Emotional Fluctuation (aka mood swings)

061-passion-seg-graphic-iconThe changes that happen during puberty can make people feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. This can cause lots of emotions, including feeling irritated, being easily angered, or feeling depressed. In addition, many people experience mood swings, or quickly changing feelings, related to the body adjusting to new hormone levels. As a result, you may be feeling confident and happy one moment and a little while later feel irritated and depressed. All of these feelings are natural and okay, and most people experience them at some point.

Managing Emotions

It is always good to be aware of how you are feeling. This is especially true during puberty when emotions can quickly shift and change.  

  • Remember that emotions are temporary, even really strong emotions. If you are feeling bad, you will not feel like that forever.
  • Find coping strategies for working through difficult emotions when they arise. Ways to deal with stressful emotions include exercising, eating healthy food, listening to music, writing in a journal, or taking a hot bath.
  • Find what works best for you and be mindful to do those activities frequently in order reduce emotional highs and lows.

Talk to a close friend or trusted adult about how you are feeling, as they can usually help you feel better.

Sexual Feelings

During puberty, many people begin to experience sexual feelings. Sometimes, people don’t like to talk about these feelings because they are very private and it might be embarassing to talk about them. Even though it’s not always appropriate to talk about them, it’s healthy and normal to have sexual feelings. (The Sexual Activity section of this guide explains more about talking about sexual feelings.) Some people don’t feel sexual feelings much, or ever, and others may have these feelings many times a day. It’s different for everyone.

Sexual feelings can show up in different ways. They might make people feel warm inside, their sexual parts may feel tingly, and their hearts might beat really fast. When you’re having sexual feelings, you may feel like you want to kiss or touch someone you find attractive. You may even want to touch your own body and sexual parts or another person’s body and sexual parts. If this happens, it means you are “aroused” and attracted to someone. In impolite slang terms, people often call it being “horny” or being “turned on.”  

Sometimes, people wonder if certain sexual feelings are okay or if they might be “weird.” All feelings are healthy, as long as they are not bothering you or affecting you or others in a negative way. If they are affecting you or other people in a negative way, it’s important to talk to someone you trust about these feelings. All sexual feelings are okay, but acting on sexual feelings is more complicated. The Consent section of this guide explains this in more detail.

Because lots of people are embarrassed to talk about sexual feelings, some people might start to feel ashamed of them, but there is nothing wrong with having sexual feelings about other people! It is our body’s natural way of telling us that we are capable of exploring deeper physical and emotional intimacy with another person. This can include creating a family together by having children. It can feel really fun and exciting when you have these feelings. It’s normal to be curious about sex, and it’s normal to be interested in people that you are attracted to.

Managing Sexual Feelings

Sometimes, sexual feelings cause a person’s body to react a certain way. For example, sexual feelings can cause a penis to become erect or a vagina to become lubricated, or “wet.” Both of these are normal and healthy reactions that happen because blood is rushing to the internal sexual parts.

The important thing to remember about sexual feelings is that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to respond to them. Responding appropriately to sexual feelings can be complex, so these issues are addressed in other sections of this resource. Some key things to remember are:

  • Sexual body parts can feel good when touched. Sexual body parts also play a role in reproduction.
  • If you are touching someone else, or someone else is touching you, then both people should give their explicit consent, or permission. No consent = No touching. The Consent section of this guide explains more about this. Asking for consent has its own set of social rules that you need to learn. Learning these rules will help you form positive relationships and avoid legal trouble.
  • For most people, the age when you first become interested in touching others in a sexual way may be months or years before the age when you are ready to act on that interest and have your first sexual experience with another person.
    • Later in this guide, we will talk about how to decide if you are ready to be sexually active.
  • You may have the desire to touch yourself or someone else. Both of these actions are private activities and should not be done in public.
Reproductive Changes

Puberty is when a person’s body changes from a child’s body to an adult body, so this is also when people start to be physically able to reproduce or make babies. Reproduction happens when a tiny egg and a tiny sperm merge together to start creating a zygote. If this zygote attaches to the uterine lining, it can develop into an embryo, then a fetus, and eventually a baby. You may have heard the phrase “when the sperm meets the egg” – we will explain how that happens below.

The Male Reproductive System

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When puberty begins, a man’s testes begin producing sperm. Sperm are reproductive cells that are too small to see with your eye, but under a microscope they look something like tadpoles. Sperm production continues throughout a male’s lifetime.

When somebody is sexually aroused, sperm mixes with other fluids to create a filmy white substance called semen. During ejaculation, semen is pushed out of the body through the urethra. Each ejaculation can contain up to 500 million sperm, and once sperm production has begun, a man’s body can produce millions of sperm cells daily. Only one sperm needs to meet the egg in order to fertilize the egg and begin a pregnancy – no more than one sperm can meet an egg.

The Female Reproductive System

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After puberty begins, a woman starts to ovulate, which means that about once a month, an egg travels from the ovaries the uterus. To prepare the uterus for pregnancy, the uterine lining and fluids (like blood) build up each month. If a woman gets pregnant, the fertilized egg (an egg that has met with sperm) attaches to the uterine lining, which provides a place for a fetus to grow over the course of pregnancy (about nine months). Each month, if someone does not get pregnant (egg does not get fertilized), the uterine lining and blood leave the body through the vagina during menstruation. This monthly process is a bodily function known as the menstrual cycle.  A woman cannot create more eggs, but is born with hundreds of thousands of eggs.

How Does Pregnancy Happen?

In order for pregnancy to begin, a sperm must connect with an egg. This most often happens through a type of sexual activity called “sexual intercourse.” Sexual intercourse is a sexual behavior that can include a penis being inserted into a vagina. Pregnancy is possible if semen is ejaculated into the vagina during sexual intercourse. To become pregnant, this needs to be done without using birth control. (Different kinds of birth control methods are explained in later sections of this guide. They all keep the egg and sperm from meeting, preventing pregnancy.)

Having sexual intercourse (usually just called “having sex”) doesn’t guarantee pregnancy. Sometimes, people have sexual intercourse without birth control and pregnancy doesn’t happen. Sometimes people may go to a fertility clinic to get medical help becoming pregnant if they are trying to have a baby but are not able to become pregnant without help.

To summarize, when the egg arrives in the uterus each month, one of two things will happen:

  1. The egg MEETS with sperm. This is only possible if two people have had sexual intercourse without using effective birth control. If the sperm reaches and meets the egg, the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus, and pregnancy begin

It takes about nine months for a fetus to become fully developed. A baby is born during a process called labor. Typically, babies come out through the vagina – this is called a vaginal delivery or natural childbirth. Sometimes, the baby is taken out through a C-section (a small cut in the abdomen) done by a doctor. If you are curious about how you were delivered, you could ask your parents. If you do, make sure you ask them in private, since it’s considered a personal conversation.

2. The egg DOES NOT MEET sperm. An egg survives about 2448 hours after it is released. If the egg is not fertilized, it breaks down. This is the signal that the lining and fluid on the walls of the uterus are not needed to help a baby grow at this time, so they can exit the body. This process is called menstruation (which was discussed earlier as well).

Conclusion

Learning about what happens during puberty – the time when a child’s body changes into an adult body – can feel overwhelming with a lot of information and changes to process. If you feel overwhelmed, try asking a close friend or trusted adult for support. Remember that everybody experiences puberty. Learning about the changes that happen during puberty is the first step in understanding how to take care of yourself as you grow into an adult.

Key Takeaways 
  • Puberty is when a child’s body changes into an adult body.
  • Puberty starts at different times for different people, but for most people it starts between 9-14 years old.
  • Hormonal shifts can cause changes in the physical body, emotions, and sexual feelings. These are all normal and healthy parts of growing up.
  • Everyone experiences puberty differently, but almost everyone has awkward moments, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed if something awkward happens to you during puberty.
  • Hygiene routines may need to change during puberty in order to maintain a happy and healthy body. You may need to try out different ways of managing your hygiene needs before you find a routine that works for you, especially if you have sensory sensitivities.
  • Puberty signals that the body is capable of reproducing (creating babies). This can happen when an egg and sperm meet.

Puberty Quiz

Disclaimer

Information found on OAR’s Sex Ed. for Self-Advocates website, related videos, resources, and links are not a substitute for professional medical advice. All users of the site should consult with a physician or other health care provider to discuss specific concerns if they require further information or clarity.