Puberty is the period during which growing boys or girls undergo the process of sexual maturation. Puberty involves a series of physical stages or steps that lead to the achievement of fertility and the development of the so-called secondary sex characteristics, the physical features associated with adult males and females.
While puberty involves a series of biological or physical transformations, the process can also have an effect on the psychosocial and emotional development of the adolescent. The onset of puberty varies among individuals. Puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while in boys it generally occurs later, between the ages of 12 and 16. In some African-American girls, puberty begins earlier, at about 9, meaning that puberty occurs from ages 9 to 14.
Frequently, puberty is talked about as a period of turbulence and trials because the child begins to develop a sex drive, experience mood swings, develop relationships with people of the same and /or opposite gender and face different kinds of pressure at home and at school. Change is always a difficult process but is an inevitable part of life.
At this stage, some of the greatest anxiety is about their physical body because it is changing and growing in new and uncertain ways; it appears to have a life of its own and nothing we think or feel can stop its rate of change. Understanding these physical changes helps in realising that one is not alone in this journey, which in turn will help the youngsters make their way through the turbulent sea of adolescence.
In boys and girls, puberty begins in a tiny corner of the brain called the pituitary gland, chemical messengers called hormones are sent to the reproductive organs to release another set of hormones, which lead to changes in the body. In boys, the hormone that creates these changes is called testosterone, and in girls, it is estrogen.
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Physical Changes In Males
Different boys react differently to the changes that happen with them at different times. This is reflective of their uniqueness and since all of them are different, there can really be no “standard” to compare themselves to.
1. The Penis
This organ is outside the male body. It is the organ that a man urinates with. It is also the sexual organ that during intercourse penetrates the female vagina. All the males feel uncomfortable or insecure about how the penis is shaped and how it looks. The end of the penis is usually cone-shaped and is referred to as the glans. Usually, penises are not straight, some tilt to the left and others to the right. There is no need to worry about it.
The penis is covered with fine loose skin. The skin that surrounds the head of the penis is loose and is called the foreskin. The foreskin usually does not fully retract for several years and should never be forced. The foreskin can be retracted when its inside surface separated from the glands and the opening widens. This usually happens by the age of 18. Once a boy discovers that his foreskin is retractable, he can easily learn to care for himself. When the foreskin is fully retractable, it is important to wash underneath it every day, so as to prevent SMEGMA (a white waxy substance consisting of natural secretions and shed skin cells) from forming. Good general hygiene and common sense are keys to preventing infection and disease.
3. The Testicles
These are two separate oval-shaped eggs (balls) that produce sperm. Sperms are contained in a fluid called semen. The scrotum hangs outside the body because sperm need to be kept cooler than internal body temperature, to prevent them from getting damaged. The scrotum is usually darker in colour than the surrounding skin. One testicle always hangs lower than the other, this is so that they don’t bash into each other when males are running or playing. The testicles are connected to the penis by a long thin tube. Both urines from the bladder and semen pass down this tube through the penis. This tube is called the urethra.
Even tiny babies sometimes get an erection (when the penis grows bigger and stands up or erect), but about the time of puberty, boys start getting more erections, sometimes without any obvious cause. An erection occurs when a nerve centre at the base of the spinal cord sends out impulses to the penis, filling it up with blood. At this point, the penis gets stiff, grows longer and wider, sticks upward and outwards from the body and the foreskin stretches, leaving the head of the penis exposed. The muscles at the base penis tighten, so that blood can’t drain back out. There are no muscles in the penis itself, it is a kind of a sponge (that is why one can’t move it very much when soft!). Erections are unreliable and can come and go without warning.
It is usually about 24 months after the beginning of public hair growth when a boy has his first ejaculation of seminal fluid (either as a wet dream or as a result of masturbation). During this time 3-15 contractions occur. Each last about a second and the first three are usually the most intense. To achieve ejaculation there must be stimulation and erection of the penis. When a man ejaculates, he releases on average a teaspoonful of semen containing up to 300 million sperm. Ejaculation is not always voluntary. Most changes in boys are all external and visible unlike with girls where most changes happen inside the body.
6. The Genitals
It is commonly believed that the first sign of puberty is the enlargement of the testicles. They may double or quadruple. At the same time, the skin of the scrotum changes, the colour deepens becoming darker and its texture gets wrinkled. Sometime after this, the penis starts to enlarge, becoming first longer and then broader. The final size is reached at the end of a male’s growth spurt, which usually happens when males are 15-16 years old, but sometimes earlier or later.
7. Wet Dreams
A wet dream is a term to describe an ejaculation from the penis during sleep. They are caused by sexual excitement felt in dreams and are common to all men. During puberty, wet dreams occur often in nearly all boys. At night there is an involuntary release of semen (ejaculation) during sleep, either during an erotic dream or sometimes even in the absence of erotic stimulation. This happens because there is a built-up of semen in the body and it needs to be released.
8. Growth Spurt
Boys take much more time than girls in growth. The growth spurt in boys begins around 13-14 years and ends at 16-17 years. There is a sudden increase in height and weight, the chest expands and becomes more muscular. Due to the influence of testosterone, the larynx (the voice centre in the throat) expands and the voice cracks before it deepens. The aureole surrounding the nipples generally doubles in size during puberty. During this period, hair starts growing on a different part of the body, like legs, arms, chest, groin, armpits and face. Pimples, spots and blackheads may grow on the face, neck, chest and back. These are by-products of androgens.
9. Body Odour
The adolescent’s sweat glands (under their arms and in genital areas) are becoming more active. When sweat comes into contact with bacteria on the skin, it creates an unpleasant smell, both in adolescent boys and girls.
10. Sexual Feelings
Sexual thoughts and fantasies become more frequent and become aware of sexual stimuli during puberty and adolescence. These sexual feelings and fantasies are also normal and common among all girls and boys at this stage.
Physical Changes In Females
Puberty starts at different times and lasts for different periods of time for everyone. It can start as early as 8 years of age to as late as 13 years of age. The sequence of puberty starts from breast development to complete physical maturation it may take a year and a half or last as long as 6 years. Changes in the female body are in two ways: invisible and visible changes.
The Invisible Changes
Invisible changes that happen in a young girl’s body in their reproductive organs are ovaries, uterus and vagina. These are the changes that are also having an impact on the visible changes in her body.
The ovaries are usually pearl-coloured, oblong and about the size of a walnut. They are attached to the uterus by ligaments. In addition to producing female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and male sex hormones, the ovaries produce and release eggs. Estrogen is responsible for making girls grow up to have a woman’s body and make it possible for them to have children.
The uterus is a thick-walled, muscular, pear-shaped organ located in the middle of the pelvis, behind the bladder and in front of the rectum. The main function of the uterus is anchored in position by several ligaments. The main function of the uterus is to sustain a developing fetus. The uterus consists of the cervix and the main body (corpus).
3. Fallopian Tube
The two fallopian tubes, which are about 4 to 5 inches (about 10 to 13 centimetres) long, extending from the upper edges of the uterus towards the ovaries. The tubes do not directly connect with the ovaries. Instead, the end of each tube flares into a funnel shape with fingerlike extensions (fimbriae). When an egg is released from an ovary, the fimbriae guide the egg into the relatively large opening of a fallopian tube.
The vagina is a tubelike, muscular but elastic organ about 4 to 5 inches long in an adult woman. It connects the external genital organs of the uterus. The vagina is an organ of sexual intercourse in women. The penis is inserted into it. It is the passageway for sperm to the egg and for menstrual bleeding or a baby to the outside. Usually, there is no space inside the vagina unless it is stretched open. For example, during an examination, sexual intercourse, childbirth. The lower third of the vagina is surrounded by elastic muscles that control the diameter of its opening. These muscles contract rhythmically and involuntarily during orgasm.
The Visible Changes
Following are the visible changes in female bodies:
1. The Growth Spurt
In height and body, there is a sudden increase fills out. The greatest increase in height occurs around 10 to 11 years for girls. A girl usually stops growing between 16-18 years. Along with height, the young girls note changes in the pelvic bones and hips widening.
The first sign that puberty has begun in girls is often initial breast growth- called breast budding. Small nodules or lumps form just under the nipple. These “buds” may or may not occur simultaneously under each nipple. Over the course of puberty, as the breast grow and develop further, it is normal for breast buds or breasts to feel tender, or to even hurt a little bit. Breast development continues throughout puberty- this includes changes in the size and shape of the areola or nipple area.
3. Hair Growth
About six months after breasts begin to develop, pubic hair and other body hair usually begin to appear. The characteristics of pubic hair change as girls go through puberty, but by the end of puberty, their pubic hair will probably be wiry and curly. It usually grows in an upside-down triangle pattern, though it may also grow up towards the belly button or out onto the thighs.
4. Body Odour
During puberty, the output from their sweat glands increases and special sweat glands in their underarms and genital area becomes active for the first time. Their body odour also changes during puberty. Sweat, by itself, doesn’t cause an unpleasant odour- in fact, it is nearly odourless. But bacteria that live on human skin break the sweat down and this causes the odour. Most of what we call body odour comes from armpits.
Pimples are appeared during and after puberty, so it’s important to know why they happen. They begin because of swelling around the oil glands that are a part of the hair system of our body. Everybody’s skin is covered with little hairs and every hair has a small oil gland. As we start to grow up, the body hair grows and the oil glands start to produce more oil. The problem with a pimple is not that we’re making too much oil, but that the lining of the hair channel tends to plug up and trap the oil that we do make.
6. Sexual Feelings
At this stage, the young girls may start to feel sexually aroused and spend time in a fantasy world thinking about love and sex. The movements of hormones inside make the youngster feel more sexual.
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