Puberty: Anatomical and Hormonal Changes

Whether you’re going through it yourself or explaining it to your kids, the Condom Depot Learning Center is here to help bring understanding to the bizarre changes of puberty.

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Puberty is the time when the body begins to change from a child into a sexually mature adult. It’s a very important development, and it can be both a scary and exciting time. Puberty happens when the body releases the necessary hormones to signal a change is occurring. It can occur anytime after around the age of seven, to the mid-to-late teens. But for every person, it’s different.

Puberty Symptoms

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Depending on which stage of puberty is underway, there are multiple feelings you may be experiencing:

  • Growth spurts
  • Tenderness or soreness
  • Mood swings and personality changes
  • Weight gain or redistribution
  • Acne and oily skin
  • Body odor
  • Urges to masturbate or engage in sexual activity with others
  • Confusion and shame about their body
  • Confusion about gender and sexuality

It is important to remember that each and every one of these things are completely normal for someone going through puberty. Some may last a while, but the majority of them will lessen or go away completely once your body is done changing. If the last three become too much to bear, seeing a sex-positive counselor may help you work through your feelings.

The Six Stages of Puberty

Image via Mereck Manuals.

Image via Mereck Manuals.

There are six biological stages of puberty that are defined by what is happening in the body at that time. Depending on your personal genital arrangement, you may go through some and not others. There’s no real set way to go through them all, either, nor are there set ages for them to happen, but there are average age ranges for each.

  • Adrenarche — the release of hormones. Adrenarche happens in all people, regardless of sex, at around the age of ten or eleven. Mostly involves the release of certain androgens. Pubic hair begins to grow and body odor begins to become noticeable. Acne can also become an issue during this time.
  • Gonadarche — the maturation of the gonads, or the reproductive organs. For people with testicles, this means that they descend from the body and enlarge. For people with ovaries, it’s a little less obvious. This is when the ovaries become active, although that does not always mean that someone undergoing gonadarche will begin to have their menses. This usually is one of the earlier stages to happen during puberty, and is often considered a sign that puberty has truly begun.
  • Thelarche — the development of breasts. It usually begins after the age of eight, and can continue for many years.
  • Pubarche — the development of pubic hair. This usually happens due to the release of hormones during adrenarche, but it can also happen earlier due to certain medications or hormone imbalances. For that reason, while pubarche is considered to be the earliest sign of puberty, it’s not always a reliable sign of precocious or early puberty since it can happen for other reasons.
  • Menarche — also known as the period, the monthly, the menses, shark week, and many other names. This is the first shedding of the uterine lining. Because of this, menarche only happens in people who have uteruses. It can happen anywhere from the ages of eight to seventeen, depending on many different factors, including genetics, diet, weight, lifestyle, and even medication or illnesses.
  • Spermarche — refers to the development of sperm in the testicles. Because of this, it only happens in people who have testicles, or a testicle. Seeing as it is the end of puberty for people who have testicles, it is usually the last thing to happen, usually around the age of fourteen or older.

Supplemental Hormones

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There are many reasons why someone might take supplemental hormones during puberty. If a person is in their late teens and hasn’t gone through puberty, their doctor may prescribe hormone therapy to speed the process along and make sure things are running smoothly. This could also happen if a person is intersex or has a hormonal imbalance that causes delayed puberty.

Also, if a person is questioning their gender, their doctor may prescribe hormones that block puberty from happening, and then begin begin giving them different hormones to help them transition if they decide that they do want to transition. Beginning hormone therapy prior to puberty will make the transition far easier.

If any of these things are a concern for you, you may want to see an endocrinologist.

Seem simple? The Condom Depot Learning Center is proud to announce its Back-To-Basics campaign, answering all the questions you might have missed out on in sex ed.

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