Puberty refers to the maturation of primary and secondary sexual characteristics.  

Puberty in Females

Girls are born with their ovaries containing 1000s of eggs.  These are inactive until puberty begins.  At puberty, the pituitary gland, located in the brain, begins to make hormones that stimulate the ovaries to produce oestrogen – the female sex hormone.  The secretion of oestrogen causes girls to develop towards sexual maturity.  

Near the end of puberty, girls will begin to release eggs as part of the menstrual cycle – their monthly period. In the UK for example, on average, girls begin to develop breasts and pubic hair at around 11 years of age, beginning to menstruate at around 13 and maturation is not usually complete until around 20. A girl’s first period is known as menarche. Of course, things will vary in different countries, different cultures and so on.  In the USA for example, on average, these events may occur a few months earlier. Whilst in the tropics, on average, it will be later.  Puberty in 1900 in UK was around 15 – this earlier puberty is due to improvements in health care, reduced malnutrition and disease.  Puberty will have some or all of the following effects on girls  -

  • Anxiety
  • Tearfulness
  • Ovaries develop ripened egg cells
  • Periods/menstruation
  • Increased needs for personal hygiene
  • Irregular periods
  • Pubic hair
  • Spots/acne
  • Increased height
  • Widening hips and thighs – fat deposited
  • Irritability
  • Premenstrual tension, headaches, bloating tension
  • Period pain - dysmenorrhea
  • Hair under the arms 
  • Increased concern over their appearance

Puberty in Males
 The male sex organs work to produce and release semen into the female reproductive system during sexual intercourse. It also produces hormones to develop into sexually mature adults during puberty. Boys are born with their reproductive system, but are unable to reproduce until puberty.  At puberty, the pituitary gland begins to secrete hormones to stimulate production of testosterone.  As the boy moves through puberty, they produce more and more testosterone, which encourages bodily changes and stimulate sperm production.  In boys, pubic hair appears at around 12, then the penis and testes begin to develop at around 13, maturing around 2 years later. The boy’s voice will change at around the same time. 

  • Testosterone also brings about physical changes in this sequence.
  • Scrotum and testes grow larger
  • Penis becomes longer, prostate gland and seminal vesicles grow.
  • Pubic hair grows, eventually on face and underarms. 
  • Voice deepens.
  • Growth spurt reaching adult height and weight. 

He will also have – 

  • More concerns about his physical appearance.
  • Increased height
  • Spots/acne
  • Increased personal hygiene needs
  • Mixed emotions
  • Testes and penis growth
  • Muscular development in the chest, slim hips, broader shoulders
  • Voice “breaks”
  • Wet dreams (involuntary emission of semen during sleep)

  • These changes also result in skeletal changes in boys and girls.  There are individual variations.  

The hormone changes responsible for puberty tend to begin some years earlier than when puberty actually occurs.  They may produce moodiness and restlessness. Girls can start these changes before boys and will appear to mature more quickly at first. After this, boys catch up. By the age of 17, most boys and girls will be young men and women who may be bigger than their parents and are capable of having children themselves. But they will still need support from adults. 

Growth and development does take up a lot of energy, which is why teenagers often appear to need more sleep, getting up late and so on. This is not just laziness.