Puberty and the changes that come with it - by Anjila

March 05, 2024

Puberty and the changes that come with it - by Anjila

Puberty and the changes that come with it

Do you sense changes occurring in your body? Are your emotions fluctuating rapidly? Do you experience a fluttery feeling in your stomach when you see someone you like?

If yes, congratulations! You are becoming an adult!!! You are going through puberty!!!

Puberty is a phenomenon that occurs in every individual during the process of growing up. The process includes a series of physical, psychological and emotional changes, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. The broad categories of changes include:

1. Growth and development of the body (internally and externally)

2. Growth and development of sexual organs

3. Brain development

4. Social and emotional changes

While every individual may start going through puberty at a different age, and all the changes one experiences may not be identical, there is a general consensus on the subject. The signal comes from within the body via special chemicals called “hormones”. When the brain reaches a certain level of maturity, there is release of these hormones that signals the beginning of puberty. Along with the brain, another system that starts releasing hormones are the reproductive organs, commonly referred to as the gonads, ovaries in females and testes in males. The development that occurs due to these sex hormones are known as secondary sexual characteristics. The typical age at which this starts is 10-11 years for girls and 11-12 years for boys. 

This paragraph will focus on the key physical changes that occur in individuals with female gonads (ovaries). The initial change involves growth and development of breasts, which are masses of tissues present on the chest. It is perfectly normal for each breast (right and left) to develop at different rates, and a bit of tenderness i.e., pain to be experienced. Subsequently, a growth spurt occurs, leading to the rapid development of various body parts such as the head, face, hands along with the limbs and torso. During this spurt, there is also a change in shape of the body, with hip widening being an important contributing factor. Following the growth spurt, there is growth of hairs under the arms and thick, dark, curly hair, called pubic hair around the external sex organs. Females also start getting a clear or whitish vaginal discharge, which may be noticed first as a wetness in the underwear. Approximately 2-4 years after breast development, the females experience their first period. 

In individuals with male gonads (testes), the predominant sex hormone is testosterone. Due to the release of large amounts of this, there will be a similar but more extended growth spurt. There is also minor breast development, which should be reassured as completely normal. This is followed by growth of pubic hair, hair in the armpits, chest, lower abdomen and the testicles. There is also thickening of the hair on the arms and legs. Erections (penis becomes hard and lengthens) and ejaculations (release of semen after erection) start happening, sometimes even during sleep, known as "wet dreams," a common occurrence in females as well. There is also a prominent growth on the neck, the Adam’s apple, and the voice deepens.

Common physical changes for both sexes include brain development influencing overall behavior, improved lung performance, thicker bones, increased muscle mass, overall weight gain, appearance of acne, and oilier hair.

Dealing with all these changes can be overwhelming, but here are some tips:

1. The first thing to do is tell yourself that it’s completely normal, and that everyone has to go through it at one stage or another.

2. Talk about it with your parents, teachers, and older siblings. You will find that it helps to normalize the process.

3. maintain a balanced diet and move those new muscles! You’ll find yourself feeling lighter and happier.

4. Consult a doctor if you feel anxious, develop cystic acne or smelly discharge. For the females assigned at birth, it is also important to visit the gynecologist if you do not get your period till you are 16 years of age. 

Although puberty is a universal phenomenon, the experiences and challenges that come with it can differ greatly depending on a person's sex, gender, disability as well as how their identity intersects with that of their caste, ethnicity, financial background, and other identities. For instance, people from different ethnic backgrounds may see physical changes differently due to societal beauty standards. For intersex individuals, the journey may involve unique considerations regarding both physical and psychological changes. Similarly, people with disabilities may navigate puberty with additional challenges, requiring tailored support and understanding. Economic inequalities may impact adolescents' general well-being throughout puberty by limiting their access to resources like healthcare and nutrient-dense foods. Hence, recognizing the range of experiences at this time helps people of all genders and backgrounds transition into adulthood more healthily, builds empathy, and lessens stigma.

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