Puberty is the stage in a child’s life that marks sexual maturity. Boys and girls undergo many physical changes at puberty, and achieve fertility due to the influence of reproductive hormones.
The reproductive system in females consists of the ovaries (where eggs are produced), fallopian tubes, uterus, and the vagina. Externally, the vaginal opening is surrounded by two flaps of skin called the labia majora and labia minora.
The male reproductive system consists of the penis, the testes where sperm are generated and carried to the penis via the vas deferens, and the urethra, the urinary opening at the end of the penis. Sperm are nourished by the secretions of the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland.
The onset of puberty is determined by a number of factors including nutrition, genes, and body weight. It can start between the ages of 10 and 14 in girls, and 12 and 16 in boys. At the time of puberty, endocrine glands release hormones that lead to the development of secondary sexual characteristics, such as pubic hair, breast development in girls, and voice changes in boys. The major hormones that bring about these changes are estrogen, secreted by the ovaries in girls; and testosterone, released by the testicles in boys.
Physical Changes in Girls.
Development of breasts is the first sign of puberty in girls. Other changes include
Increase in height and hip size.
Hair growth at the armpits, pubis, and legs.
The first menstrual flow begins around 2 years after the onset of puberty and sets off a cycle that takes place every month until you reach menopause. The ovaries begin to release an egg that has been stored since birth on a regular basis.
Physical Changes in Boys.
Puberty in boys starts with the enlargement of the testicles. Other changes include Increase in height.
Hair growth at the armpits, pubis, legs and face.
Widening of the shoulders.
Growth of the penis and scrotum.
Cracking of the voice.
Along with the physical transformations, both girls and boys go through certain emotional changes, as they have to cope with the drastic changes in their bodies.
They will be more conscious about how they look and what others think about them. Additionally, the sudden surge of hormones can lead to extremes in their emotions and mood swings. Changes are also seen in the way they think. They become less dependent and withdraw from their family, as they begin to build their own identity as an individual. Puberty is also the phase when sexual interest begins to develop for the opposite sex a feeling that was never felt before. If you're homosexual, then your feelings of attraction and arousal may be directed toward others of the same sex.
Associated Medical Conditions.
The onset of puberty is obscure, but the development of secondary sexual characteristics before age 7 in girls and prior to age 9 in boys is associated with a condition called precocious puberty. This early puberty is seen most often in girls and has an impact on the child’s emotional development. Early puberty is generally linked to an abnormality in the ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, genetic conditions, tumors, infections, injuries to the brain, or hormonal problems. It can be corrected by treating the underlying cause or reducing the high levels of hormones.
Sometimes, puberty is delayed. The testicles do not enlarge even by age 14 and breasts do not develop by age 13. Diabetes or cystic fibrosis, genetic conditions, abnormalities in the pituitary and thyroid glands, ovaries or testes, malnutrition and excessive and strenuous exercises can cause delayed puberty. It can be treated by correcting the underlying cause, or by administering supplemental sex hormones.
Around the time of menstruation, many girls experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS which is characterized by irritability or moodiness, breast tenderness, back pain, headaches, feeling sad or emotional, and bloating. However, some may not have any of these symptoms.
Puberty is the period during when a person becomes sexually mature and is the beginning of the journey towards adulthood, where an individual not only develops physically but also mentally, psychologically, emotionally and socially.