What is puberty?

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 (such as the growth of pubic hair). 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.

When does puberty occur?

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 age 9, meaning that puberty occurs from ages 9 to 14.

Adolescent girls reach puberty today at earlier ages than were ever recorded previously. Nutritional and other environmental influences may be responsible for this change. For example, the average age of the onset of menstrual periods in girls was 15 in 1900. By the 1990s, this average had dropped to 12 and a half years of age.

Boys – development of external genitalia

  • Stage 1: Prepubertal
  • Stage 2: Enlargement of scrotum and testes; scrotum skin reddens and changes in texture
  • Stage 3: Enlargement of penis (length at first); further growth of testes
  • Stage 4: Increased size of penis with growth in breadth and development of glans; testes and scrotum larger,scrotum skin darker
  • Stage 5: Adult genitalia

Girls – breast development

  • Stage 1: Prepubertal
  • Stage 2: Breast bud stage with elevation of breast and papilla; enlargement of areola
  • Stage 3: Further enlargement of breast and areola; no separation of their contour
  • Stage 4: Areola and papilla form a secondary mound above level of breast
  • Stage 5: Mature stage: projection of papilla only, related to recession of areola
  • Boys and girls – pubic hair

    • Stage 1: Prepubertal (can see velus hair similar to abdominal wall)
    • Stage 2: Sparse growth of long, slightly pigmented hair, straight or curled, at base of penis or along labia
    • Stage 3: Darker, coarser and more curled hair, spreading sparsely over junction of pubes
    • Stage 4: Hair adult in type, but covering smaller area than in adult; no spread to medial surface of thighs
    • Stage 5: Adult in type and quantity, with horizontal distribution (“feminine”)

    Boys Growth

    • Stage 1: 5-6cm/year
    • Stage 2: 5-6cm/year
    • Stage 3: 7-8cm/year
    • Stage 4: 10cm/year
    • Stage 5: No further height increase after 17 years

    Girls Growth

    • Stage 1: 5-6cm/year
    • Stage 2: 7-8cm/year
    • Stage 3: 8cm/year
    • Stage 4: 7cm/year
    • Stage 5: No further height after 16 years
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