Girls go through a process called puberty, during which their body experiences many changes in order to allow it to physically reproduce and become an adult. One change is that girls begin to get their menstrual periods. Menstrual periods occur once a month and can last from a few days to a week. Some girls have cramps during their periods while others do not. It’s important for girls to understand that their first period signals the beginning of ovulation and their body’s ability to get pregnant if they were to have unprotected sex. Once a month, a hormone in the girl’s brain signals her ovaries to release an egg or ovum (a process called ovulation). The hormone estrogen is also released to signal the girl’s uterus to build up its lining. If an egg is not fertilized within 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, the egg dies and disintegrates while still in the uterine tube. Two weeks later, when the uterus realizes there is no fertilized egg, the built-up lining of the uterus is released or shed during a girl’s menstrual period.
Boys usually begin puberty between the ages of 9 and 15, and it may take five to seven years for all of the changes to occur. The most obvious of these changes include a growth spurt; the voice becoming deeper; shoulders becoming broader; hair growth on the face, around the genitals and underarms; and the genitals growing larger. Some boys may experience acne, and their sweat may develop a strong odor. Some may also experience slight breast growth that can be embarrassing but usually resolves on its own.
When boys go through puberty, testosterone triggers the testicles to start making sperm, so the penis can now ejaculate. During puberty, some boys experience wet dreams or nocturnal emissions, when ejaculation occurs spontaneously during sleep. Wet dreams are normal, though not everyone has them. Many boys also experience spontaneous erections during puberty. Again, it’s normal if they do, and normal if they don’t.
There are many other physical, emotional and social changes of puberty as well, and it generally takes five to seven years for all of the changes to be complete. Additional physical changes of puberty include a growth spurt during which girls and boys become taller as well as hair growth under their arms, on their legs and around their genitals. Their genitals will grow in size as their whole body grows larger. They may also experience acne, and their sweat may now have a strong odor.
There are also emotional changes during puberty, including mood swings, experiencing sexual feelings, being interested in other people in a new romantic and/or sexual way and often feeling a need for more privacy from parents and/or siblings.
It is important for caring adults to explain the changes of puberty to young women before and while they are going through them. It is also essential to assure them that these changes are normal. Helping young people identify ways to cope with these changes can make this stage of life less stressful. Talking about these changes with the young people in your life lets them know that they are not alone and can come to their parents or guardians if they have questions or need support.
It’s essential that you have conversations about topics like puberty if your child is to know that she or he can come to you with questions. The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they come up in everyday life, like while watching TV together.
Some topics, like masturbation, may not come up in regular conversation, but it’s important to bring them up anyway. During puberty, girls, just like boys, begin to have new sexual feelings. Some begin to masturbate. It is normal if they do and also normal if they don’t.
Below are some ways to start these conversations: