Puberty is the period of life when we begin to ‘grow up’. It is a sexual change, because it begins with hormones which affect the sex organs. When puberty begins, the hormones are released by a gland in the brain and travel through our bloodstream to the ovaries (girls) or testicles (boys). The ovaries and testicles then produce other hormones which bring about some typical changes. Some of these are the same and some are different for boys and girls.
Girls usually begin their puberty a few years earlier than boys. By the time girls are 11 or 12 (but some are earlier and others later), they begin to grow hair around the genitals and under the arms. They can also feel the beginning of breast development (which can be quite a painful thing), their bodies become more rounded, and their voices a little deeper. The most characteristic change is the onset of menstruation.
On the whole, girls become extremely attractive to boys of any age, and they become aware of that, too. This is the time when mothers and fathers start watching the girls’ sexual safety, because there are so many possible candidates around.
In many countries girls have to start wearing some covering for the head as well as for the whole body. It is a sign that she is becoming sexually ripe, and must remain a virgin until marriage.
In more modern countries girls can be a little freer, a little more equal to boys. But here too, the girl is watched much more closely than the boy. Part of her likes that, another part rebels against it. As she grows up, sex, even though the word is not used, becomes a source of confusion and frustration.
Boys too, starting at about 13, grow taller, sometimes very fast, break their voices (more than girls), grow hair in the same places but also (usually after 16) on their face and chest. Their most characteristic change is the first ejaculation of semen.
Boys do not get so much protection as girls. But boys, too, get confused and frustrated. For instance, they fall in love with girls their own age or even older, but those girls are more interested in older boys or men (see Falling in love).
As puberty progresses, both sexes suffer from pimples, smells, feelings of inferiority, social clumsiness, hopeless love, loneliness, uncontrolled behaviour, bouts of self-pity and the need for attention. This is not to say that puberty is all misery. There are glorious moments and exciting discoveries, good friendships, too. It all has to do with growing up. Puberty is only the beginning.