Puberty

People with female anatomy usually start puberty when they're 8 to 13 years old, while people with male anatomy tend to start when they're 10 to 15 years old. 

  • During puberty, your body starts producing new "hormones" - chemicals that tell different parts of your body to develop new functions.

  • For most people with female anatomy, their bodies will become capable of having a baby.

  • Puberty is often a time where sexual preferences arise. 

  • Everyone goes through puberty, but at different times. This is normal! 

In this section, when we say "boys," we mean people with male anatomy, or who are medically transitioning with male hormones. When we say "girls," we mean people with female anatomy, or who are medically transitioning with female hormones. 

What Changes?

Hair

Boys begin to grow hair on their face, under their arms, and between their legs – around their penis and on their scrotum.

 

Girls begin to grow hair under their arms and between their legs – around their vaginal area.

 

The hair around your penis or vagina is called pubic hair. The hair on your arms and legs will usually get thicker and darker too. 

Menstrual cycle

Girls usually get their first period between 10 and 16 years old. You may notice blood in your underwear or have some pain in the lower part of your belly, underneath your belly button. Eventually, most people will have a regular period for 2-7 days every month, but for the first year or two, your period may be unpredictable and that’s totally okay. It is also normal to have clear discharge (or fluid) coming out of your vagina at other times of the month. Learn more on our page about menstrual health. 

Erections (if you have a penis)

When you hit puberty, you’ll start to have more erections. Most of the time, your penis is soft. When you have an erection, it will get larger and feel hard because it is filling with blood. Erections are normal and happen to everyone. Erections during puberty can sometimes happen randomly, or if you’re thinking about sex.

If you suddenly notice an erection and don’t want others to notice, try to relax – they only last a few minutes. Try to clear your mind. You can also try to hold something (like a book) in front of your pants to cover it up until it goes away. 

Sexual thoughts/feelings

As part of the body’s process of becoming sexually mature, many people begin to experience feelings of sexual attraction and romantic interest in others. Read more here

Acne

Acne is totally normal to experience during puberty—everyone gets it! Acne is caused by excess sebum (oil) produced by your skin. The sebum gets stuck in your skin follicles and builds up, causing inflammation and eventually pimples. Acne can be caused by hormonal changes, cosmetics, and medications.

People can have totally good hygiene and still experience acne, and that’s A-okay! 

Acne can often be cleared with over-the-counter treatments. Look for products containing salicylic acid or benzyl peroxide, which help rid your skin of extra bacteria that may be causing breakouts. You can look for these in face washes, topical creams, or spot treatments (which you only put on the site of breakout). 

At some point, you may decide that you want to see a professional because over-the-counter treatments aren’t helping. Ask a parent or guardian if you can see a dermatologist (skin doctor). They might start you on topical skin treatments, antibiotic pills, or Accutane. 

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Breasts

Girls will also develop breasts during puberty. Girls go through puberty between 8 and 13 years old – and that’s a large range! So, the person sitting next to you will likely not go through puberty at the same time as you. Like the many other parts of puberty, breast development does not happen overnight. Your breasts may also be different sizes, and that can be totally normal! 

Body

Most people experience growth spurts (getting taller), and their bodies can change a lot during puberty. Girls may experience their hips getting wider, and boys may experience their shoulders getting wider. 

Voice

Boys’ voices will get deeper as they hit puberty. When a boy’s voice starts getting lower, it may sound squeaky at first. People will say the boy’s voice is “cracking.” This is totally normal! It can be embarrassing when your voice “cracks” without you meaning it to. Just remember: soon, your voice will settle into its lower tone and your voice will rarely crack anymore. 

Adam’s Apple

You’ll notice that some men have noticeable “bumps” on their throats. Those are called Adam’s apples. They appear at the same time boys’ voice changes.  

Penis and scrotum

During puberty, the penis and testicles will get larger, and the skin may darken. 

Wet dreams and discharge

The testicles start producing sperm. The sperm get mixed with a fluid called semen. Sometimes, when you’re asleep, semen will come out of your penis, and you’ll wake up with sticky pajamas or sheets. This happens to almost all boys. These are called wet dreams or “nocturnal emissions.”

Girls may start having vaginal discharge during puberty - learn more about what's normal and what might indicate an infection here

Emotions

It is very normal to start feeling out of control with your emotions. You may feel unheard by your parent/guardian, teachers, and friends, and may feel a strong sense of wanting to "fit in" and be liked. You may start worrying about your body image, and sometimes feel lonely or confused. This is all normal, and your peers are likely experiencing the same things. Submit questions to the Ask Nellie column or talk to an older sibling or trusted adult. 

Mood

Puberty causes mental changes, too— these include changes in your mood! You might suddenly find yourself in tears after a small inconvenience occurs. Something slightly annoying might cause you to feel rage.  

In addition to mood swings, you might start to see social situations differently. If you start to notice that you get more self-conscious at school, you’re not alone. Between peer pressure and growing your identity, navigating life as a growing human can be difficult!

Learn how to best handle your mental health and access the right resources here.

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Common Myths

  • Boys get erections because they are always thinking about sex.

  • All teens argue with their parents. 

  • Teens get pimples and zits because they don’t wash their faces often enough. 

  • All girls are emotional and tearful before their periods. 

Learn More

Learn more on what's normal and not during puberty here