Puberty – Concept, stages, changes and adolescence

We explain what puberty is, its stages and the changes it produces in the body. Also, differences with adolescence.

Puberty can leave important marks on personal history.

What is puberty?

Puberty or early adolescence to the initial phase of the period of human development known as adolescence, which mediates between childhood and adulthood. Puberty is a relatively short period (usually between 10 and 15 years of age), in which a series of profound physiological changes are unleashed in the individual, through which his body is ready for sexual maturity, that is , acquires its reproductive capacity.

Puberty is one of the most important and susceptible periods of human development. In it, children change in a definitive way, rapidly approaching what they will be as adults., through a set of more or less radical changes on the physical plane and, to a lesser extent, on the psychic and emotional plane, since the latter will take place gradually throughout adolescence.

Despite being a period of transition, puberty and adolescence often leave important traces in personal history, since are often accompanied by many vulnerabilities and insecurities, in addition to the risks of sexual awakening, such as teenage pregnancy. Therefore, the ideal is that they are accompanied by significant doses of information, affection and communication from parents or other authority figures.

Puberty changes

The changes suffered by the human body during puberty are, for the most part, linked to the development of secondary sexual characteristics, that is, with the evident physical differentiation between the two biological sexes, male and female, by the action of a torrent of hormones. produced by the sex glands. These changes can be summarized as:

Changes in the male body.

  • Sudden increase in height and weight, as well as muscle development: widening of the back and chest, thickening of the arms and legs.
  • Body hair growth on the legs, armpits, arms and markedly on the face (facial hair).
  • Thickening of the voice, usually after a stage of instability in the timbre of the voice.
  • Enlargement and thickening of the penis, growth of the testicles and the beginning of the production of semen, manifested in the appearance of nocturnal pollutions (emissions).
  • Appearance of pubic hair in testicles, penis and genital and perianal area.
  • Increased libido.

Changes in the female body, produced by the action of estrogens, particularly estradiol:

  • Increased stature and acceleration of growth, initially in the legs and feet, in addition to the redistribution and increase of body fat and adipose tissue in the breasts, arms, hips and thighs.
  • Body hair growth on legs, armpits and other regions of the body.
  • Appearance of pubic hair, initially around the labia majora of the vulva, and then in the rest of the genital and perianal region.
  • Internal changes in the nature of the vagina, uterus, and ovaries, manifested through change of color of the mucosa and eventual discharge of a whitish discharge.
  • Start of menstruation, with the first menstrual bleeding known as menarche, which during the first stages can be irregular.
  • Changes in body odor and in the oily secretion of the skin, the latter being able to trigger acne episodes.
  • Increased libido.

Stages of puberty

puberty stages
Changes in puberty happen in stages.

In general, puberty includes the following stages, the age range of which usually varies greatly between each individual.

  • Phase one or prepubertal stage. There are no overt changes, and the body continues to be that of a child.
  • Phase two. Changes in body odor Pubic hair, incipient breasts begin to appear on girls’ bodies, and there is a sudden increase in size. Children, on the other hand, take a little longer. His testicles, however, will noticeably increase in size, and body hair will slowly begin to appear.
  • Phase three. Awakening of libido. In girls, breast size increases and pubic hair darkens and becomes more curly. The vaginal discharge begins before menstruation. In boys, on the other hand, pubic hair appears, penis size increases and nocturnal seminal emissions begin. Facial hair begins to emerge.
  • Phase four. Full puberty. Girls begin their menstruation and observe changes in the areola of their nipples as their breasts reach adult size. Boys, on the other hand, have a sudden stretch, witness changes in the color of their testicles and scrotal sac, darken pubic and body hair, and increase the size of the penis until it reaches its final proportions.
  • Phase five. End of puberty. The increase in height and weight slow down, until it stops. Pubic hair is spread down the inner thighs. At the end of this stage, we will be in the presence of a sexually mature individual.

Puberty and adolescence

Puberty and adolescence should not be confused, since the first is just a stage of intensification of physical changes, punctually inscribed in the second. Thus, while puberty lasts between 10 and 14 years, adolescence on the other hand lasts until around 20 years.

Adolescence includes a series of much deeper psychic and emotional changes and difficult to point out, as the mentality and social performance of the individual passes from their childhood stages, to their early adult stages.

Adolescence, in fact, is a complex and often painful period, in which the changes produced have a strong impact on the personality and in the affectivity of each one. Among them is, of course, the awakening of sexuality, and all that it implies, which is much more vast and complex than simply the sexual maturation of the organism.

Gender identity, sexual preferences, erotic-affective dynamics, are just a part of the psychological aspects that develop throughout this crucial stage, which only begins with puberty.

When does puberty end?

The final moment of puberty occurs when all the physical and physiological changes necessary to reach sexual maturity have occurred. This happens usually around 14 or 15 years of age, but it can start and / or finish earlier or later depending on each person, since no organism is the same as another.