Puberty

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Take the Quiz on Puberty

Signs and Symptoms of Central Precocious Puberty

"Secondary sex changes" are those physical changes associated with the progressive rise in sex hormones -- estrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males. Such secondary sex changes include

  • breast tissue development,
  • enlargement of the testes (testicles) and penis, and
  • presence of pubic hair, axillary hair, and facial hair.

Other developmental changes include

  • initiation of menstrual periods,
  • increasing in sweat production,
  • development of body odor,
  • lowering of the pitch of voice, rapid height acquisition ("growth spurt"), and
  • increase in size and strength of muscles.

Puberty facts

  • Puberty is the period of sexual maturation and achievement of fertility.
  • The time when puberty begins varies greatly among individuals; however, puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14 and between the ages of 12 and 16 in boys.
  • Both genetic and environmental factors are likely involved in the timing of puberty.
  • Body fat and/or body composition may play a role in regulating the onset of puberty.
  • Puberty is associated with the development of secondary sex characteristics and rapid growth.
  • Some medical conditions may worsen or first become apparent at puberty.
  • Precocious puberty is puberty that occurs earlier than usual. It is more common in girls than in boys.

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2016
Puberty In Girls Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Children's Health & Parenting Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Puberty - Physical Changes

    What were the first physical changes you experienced during puberty?

    Post View 4 Comments
  • Puberty - Other Changes

    Describe what puberty was like for you or your child. What changes were most significant?

    Post
  • Puberty - Medical Concerns

    What were the biggest medical concerns during puberty for you or your child?

    Post
  • Puberty - Early or Late

    Did you or your child experience an early or late puberty? Please share your story.

    Post

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors