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.
Girls often experience a growth spurt including the development of breasts; and begin to grow hair around the genitals and underarms. Some girls may experience acne, and their sweat may develop a strong odor.
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.
For boys going 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.
Boys and girls also experience emotional changes during puberty, including mood swings, new sexual feelings, being interested in other people in a new romantic and/or sexual way, experimenting with masturbation and often feeling a need for more privacy from parents and/or siblings.
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: