As school gets ready to begin again this fall (some on the west coast this week!), I thought it would be a great way to prepare parents, and young people, with the answers to real questions my mentor, Dr. Cydelle Berlin, and I get about changing bodies and changing emotions during puberty in the classroom. Some questions, heartwarmingly, have been the same for over 30 years and shows us how important our work is and that puberty and growing up can be scary and difficult, but also totally manageable with the right answers and support from trusted adults. I firmly believe that young people deserve and are ready for age and medically appropriate answers to their most fundamental questions about puberty and growing up. This blog will be an ongoing series of questions (I have so many!) and hope you can take some of these responses back to your family, or to a young person in your life, and continue to make them feel good about puberty and growing up.
- Narda Skov, MPH & Dr. Cydelle Berlin (www.drcydelleberlin.net)
Questions about Puberty:
Q: When does puberty start?
A: Puberty is different for each person and gender takes some responsibility for that. Generally, people who are assigned female at birth, with a clitoris, vulva, and vagina, generally start to go into puberty earlier than people who have penises. Puberty can start anywhere between 8-9 years old or as late as 16 depending on how athletic you are, your body chemistry, your family history, and other factors. If you haven't started puberty by the time you are 16-17 you should go to the doctor to check it out.
Q: What is the biggest change for someone with a vulva during puberty?
A: The most obvious change is getting your period. It is the sign that our parents used to say “Congratulations, you're a woman”. However, that is not the only change, Some people get a lot of hair under their arms, faces, and chests and some do not. Some people gain weight or get taller. Awareness of your sexuality and sexual feelings are also common changes during puberty. If you are not experiencing any of these changes, that's also alright! Puberty happens to everyone eventually.
Q: I began growing hair around my crotch. It always makes me itchy. What do I do about it? Is pubic hair supposed to itch?
A: For some people, hair may grow very slowly or very quickly and thickly which can make you itch. To avoid this, you can take more frequent showers or baths, and wear looser undergarments and pants. However, this dilemma is very common. If the problem continues and causes discomfort, see a doctor who may be able to prescribe something for you.
Q: Is there a way to bypass puberty?
A: There is no way to bypass puberty, but there is a way to delay puberty if someone is going through puberty earlier or their gender identity is undetermined.
Q: Why do people care about their image?
A: Society tells us that our image is very important and that we must look a certain way to fit it. When we are going through puberty, we are not certain how we're supposed to look so “fitting in” or looking like your favorite social media influencer can make us feel more “normal”. Feeling good about yourself is much more than what you look like.
Q: How do genes work?
A: Genes are found inside cells, we have around 20,000 of them. They can be thought of as instructions for us, how tall we will be, what our facial features look like, and more. Genes are inherited by your biological parents so if you share physical similarities with them, or with other memories of your family, that would be why.
Q: Where are the genes made?
A: Genes come together to form the fetus, the egg from one parent and the sperm from another. A great resource to learn more about genes and possible genetic disorders can be found on the Kids Health website: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/genes-genetic-disorders.html
Q: Why does it hurt to apply any pressure to areas of our bodies that are developing (breasts)?
A: Because these areas, such as the genital or breast areas are rapidly growing and are very sensitive at this time.
Wet Dreams, Erections & Ejaculations
Q: What is penile ejaculation?
A: Ejaculation from the penis is the release of semen and sperm from the penis. This can be the result of stimulation and arousal, or can occur naturally during puberty and is called a nocturnal emission (or a wet dream). Sometimes ejaculation can be referred to by a slang term "to cum."
Q: What is a wet dream?
A: A wet dream (nocturnal emission) sometimes happens to people with a penis as they are going through puberty This happens as our hormones are regulating and our bodies are readying themselves to continuously produce sperm. It is perfectly normal if you do have wet dreams or if you don't.
Q: Why do boys have erections?
A: Erections are a natural part of growing up. Erections are caused by hormones that flood the body during puberty and send blood to the penis. Erections can also occur from sexual arousal, either visual or physical. Spontaneous erections can sometimes cause embarrassment, if they happen at school, for example. If this happens - someone can simply wait a few minutes for the blood to get reabsorbed into the body and the erection will go away.
Q: When you get an erection, does the penis stick out?
A: Yes, the penis stiffens and can enlarge by possibly two inches. This is the result of an increased blood flow to the penis.
Q: Can penises break?
A: The penis erects because blood flows into the base of the penis. However, the penis cannot break as there is no bone in it. To protect the penis, during athletics, some people wear cups to avoid injury.
Q: After touching my penis, it squirts white stuff, is this normal?
A: Yes, you may have ejaculated, and when you ejaculate sperm and semen come out of your penis. It is perfectly normal.
Q: How long should an erection last?
A: There is no particular time frame, most erections don't last too long. It depends on whether there is ejaculation or not.
Q: Does sperm float in water?
A: No, when sperm leaves the body, it floats or lives in semen. If you ejaculate in water, the sperm will just get absorbed into the water.
Q: What is the size of sperm?
A: Sperm are very tiny, and can only be seen through a microscope. They only measure .005 cm.
Q: How many calories are there in 1 tbsp. of sperm?
A: There are very few calories in 1 tablespoon of sperm. There is no nutritional value in sperm - the only purpose for a sperm is to possibly fertilize an ovum (egg).