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Puberty


Puberty is the period of physiological and anatomical development when the organs of sexual reproduction mature and become functional. This is not to be confused with adolescence, which is a socially defined period of psychological development that is sociocultural.

Puberty may or may not coincide with adolescence and in some cultures adolescence does not exist.

In females, the onset of menstruation and the development of the breasts mark this maturation. In males, the biological markers of puberty are the enlargement of the external genitalia and the production of semen.

In both sexes, the development of these primary sexual characteristics is accompanied by the onset of a variety of secondary sexual characteristics.

Signs of Puberty in Males and Females

In males, these include the appearance of facial and other body hair, including in the pubic area and in the armpits, as well as the deepening of the voice tone.

In females, hair develops in the pubic area and in the armpits, and the hips begin to broaden. For both sexes this is also a period of rapid development of the sweat glands.

Generally, these changes prepare the body for sexual reproduction, but they also have important social and emotional aspects.

Among boys, puberty tends to begin at about age 13, but may not start until 16 years of age. Puberty tends to begin earlier in females, often two years earlier than boys. However, the commencement of puberty varies among girls no less than among boys, and may not begin until age 14 or 15.

Factors That Can Influence Puberty

Heredity can influence the onset of puberty, as can psychological and physical health.

Some studies have shown that earlier-maturing individuals achieve better social adjustment to puberty than do later-maturing individuals. This may be due to anxiety about being different from one's peers and accompanying social pressure for conformity common during the adolescent years.

Conversely, some youths undergo a peculiarly early pubescent transition, a condition called pubertus praecox. The functioning of the anterior pituitary, adrenals, or the gonads causes this condition.

The beginning of puberty is controlled by the release of growth hormone by the pituitary gland. This biochemical substance produces rapid growth, which is characteristic of puberty.