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How Your Body and Mind Change during Adolescence

1 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Talking to Teens About Sex

If you're entering adolescence, it means you're on the road to adulthood. Adolescence is turbulent — the physical and mental changes can be overwhelming for you, and it isn't an easy time for your family, either. Understanding adolescence and knowing what happens inside your changing body can sometimes make this time a little easier to navigate.

Although the added inches that seem to come out of nowhere are what everybody notices (usually to your embarrassment), the changes taking place inside of you are the most significant ones. Many of these changes come because your hormones, which have been dormant until now, are starting to kick in, bringing with them physical and psychological growth.

Adolescence and hormones

At some point during the second decade of your life, your brain begins to stimulate the production of hormones that cause physical changes to take place. Basically, the brain is using a series of chemical reactions to signal to your body that it’s time to evolve into adulthood. In medical terminology, this is what happens:

  • The pituitary gland releases higher levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

  • Together, FSH and LH activate the sex organs so that eggs (ova) develop in the female ovaries, and sperm develop in the male testes.

  • The sex organs then produce their own hormones. Estrogen and progesterone are the two most important female hormones. Testosterone is the principal male hormone.

Adolescence and physical changes

During adolescence, boys and girls experience physical changes that mar the passage into adulthood:

  • For both sexes height and weight increase, underarm and pubic hair begins to grow, leg and arm hair becomes thicker and more apparent, perspiration increases, and levels of oil in the skin become high (that’s why teenagers suffer from acne).

  • In girls, breasts become larger and more pronounced, nipples stand out more clearly, and the genitals grow and get a little darker and fleshier. On the inside, the uterus and ovaries also grow. At some point during the process, menarche (a girl’s first menstrual period) begins. It may take up to one and a half years from the first period, however, before her menstrual cycle becomes regular.

  • In boys, the testicles and penis become larger. At some point, the boy gains the capacity to ejaculate sperm. He also begins to have spontaneous erections. Most boys also experience nocturnal emissions (also called “wet dreams”), which are spontaneous ejaculations of semen that occur during sleep.

It can be hard to be the first or the last one in your group to go through these changes. While most young people experience adolescence between the ages of 11 and 16, you’ll find some experiencing changes as early as age 9 or 10, and others lagging behind until maybe 16 or 17. If you’re one of these outliers, remember that you’re the only one who can choose to let this bother you. It all will even out eventually.

Adolescence and psychology

Adolescence also comes with psychological changes. You’ll break away from your parents a little bit more every day, changing schools, learning to drive, developing new friends, staying up later. . . . Each day brings new challenges, and challenges make you feel more vibrant and alive.

Many people may think that adolescence goes hand in hand with the image of a sullen teenager. And it is true that the problems of adolescence—worrying about how many zits are on your face, when your period will visit you next, what to do with the bed sheets from the wet dream you had last night, or how to get the boy or girl across the classroom to notice you—can be quite traumatic. But the reputation for moodiness doesn’t have to be the reality. In fact, most people enjoy their teenage years more than any other. Although you may have worries, you also have a lot of thrills. Firsts—be they your first car, first date, first kiss, first act of sexual intercourse, or first orgasm—are very exciting.

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