Sexual Changes in Youth/Adolescence

Adolescence is a time of growth and discovery. It is a time when young people learn how to have relationships and build the relationship patterns that often carry into adulthood.

Sexuality is much more than sex — it’s our values, attitudes, feelings, interactions, and behaviors. Sexuality is emotional, social, cultural, and physical. Sexual development is one part of sexuality, and it begins much earlier in life than adolescence. By the time we reach adolescence, we already have received many messages about sexuality (Strasburger, 2005).

Puberty involves the physical changes of a girl becoming a woman, or a boy becoming a man. These changes lead to the ability to reproduce. The changes of puberty occur on the inside and the outside of the body, but what is most noticeable both to the adolescent and the rest of the world are the external changes. In both girls and boys, puberty starts in the central parts of the brain that control other functions in the body such as temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. The brain controls puberty by producing hormones, which are chemical messengers that travel in the bloodstream to various organs.

  • The sex organs — also called gonads — are stimulated to make sex hormones.
  • A girl’s ovaries are stimulated to make the female hormone estrogen. Estrogen causes the normal changes of puberty in girls, such as breast development, increasing height, widening of the hips, and an increase in body fat. Menstrual cycles are caused by the balance in estrogen and another hormone from the ovary, progesterone.
  • A boy’s testicles are stimulated to make the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone causes the normal changes of puberty in boys, such as growth of the penis, increasing height, widening of the shoulders, deepening of the voice, and growth of facial hair.
  • Normally, girls’ ovaries also make a little testosterone, and boys’ testicles also make a little estrogen, but in different amounts. Socio-cultural influences on adolescent sexual development may include an adolescent’s:
  • Up to age 25, changes in brain development also have a significant impact on adolescents’ ability to make decisions.  Developing a stable sense of one’s self and one’s role in society, identity development is a key feature of healthy adolescent development. From the standpoint of sexual development, a strong sense of self prepares an individual for intimacy in young adulthood. As is true of all aspects of identity development, experimentation and role play are common ways in which teens develop their sexual self-concept.
  • Family, peers, and social networks based on common interests and beliefs
  • Traditions related to race, ethnicity, culture, or religion
  • Neighborhood and neighbors; the immediate environment
  • School, which forms a micro-environment for up to 10 hours a day for at least 180 days a year
  • Faith community, which may have codes of conduct about sexual behaviors
  • Involvement in youth-serving agencies or community service
  • Sexual Behaviours: There are a variety of common behaviors that, in and of themselves, have no negative health effects, and that many consider elements of healthy adolescent sexual development, preparing youth for positive sexual lives.
  • Shaped by so many different factors, healthy sexual development may look very different from one individual to another.
  • Masturbation. Touching one’s own genitals in masturbation is a normal part of sexual development. Overall, more adolescents masturbate than engage in sexual intercourse. Although it tends to be done alone in privacy, males sometimes masturbate in groups.
  • Same-sex touching. Early in adolescent development, sexual exploratory behavior often occurs with members of the same sex. This behavior does not predict being gay or lesbian in the future.
  • Genital touching. As adolescents get older, they are more likely to engage in genital touching. Prior to any physical change, your brain starts the work that will eventually change you from a child to an adult. Both boys and girls have these hormones but they act on different parts of their bodies. In the developing boy, LH and FSH work on their testes and adrenal glands (glands next to the kidneys) to make androgens (sex hormones) such as testosterone. They also work on the testes so that they start to make sperm. During puberty your testicles (testes or ‘balls’) start producing the male hormone testosterone. This hormone triggers changes in your body. Suddenly you grow taller and begin to develop muscles. You will also find physical changes happening to your voice, your body hair and your genitals, and possibly even your breasts.
    There are plenty of signs that puberty has started. Every boy is different, but here are some of the most common changes to look out for.
  • Both boys and girls have some of all of these hormones but boys have more androgens and girls have more estrogens, and the different levels of these hormones make the differences in their bodies.  It is the action of these hormones getting your body ready for adult life that we call ‘puberty’.  Puberty is the time when you grow from a boy into a young man. Everyone goes through it. It can be exciting, but some people find it tough.
  • Hormones are chemicals that are made by one part of your body (a gland) to act on a different part, such as bones. For example a gland in your brain makes growth hormone, and it works by making your leg, foot and arm bones grow longer. You have many hormones that travel around in your bloodstream doing different jobs.
  • When puberty begins, two parts of the brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland start making a lot more of some hormones including growth hormone, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). These hormones act on other parts of your body to make the changes happen.
  • Puberty:
  • You grow taller, and you may become more muscular.
  • Your Adam’s apple (larynx) gets bigger and your voice begins to ‘break’.
  • Your body produces more hormones, so you might get erections when you least expect them.
  • Your testicles begin to produce sperm.
  • Ejaculations can happen while you are asleep. These are called ‘nocturnal emissions’, or ‘wet dreams’. Wet dreams are totally normal.
  • Hair will start to grow under your arms and around your penis and testicles. You may also find more hair growing on your legs and arms. Hair will also appear on your chin and upper lip. You may get oily skin and hair, and spots (acne) may develop on your face and body.
  • You may find you sweat more.
  • You may have mood swings and feel emotional, but your feelings will settle down in time.
  • Delayed Puberty can also be as a result of other health factors, poor nutrition, life style or medical conditions.
  • Many young people who experience delayed puberty will eventually go through an otherwise normal puberty, just at a late age.  Sometimes, this delay occurs because the child is just maturing more slowly than average, a condition called constitutional delay of puberty. This condition often runs in families.
  • Of course, no one can predict just when this will happen. It happens gradually over a period of time. Sometimes the transformation from a boy to man can take up to four years. Some males have an early puberty, and some it comes later. Some males continue growing as late as age 21!How can Dave Wells assist? Dave Wells works with individuals who are experiencing puberty, as well as their significant others, to support with navigating through the confusion and the interruption of puberty. For many teenagers, navigating their way through puberty can bring up issues of low self-esteem and low self-confidence and it can be difficult for a young person to develop trust for others. Dave Wells has a natural persona that translates comfortably to people regardless of; age, heritage, culture, gender, life-style or community status as well as . Dave works from the philosophy that most people would like a person who they can speak with, ask questions to, about any topic, without the fear of judgement, breaches in confidentiality and trust. Dave Wells can fill the role of that person, and has the knowledge and experience to be of benefit all who play a part in a young person’s puberty.
  • The journey through the; teenage stages of human development, can be turbulent, and adjusting to puberty can be difficult for both parents and young people. As puberty advances, both boys and girls experience many emotional changes; for many, it is a time of choosing different ways of engaging with family, friends and teachers.
  • This information has been adapted from:
    www.healthdirect.gov.au