Experiencing changes

Puberty is a time in your life when you develop and change from a child to an adult. There will be physical changes and emotional changes that you will experience. Boys and girls will experience some parts of puberty differently. By the end of the process, you will have become an adult.

Puberty starts when the brain starts producing special hormones. These hormones then travel to the sex organs (ovaries and testes) which make them begin releasing sex hormones (estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys).

Girls normally start puberty between the ages of 8 and 13.  Boys begin puberty later between the ages of 9 and 14.  Both the physical and emotional changes of puberty begin and end at different ages for each child. Not everyone is on exactly the same timetable. But a few young people begin to see changes very early, which is called precocious puberty. Others may not see changes until later, which is often referred to as delayed puberty. Your parents and carers may contact your doctor’s surgery if this happens, as precocious or delayed puberty can be a sign of hormone or endocrine problems. Eating disorders and some medications can also sometimes affect puberty.

You can use the ChatHealth text service to confidently ask for help about a range of issues from a school nurse including emotional health, sexual health and relationships.  You do not have to give your name if you don’t want to.

Understanding how to stop catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is important. The C-card scheme offers sexual health information and lets you pick up condoms for free.

Physical changes

Stage 1Girlsno visible changes.Boysno visible changes.
Stage 2Girlsbreasts begin to grow, and the nipple gets larger, hair will start to grow in places you have not had it before, height will increase (called a growth spurt).Boystesticles and scrotum grow, hair will start to grow in places you have not had it before, height will increase (called a growth spurt).
Stage 3Girlsbreasts continue to grow, underarm and pubic hair grows darker and thicker, growth spurts, skin becomes oilier, and spots may develop.Boyspenis and testicles grow some more, wet dreams (ejaculating at night whilst sleeping) may happen, underarm and pubic hair grows darker and thicker, growth spurts, sweating will increase (leading to body odour), voice deepens (and cracks in the process), muscle mass increases.
Stage 4Girlsbreasts still grow, and nipples stick out, growth spurts, and periods may start.Boyspenis still grows, and skin gets darker and will have ridges, growth spurts and development of spots.
Stage 5Girlsis the final phase, public hair stops growing bigger and growth spurts stop.Boysis the final phase, facial hair may start growing, public hair stops growing bigger and growth spurts stop.

You can find out more about the physical changes by reading What’s happening to Ellie? and What’s happening to Tom? books.

Emotional changes

Changes in hormones, plus added social pressures, can cause emotional changes. This will vary for each person depending on how much your hormones rise, how strong your emotional resilience is, and how secure your friendships are. You may experience being moody and having emotional outbursts. Mood swings mean that one day you may feel great, the next day you feel angry and the day after that you feel very sad. Sometimes you can have all of these feelings in one day! Sharing your emotions in a safe space can help. As well as remembering it does not last forever.

Some young people need longer to adjust to and understand changes in their lives. So, it can help to talk about it early. Social stories may help, some parents use the book Susan’s Growing Up for example.

Bodies grow at different rates during puberty, but it can be tough if you are comparing yourself to other people. Many people feel unhappy with how they look at some points. Remember, there is no right or wrong way for people to look, and lots of pictures online will be airbrushed or have filters to stop them from looking real.

We cannot stop our bodies from developing. Some young people find this hard to not have a choice over when or how it happens. Some people may focus on things that they can control in their life instead for example being involved in choosing family meal options.


Only girls or people with a uterus get periods. Periods happen around the same time each month. It is a way for your body to get ready to become pregnant in the future. It is when you lose a small amount of blood from your body. It lasts for 3 to 8 days each month.

Periods are safe and losing blood is not something to worry about. There are lots of types of products to help with the blood and keeping clean. You will need to try different ones to find out what is best for you. Have a look at some of the guides in ‘Explore the topic.’

It can help to talk to someone you trust, like a parent, teacher, or doctor, about your periods if you are worried. Robyn Steward’s The autism-friendly guide to periods is a helpful book.


If you are a boy or you have a penis, you will usually start to have erections and produce sperm during puberty. This is when your penis goes hard and stiff.

Erections can happen when you are thinking about sex or someone you find attractive. They might also happen at times you are not expecting, like at school or on the bus. Sometimes it might feel embarrassing, but it happens to most boys.

Sperm are made in the testicles (sometimes called your balls) and are part of the fluid called semen that you ejaculate or cum from your penis.

When you are asleep and dreaming, you will get erections and ejaculate. This is when semen shoots out through the erect penis. You will not be aware that this is happening because you are asleep. You will wake up and feel a damp patch in your bed. Keep some tissues by your bed so that you can wipe it up. All young men have wet dreams, it is normal and nothing to worry about.

Shaving and hair removal

Trimming or shaving beards, public hair, arm pit hair and leg hair is a personal choice. It is usually done for social or cultural reasons, but it is okay to decide you do not want to remove hair.

Young people with disabilities may have the added obstacles of differences in visual-motor skills, attention, and cognition, which can make shaving more challenging. Here are some tips:

  • Ideally you will be successful using other blades, such as cutting with knife in the kitchen, before you try using a razor. You can get some with bigger handles to help grip and may need to try different types of razors.
  • Try different positions to shave in; seated or standing. Use a mirror for visual feedback.
  • Break it down into steps. You may not need to do all the steps of shaving at first if someone is helping you.
  • Use visuals – get someone to take a photo of you doing each step to help remind you what to do in which order.
  • Plan extra time, the more you practice the quicker you will get. But rushing at first is not a good idea.
  • Practice shaving by putting shaving foam on a balloon and using the razor without popping the balloon. Or practice shaving with the cover on the razor to feel how your body curves.

There are alternatives to shaving if using a razor does not work for you. Consider an electric razor, depilatory (hair removal) creams, epilator (a machine that plucks hairs out), waxing or sugaring (sticky materials that pull the hair out with them).

Last reviewed: January 31, 2024 by Gemma

Next review due: July 31, 2024

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