Archive for March 12th, 2009

GIRLS AND PUBERTY: THE FIRST PERIOD

Some girls are excited about the prospect of having their periods; others aren’t so eager. Many girls are concerned that their first period will sneak up on them. They worry that the blood will soak through their clothes without their realizing it and they’ll be publicly embarrassed. Such things can happen, but generally a girl has a sensation of wetness and has plenty of time to get to the lavatory before the blood soaks through her underclothes. Besides, not that much blood comes out all at once. Altogether over the entire period, only about half a cup to a cup of blood is lost, so only a small amount is dribbling out of the vaginal opening at any one time.

Most girls use sanitary towels or pads instead of tampons at first. A lot of girls think that a virgin – a person who hasn’t had sex yet – can’t use a tampon because of the hymen. But as we explained, the hymen has openings in it and is very stretchy. Unless a girl has a particularly rigid or tight hymen, she can use a tampon whether or not she’s had sexual intercourse. Still, most girls prefer to use towels at first, unless they want to go swimming, in which case they use a tampon.

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GIRLS AND PUBERTY

Each year my daughter, Area, and I get together with a group of our friends and rent a houseboat. We spend a week cruising up and down the California Delta, the series of rivers that lead into the San Francisco Bay. We swim and fish and dig for clams and have mud fights and lie round in the sun and have a wonderful time just doing nothing. It’s much the same group of us every year. All of the adults are single mothers or single fathers, and we all have daughters about the same age. The girls went to primary school together. In fact, that’s how we adults got to know one another in the first place.

We’ve been getting together like this for a number of years. Our daughters are teenagers now and they go to different schools. Even though we’ve all gone our separate ways since the girls were little – some of us have even moved to different cities or towns – we still get together every year for this houseboat cruise.

Well, one year it happened that Area and I were putting the finishing touches to the book about girls and puberty when the time came for our annual cruise. Because we were going to spend a week on board a boat with six teenage girls, we decided that we’d take the rough draft of the book along and try to talk the girls into reading through the various chapters and making comments or suggestions. The girls were all about the same age, but they were in various stages of puberty. We thought that the more developed ones might be interested in the later chapters and that the girls who weren’t so developed might want to read the earlier chapters.

We were wrong. All the girls wanted to read the same chapter – the one about boys. They couldn’t have cared less about the rest of the book! They grabbed that chapter and went giggling off to the roof of the houseboat with their towels and suntan lotion and read it together. Later, some of the girls read other chapters, but the big hit was definitely the chapter about boys.

We think their reaction was a fairly normal one. As we’re going through puberty, we usually get at least some information about what’s happening to our own bodies, if not from our parents and teachers then from our friends. A lot of times, though, parents and teachers don’t tell us about what’s happening to the opposite sex. They may feel that we just don’t need to know this information or that telling us will make us ‘too interested’ in the opposite sex or will make us want to rush out and have sexual intercourse. Our friends may not know much more about this subject than we do.

All this makes it difficult for us to find out what’s going on, and not knowing how puberty happens in the opposite sex can make it seem a lot more confusing and mysterious than it needs to be. So in this chapter, we’ll be talking about how puberty happens in girls’ bodies. If you’re like most boys, you’ll probably be curious about this.

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THE URETHRA

The urethra is yet another tube. (It seems as though you’re just full of tubes, doesn’t it?). It is cushioned by the soft, spongy tissue on the inside of the penis. The sperm and seminal fluid travel through the urethra and spurt out through the opening in the centre of the glans, or head, of the penis during ejaculation. Urine from the bladder also travels along the urethra when you urinate (pee). The tube from both the bladder and the vas deferens are connected to the urethra.

When we tell the pupils in our classes that urine and sperm both use the urethra to get out of the body, someone usually blurts out, ‘Oh, how awful!’ Even if no one says anything, we can see from their wrinkled-up noses and the looks on their faces that many of them think this sounds disgusting.

But, really, there’s nothing awful or disgusting about it. Urine is just another liquid and, unless you have an infection, it doesn’t have any disease-causing germs in it. Semen is perfectly clean too. Besides, sperm and urine can’t travel through the urethra at the same time. When you’re about to ejaculate, there’s a valve at the bottom of the bladder that closes so that urine can’t get into the urethra when sperm is about to travel through there. Also, just before you

ejaculate, two small glands in the area release a little bit of liquid into the urethra to flush it out and neutralize any acidy urine that might still be in there. (Sperm are sensitive to acids, so it’s necessary to neutralize any acid in the urethra before the sperm travels through it.)

Even though we try to explain all this very carefully, we almost always get a question about it in the Everything You Ever Wanted to Know question box at the end of the class. Usually, the question has something to do with whether or not a man can urinate and ejaculate at the same time. Or, as one person wrote, ‘Can a man piss inside a woman’s Vagina?’

We must admit, when we first got this question, we didn’t quite understand it. We thought that whoever wrote it must have been having us on. (Some pupils in our classes do try to have us on, especially at the beginning of the year. They’ll put questions in the box that have lots of so-called dirty words, hoping to embarrass us when we read them out loud. But they soon give this up because, as you may have guessed, we don’t get embarrassed very easily, at least not by dirty words or questions about sex.)

Anyhow, we finally worked out what the person who wrote the question was getting at. He or she was wondering if a man could by accident urinate (piss) instead of ejaculate during sexual intercourse. Actually, when you think of how all those tubes are connected, it’s a logical question. But the answer is no. When a male is about to ejaculate, the valve we mentioned earlier closes up. It seals off the bladder, so urine can’t come through the urethra during ejaculation.

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FACIAL HAIR

As a boy goes through puberty, he also starts to grow hair on his face. His moustache, sideburns and beard begin to develop. The first of this facial hair doesn’t usually appear until a boy’s sex organs are fairly well-developed, usually during Stage 4 of genital development. The average boy will develop his first facial hair between the ages of 14 and 16. A few boys, though, will notice this hair before they’re 13, and some don’t get any until they’re 19 or 20.

Usually, the first facial hairs will appear at the outer corners of your upper lip. In the beginning, they may be only slightly dark in colour and there will be only a few of them. As you get older, they will get deeper in colour and there will be more of them. Your moustache will gradually fill out, growing from the outer corners towards the middle of your lips. At about the same time that your moustache is growing in, hairs usually begin to grow on the upper part of your cheeks and just below the centre of your lower lip. Your sideburns may also grow at this time.

As you continue to mature, your facial hair will get thicker and darker. Your beard and moustache may be the same colour as the hair on your head or they may be a ‘different colour. You may find that by the age of 18 your beard and moustache are as full and thick as they’re ever going to be. However, many men don’t develop their full facial hair until ten years after they have completed puberty and reached their full adult height. Many a man finds that he can grow a thick beard or a bushy moustache and sideburns at the age of 30, even though he had hardly any facial hair when he was in his teens or early twenties.

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FEELINGS ABOUT STARTING PUBERTY

Boys (and girls too) have all sorts of feelings about starting puberty. We’ve noticed that the children in our youngest class (9 and 10 years old), who haven’t started puberty yet, are often excited about and looking forward to the changes that will take place in their bodies. But not everyone feels this way. As one 9-year-old put it:

Ugh! I don’t want my penis to get all big and hairy and ugly looking!

By and large, though, the younger children are really eager to grow up. They’re curious about the changes that will take place and generally feel at ease about asking questions in class. They don’t use the Everything You Ever Wanted to Know question box as often as the older pupils do. They just ask their questions right out loud A

The older girls and boys who are about to start or have just started puberty are usually excited too. They often feel very proud when they notice their bodies starting to change. As one boy said:

It’s a ‘Hey, whoopee, I’m finally growing up!’ kind of feeling.

But we’ve noticed that the older children don’t feel quite as much at ease about asking questions out loud. As a group, they seem to feel more embarrassed about puberty than the younger children. Even the individuals who at 9 and 10 were especially open and at ease talking in class about the “body changes of puberty, often seem more modest and rather shy about things by the time they’re 12 or 13.

We think this difference between the younger children and the older ones is due, at least in part, to the fact that by the time you’re 12 or 13 puberty is no longer some far-off thing that’s going to happen someday. It’s actually happening to you, and it’s happening now. It’s much more personal and this can make it more difficult to talk about.

We think, too, that once the changes have actually started to happen, most of us have some doubtful or uncertain feelings mixed in with our excited, proud feelings. Having mixed feelings about going through puberty is quite normal. Almost everyone has some doubts. One boy said it particularly well:

I was taking a bath with my sister and she said, ‘What’s that?’ and I saw that I had some pubic hairs. I guess my penis and balls had been getting bigger all along. It wasn’t till my sister saw the pubic hair that I really realized I was changing. I felt grown up and I was really thrilled about it. Then, two seconds later, I had this really scared feeling. .. ‘Oh, no, I’m not ready for this.’

Many of the men and boys we interviewed remembered having these Tm-not-ready’ feelings. If you have these feelings, it helps to remember that it’s quite normal to have them. In Chapter 9 we talk more about the kinds of feelings people have about going through puberty.

Some of the boys and men we talked to who started puberty late said that this had affected them.

As one man explained:

I didn’t go through puberty until I was 16. It really bothered me when I was in situations where other boys could see that I hadn’t started yet. I was always embarrassed in gym class and I always tried to hide my body.

Jim, age 47

Another man told us:

I was a late starter, too. It seemed like all the other boys had really developed bodies and hair all over the place, and here I was still a skinny little kid. Once it started, though, I really developed fast. My whole attitude was, ‘Thank God! At last it’s happening to me.’ For a while I was thinking it would never happen and that maybe I was some kind of freak or maybe I was sick or there was something wrong. But, finally, I started to develop, too.

Glenn, age 42

Sometimes the boys and men who started earlier than the others had embarrassed feelings, too:

I developed at a very early age. I was really proud, but also embarrassed because I looked so different from the other boys. It’s hard at that age to be different. You want to be just like the others and not stand out.

Pete, age 26

Even boys who started at the usual age sometimes felt embarrassed or uncertain about the changes taking place in their bodies, especially if they hadn’t been told what to expect. Everyone we talked to, whether they felt proud and excited or uncertain and embarrassed (or a bit of both), agreed that it helps to have some idea of what to expect and to have someone to talk to about your feelings. Reading this book with someone might be a good way to start talking about these things.

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