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.