Sexual Maturity Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

Jan 5, 2022

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Sexual maturity shouldn't be a surprise

While in the parenting trenches, you might think of puberty as a time of mood swings, social awkwardness and irrational behaviors or experimentation. If you’re like many adults, middle school was definitely NOT the highlight of your growing up years. 

Why is that anyway?

This stage of adolescence is actually a really exciting time when you stop to think about it.

Young teens are laying the groundwork for their future. They are developing physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially in ways that help them start figuring out how to navigate in a complex adult world. 

That’s like the thrill that comes with starting a young daughter in soccer and then watching her eventually play on the high school team. Or introducing your son to robotics early on and then celebrating his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering as a young adult. 

As parents, we should look forward to this time of life. We should also prepare for it by recognizing what’s really happening in our young teen’s body and brain. After all, if we’re setting them up for the thrill of adulthood, we better have a darn good idea of what we’re up against.

Sexual maturity spoiler alert: Here’s what happens next

I don’t think sexual maturity should be a surprise.

Which is why I’m just going to tell you what happens next. Unfortunately, knowing what happens next doesn’t get you to the end of the puberty book any faster. But it does create some awesome parenting cliff hangers.

You can even give your son or daughter a heads up so that they don’t get a nasty surprise either.

So what happens next?

Well, first off, a lot of clothes shopping or neighborhood clothes swaps. These kids can grow faster than it takes to open a can of tuna. And that’s saying something. 

Young teens have already been developing sexually for many years, but sexual maturity happens during adolescence. Sexual maturity is when an adolescent becomes fertile or capable of having children. Let’s dive into the Tanner Stages of Puberty for this age group to get a better look at what happens during early adolescence.

Girls in Tanner Stage 3

The highest growth rate for girls, around 3-4 inches, begins around 12 years old. This may not sound like a ton of height, but every girl that is suddenly wearing floods is pretty quick to notice.

This will also be when girls will start to change shape. Hips and thighs will get bigger. Curves will become a bit more noticeable. Clothes that looked great on Tuesday will suddenly be overly tight or accentuate more than expected by Friday…

Just kidding. It just feels that way. 

Clothes are a big deal at this age. And it is very likely worth it to spend a little extra time and effort finding something that your daughter feels comfortable in. We really want to set the stage for these girls to develop a positive connection with their changing body, and clothes that fit are part of that positive process.

Girls will also develop in a few other key areas. Pubic hair will get darker and curlier, armpit hair may start to grow, and the breast buds will continue to enlarge. 

Acne will also become noticeable. And it’s not just on the face. Teens often get acne on their back as well. It’s definitely great to get some basic hygiene habits in place before this happens. Habits like showering regularly, washing the face at night, changing pillow cases routinely and drinking a healthy amount of water are all habits that can have a positive impact on acne. 

Periods might start at this time, but they most often start when breasts start to take on a fuller shape in the next stage of puberty.

Boys in Tanner Stage 3

I guess it’s not a surprise by this point that boys typically start the next stage of puberty later than girls. Around age 13 is when boys experience probably the biggest change — wet dreams. Wet dreams are when a boy’s body chooses to ejaculate during sleep. Wet dreams can be caused by sexually stimulating dreams, but it’s also normal for a boy to wake up and have no recollection of what might have caused him to ejaculate during the night.

Unless your son is already a super hero, it’s definitely time for him to learn how to use the washer before this age. He’ll need it for more than his stinky, stiff socks. 

And don’t forget to teach him about how to put the soap in the washer too. Somehow my brother never caught that message. He thought the soap magically dispensed itself. After a few years of mysteriously stinky clean clothes, my mom finally discovered the culprit. Oh man… we still laugh about that one. 

It also would be a great time to buy some extra sheets and extra pajamas. 

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, a boy that is capable of ejaculating, is also capable of fathering a child. That’s important for him to know. 

At this stage, your son’s height will increase to 2-3 inches a year. Clothes that fit are a pretty big deal to most boys this age too, just like their female counterparts.

His voice will begin to change and will unavoidably crack (change from high pitches to low pitches) at all the wrong times. As entertaining as this can be, keep the teasing light hearted. And don’t tease him in front of friends.

This stage also includes other physical changes. Testicles will continue to grow and his penis will begin to lengthen. His muscles will start to get bigger and body odor starts to develop.

Some boys start to develop a mound of tissue under their nipples. This is really normal and the mound usually disappears again in a few years. 

Conversations encourage healthy sexual development

Kids are constantly being exposed to sexual (mis)information online. Before kids grow into young teens, they may already have many ideas of what sexuality means. When you stop to consider the unhealthy ways that sexuality is portrayed in media, you can imagine what impact this is having on young brains that have not yet developed the maturity to comprehend moral issues or even long term consequences of actions. 

Because of this exposure, it is very important that parents start talking to their kids about sexuality in age appropriate ways early and often. If you haven’t started yet, start now. Starting these conversations during adolescence is a much better option than not starting at all.

These conversations are not just about the physical acts of sexual behavior and reproduction. Parents need to communicate about sexual attitudes, feelings, identity, values, and limits. Statistics tell us that teens really want parents to talk and that parents can easily start the conversation by commenting on sexual messages in media.

Seriously. Your teen wants to talk.