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Puberty 101

Puberty 101 with Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Marjie Searcy

June 18, 2024

One night you went to bed still a child, and the next morning, you woke up with boobs, smelly underarms, and hair in places it wasn’t before. You look in the mirror and hardly recognize yourself. It’s giving triggered. Is this a nightmare? Some freaky Friday IRL? You throw on your clothes and tell yourself you’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

But then that same day, you get to school and realize you forgot to charge your phone, and now it’s dead. You lose it. I mean full-on — arms in the air, angry scream, toddler tantrum. Your friends look at you in a “don’t be cringe” way, and before you know it, you’re crying. WTF?! Hey besties, welcome to puberty.

Growing up can be weird and uncomfortable and really freaking awkward. As your body is going through a massive transformation and your moods seem like they go from 0 to 100, it can feel like you’ve lost all sense of control. In truth, you kind of have, and it’s totally normal. You may be thinking, “It’s 2024, puberty is SO cheugy! Why can’t we just cancel it for good?” Well, as uncomfortable and awkward as puberty can be, it also is a really important part of our lives as we grow, develop and mature.

The Lore of the Pituitary Gland

Prior to starting puberty, your pituitary gland is low key in hibernation mode. It’s still doing stuff, but during puberty is when it really decides to pop off. It’s often called the “master gland” because of its role in producing and controlling the release of hormones. The hormones we are specifically talking about here are follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

At the time of puberty (which typically starts around age 8-13 for the girlies and 9-14 for the boys), the pituitary gland receives a message from the hypothalamus saying it’s time to become a teenager. No, not a teenage mutant ninja turtle, although I know it can feel like that when everything is changing so fast. The pituitary gland then takes that message and starts to release larger amounts of sex hormones called FSH and LH. These hormones are the ones responsible for your sexual maturation and development, and they do different things in male and female bodies. (This article will focus on what occurs in a female body.)

The Hormone Squad

In girls or children assigned female at birth (AFAB), FSH and LH trigger the ovaries to begin producing estrogen. Think of estrogen as your fairy godmother, but instead of giving you a big fancy dress, some impractical glass shoes, and a weird pumpkin carriage, she’s going to bless you with boobs, hips—and, you guessed it—your period. Our fairy godmother, estrogen, also likes to play around with our mood. She can make us anxious, depressed, and irritable.

Estrogen & Your Mood

How exactly does estrogen affect your mood? Estrogen is a social hormone, and she likes to make friends, although not everyone wants to be her friend. She can rub people the wrong way. For instance, sometimes she and her friend Serotonin can get into disagreements. When this happens, serotonin can get sad and hide in her room, meaning there isn’t enough serotonin circulating in the body, and you can experience a more depressed mood. Estrogen isn’t just social; she also likes to be the HBIC. When estrogen is allowed to have her way, her levels increase to higher than they should, and that’s when you are likely to experience irritability. As a teenager, your hormones are like Taylor Swift fans, rapidly increasing and quite literally taking over. It takes your body some time to be able to figure out how to balance all of them, which is why mood swings are so common.  

Don’t Forget About Progesterone

Progesterone is your supportive, happy friend. Her main job is to prepare the lining of your uterus for pregnancy and she’s the number one cheerleader and hype girl when pregnancy does happen. However, when you aren’t pregnant, one of her jobs includes helping to improve your mood. She likes to keep you happy, so if something makes her sad and her levels drop, then you are likely to experience mood changes, anxiety and depression.

Andro-what & Testo-who

Our hormone squad wouldn’t be complete without our friends, the androgens. Androgens help both boys and girls enter puberty and mature physically. Testosterone is one of the androgens, and he’s the most popular of the bunch. Okay cool, but only boys have testosterone. Wrong. It’s true that boys have more testosterone than girls, but girls have it too. Testosterone is responsible for those hairs that you now find under your arms and on your genital areas. And while you may absolutely hate how it looks, it’s totally normal. It’s just part of growing up, and believe it or not, that hair helps your body regulate your temperature and keeps germs and other gross stuff from entering your body. Pretty cool, huh?

Puberty can feel crazy, but it’s a natural process and one that involves a lot of rapid changes in your body. It’s normal to feel big emotions during this time because your hormones are powerful, and they are trying to figure everything out, too. If you have questions or feel overwhelmed about what is happening in your body and whether it is normal or not, talk to your parents or an adult that you trust. You don’t have to face it alone.

  • Marjie Searcy

    Marjie Searcy is a board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner. She graduated with her Masters of Science in Nursing from Georgetown University where she received a dual degree in nurse midwifery and women’s health. Originally her plan was to practice as a holistic midwife, but she discovered a strong passion and love for the world of gynecology and the need for high quality women’s care. Her desire is to provide patient-centered and trauma-informed care that leaves her patients feeling seen, heard, and empowered. She wants to prove that going to see your gynecologist doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be scary whether you are an adolescent or postmenopausal.

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