Puberty by Angela Caldin

Here you go Trevor, here are my musings on the topic of puberty.

I don’t like the word puberty; I mean that I don’t like the sound of it – it’s the p and the u and the b together that are off-putting. The word arrives in the fourteenth century from Old French puberté, from Latin pubertatem meaning age of maturity and pubes meaning adult, full grown. It’s the period of human development during which physical growth, sexual maturation and the achievement of fertility occur. Adolescence seems to me to be a much nicer word but it is more of a social/cultural term referring to the interval between childhood and adulthood.

Hypothalmus in orange

The time when puberty begins varies greatly among individuals but broadly speaking it usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14 and between the ages of 12 and 16 in boys (though it can be as early as eight in girls and ten in boys). Factors that play a part in the timing of the onset of puberty are genetic and environmental influences as well as body fat or body composition.

What happens is that the hypothalamus (part of the brain) signals hormonal change that stimulates the pituitary. In turn, the pituitary releases its own hormones called gonadotrophins that stimulate the gonads and adrenals. From these glands come a flood of sex hormones: androgens and testosterone in the male, estrogens and progestins in the female that regulate the growth and function of the sex organs.

Dr Samuel Johnson

Dr Johnson in his dictionary defines puberty as ‘The time of life in which the two sexes begin first to be acquainted.’ It certainly wasn’t like that for me in my Cheshire village where I lived a secluded life as an only child with my single mother. I went to an all girls’ school reached by a long bus ride into Manchester and a long ride home again to have tea, do homework and go to bed. Weekends were spent reading improving works – I used to read a Shakespeare play every Saturday, understanding very little, but feeling very intellectual. There were no boys to be found in my isolated world. Other girls at school had boyfriends, went to parties, to clubs even, but it seemed that such excitement wasn’t for me. The nearest I got was to be taken by my cousin’s friend on his motor bike to a club called the Jungfrau where the music was deafening, the darkness was all enveloping and I hated it. My cousin later married the motor bike man.

Sandy beach, Newquay

Things looked up a little after O levels when I went with three girlfriends on holiday to Newquay. We stayed in a B&B with a battle-axe of a landlady, but on the wonderful sandy beach we met a group of young male naval reservists who had just finished their training. We fell in with them and I hooked up with one in particular and spent a blissful couple of days before they all had to leave. He lived in Surrey and we wrote for a while, even visited each other a couple of times until the relationship petered out.

That was puberty for me, a lonely time, on the outside looking in, wondering when life would start. I had to wait until I got to university to begin to get acquainted with the opposite sex.

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