What to Expect when your Son goes through Puberty: Signs and Stages of Male Puberty

What is Puberty?

Puberty, from its Latin derivative pubertas, means “coming to the age of manhood.” It is the period of human development in which physical growth and sexual maturation occurs.


Puberty takes place between the ages of 9 and 14 in boys. Before any outward changes can be seen, internal organs are ramping up. A section of the brain, called the hypothalamus, produces a hormone called GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone). This hormone stimulates the pituitary gland to release the sex hormone LH (luteinizing hormone). LH signals the testicles to start producing the commonly known sex hormone, testosterone. Once the testosterone production ramps up the physical changes begin.

Physical Signs and Stages of Male Puberty Growth


Growth is the first obvious sign of the onset of puberty. The growth spurt leaves many boys looking awkward and feeling uncoordinated. This is because their body parts are growing at different rates. Their hands and feet will grow at a faster rate than their arms and legs, while their limbs will grow faster than their torso. Additionally, their nose, lips, and ears may each grow at a different rate. In some instances the left side of the body grows faster than the right, or vice versa. These sporadic growth spurts account for a boy’s temporary awkward appearance and decrease in coordination.


As their bodies are growing rapidly, their appetite will also increase. Not only are the bones and muscles lengthening, but the internal organs are also upsizing—the heart doubles in size and the lungs and digestive system become larger. In order to nutritionally support these major growth changes, boys will develop voracious appetites.


Acne is a notorious aspect of the signs and stages of male puberty. Acne occurs due to an increase in the production of sebum, or oil, from the sebaceous glands in the skin. Normally, the oil travels up the hair follicles and out onto the surface of the skin. However, an overproduction of oil causes the pores to clog. Clogged pores lead to mild or severe forms of acne including, blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and cysts. In the pimple stage, a follicle has become infected, creating a raised red bump with a white tip. In the cyst stage, the infection in the follicle has grown, producing pus-filled lumps which are  painful and can cause scars. While it has not been proven, it’s likely that the increase in androgen hormones (including testosterone) causes an overproduction of sebum in many boys at puberty.


Voice changes occur as the boy’s larynx, or voice box, grows. As the larynx increases in size, the vocal chords stretch and lengthen, which temporarily causes the voice to fluctuate, or “crack”, as the boy tries to adjust to the new, deeper sound. This phase usually occurs around the time a boy’s growth is peaking.  The end result is his voice drops about an octave in pitch and strengthens in quality, which on average occurs around the age of 15. The position of the larynx changes to stick out from the throat, creating the Adam’s Apple.

Hair Growth

Hair in the pubic region is the first outward sign of sexual maturation in boys and in girls. It usually occurs around the time the growth spurt begins. Boys will first notice raised bumps in the genital area, quickly followed by the eruption of hair. The hair will expand over a wider area of the pubic region.

Other hair growth occurs as well in puberty. Male teenagers develop hair on their face, under arms, chest, belly, arms, legs and almost anywhere. Non-pubic hair growth usually starts in the axillary, or armpit, region. The next phase varies and is thought to follow the same hair growth process as the boy’s father. Facial hair often develops after chest hair.

Sex Organs

The male sex organs, or genitals, include the testicles; penis; the duct system for sperm production, storage and transport; and the accessory glands of the prostate and seminal vesicles. The first change in the sex organs occurs when the testes and scrotum begin to grow. The scrotum darkens, thickens and drops to become pendulous. Approximately a year after the testicular changes begin, the penis grows. It becomes longer and wider and will take several years to reach full size.

Erections and wet dreams are some potentially embarrassing signs and stages of male puberty. Erections are sporadic and involuntary, occurring for no reason at all. Wet dreams are ejaculations, or a release of semen, which occur when boys are asleep. Wet dreams usually start around age 13 or 14. The frequency of erections and wet dreams varies—some boys may have many? while others have only a few.

Psychological Signs of Male Puberty

Body Image

Boys often experience body image issues during puberty since various parts of their bodies are growing at different rates. This could make them feel awkward about their outward appearance as they don’t look or feel the way they did a few months before. They may be developing more quickly or slowly than other boys in their peer group making them feel insecure and abnormal. They may struggle with their coordination during this time and get embarrassed that they can’t swing the baseball bat as accurately as they used to. They may become shy due to any of the physical changes, including acne, voice cracking, and involuntary erections.


As puberty is the “coming to the age of manhood,” boys will often distance themselves from their parents. This normal stage of psychological development occurs because the boy is moving from being a dependent child to an independent man. It is important to recognize this change and allow your son more freedom to “test” his manhood. Giving him more independence will cause him to succeed in some respects and fail in others. He has the benefit of practicing being an adult while having you there for support and advice when he needs it.

Sexual Feelings & Masturbation

Sexual feelings arise during puberty. It is common for boys to develop strong feelings for the opposite sex and/or the same sex. Strong sexual feelings are a normal manifestation of the hormonal changes occurring in puberty. It is a time for boys and girls to understand their sexuality.

Masturbation commonly begins in puberty and is often the first experience of sexual activity. An increase in testosterone and other sex hormones creates a naturally increased sex drive. Nearly all boys masturbate at some point in their adolescence, some more frequently than others. Masturbation is effective in releasing the sexual tension derived from the increased hormone production.