Boys’ bodies come in all shapes and sizes. As you get older, and go through puberty, you become more aware of your body and how it compares with others.
How you see yourself, how you feel about the way you look, and how you think others see you is known as your body image
. It is common to wonder whether your body is normal as you go through puberty, but comparing yourself too closely with others can be stressful and unrealistic. Boys’ bodies come in all shapes and sizes – there is no ‘normal’.
It is good to know what changes to look out for, but remember that every boy’s experience will be different. Puberty for boys usually starts around 13–14 years, but it can begin as early as 10 or as late as 16.
The best things you can do are:
- Be educated and informed, so you know what to expect.
- Take care of your body, so you stay healthy and strong.
Physical growth for boys
At some point during puberty, you will grow in height more rapidly than at any other time in your life. Boys can grow around 10cm in 12 months. So, over a period of three to four years, you may get 30 to 40cm taller and 15 to 20kg heavier.
Your hands and feet grow first, which can cause you to look a bit awkward until the arms and legs catch up. Your feet grow fastest between the ages of 6 and 12 years – about 1cm a year on average.
Next, your shoulders will widen and your torso will lengthen. The bones in your face will grow too, which can make you look different.
Growth slows down after puberty finishes, and most boys grow only another 2 to 5cm.
Enlargement of the testicles and scrotum
Your testicles and scrotum can nearly double in size around the start of puberty. It is often the first sign that you are changing from a boy to a man.
As the testicles grow, the scrotum skin darkens, enlarges, thins, hangs down from the body and becomes dotted with tiny bumps (hair follicles). In most boys, one testicle hangs lower than the other – it’s often the left one but it can be either.
Your testicles make testosterone, which is the main sex hormone that men have, and they start to make lots of it during puberty.
Pubic and body hair
Once the testosterone starts charging around your body, the next changes of puberty can come quickly. Usually, a few light-coloured hairs appear at the base of your penis. This is pubic hair, which soon turns darker, curlier and coarser.
Over the next few years, these dark hairs will cover the area around your genitals and spread towards your thighs. You will probably also get a thin line of hair that travels up to your belly button.
About two years after you first get pubic hair, you will start to see hair growing on your face, legs, arms, underarms and, lastly, chest.
Body hair where you don't want it
Hair can sprout anywhere, including on your shoulders and back, and this is completely normal. It doesn’t bother some boys; but others don’t like it.
If it bothers you, there are things you can do. You can shave it off, or you can use hair removal creams available from pharmacies. If you use creams, read the directions carefully before applying them, because sometimes they can burn your skin.
Penis growth and appearance
Boys spend a lot of time worrying about the size of their penis. It is common for them to inspect it regularly, and compare themselves with other boys.
Your penis will grow in length first, and then in width. The rate of growth varies widely. Some boys have adult-sized genitals when they are 13 years old, but other boys don’t have fully developed genitals until they are 18 years old.
Penises come in all shapes and sizes. The size of your penis when it is relaxed isn't linked to how big it will be when it is erect. Penis size also makes no difference to how well your penis works during sex.
Penises can also look different, especially if you are circumcised. At birth, most boys have a sleeve of skin (foreskin) covering the end of their penis. Some parents choose to have this foreskin removed – this process is known as circumcision. During a circumcision the foreskin is cut away, exposing the head of the penis.
Circumcision can be done a few days after birth, at several months of age, or even later in life. Parents do, or don’t, circumcise their sons for many reasons. Better Health Channel has more information on circumcision.
Before puberty, your voice box is small and your vocal cords are short and thin. That's why a boy’s voice is higher than an adult male voice.
During puberty, testosterone makes your voice box grow, and your vocal cords get longer and thicker, which makes your voice deeper. While this is happening, your voice may ‘crack’ or ‘break’. This can be annoying, but it's normal and usually lasts only a few months. Once your voice box is finished growing, your voice won't make strange noises anymore.
Everyone’s voice changes at different stages and at different rates. Some boys’ voices change when they are younger, and some when they are older. Some voices drop gradually, and others drop quickly.
Some boys also develop an ‘Adam’s apple’ – a lump about half way down the front of your neck. This is just your voice box, which changes angle as it grows.
It is natural for boys to wake up in the morning to find sticky, damp areas in their pyjama pants and sheets. These ‘wet dreams’ are from an ejaculation that occurs during sleep. They do not mean that you had a sexual dream.
Wet dreams happen to all boys, and they are just part of growing up.
It can be embarrassing when you are caught with your penis standing at attention unexpectedly, particularly in a public place with other people around. But these spontaneous erections are completely normal and happen to all boys during puberty.
Erections can happen anywhere and anytime. And they can happen for any reason, or for no reason at all. You can have one without touching your penis or having sexual thoughts.
Involuntary erections are just a sign that your body is maturing, and they will happen less often as you get older.
Don’t worry if you have some breast growth during the early years of puberty. Many boys find their breasts swell at this time, up to several centimetres. You might feel a lump under one or both nipples. Your breasts might also feel tender sometimes.
Breast growth in boys usually settles down after a year or two, but the important thing to know is that there is nothing wrong with you.
Body odour and sweat
Some boys see body odour (BO) as a sign of manhood, and cannot wait to smell! Once puberty starts, you will not have to wait long. Glands in your armpits start secreting sweat early during puberty. The sweat itself does not smell – the odour comes from bacteria on the skin that break down the sweat into acids.
You can use an antiperspirant or a deodorant to deal with body odour. An antiperspirant reduces the amount of sweat that reaches the skin’s surface. A deodorant reduces the amount of bacteria on the skin that causes the odour.
Antiperspirants and deodorants work for most people but not everyone. Your doctor can help you with other options.
If you develop a rash from using an antiperspirant, you might be allergic to aluminium. There are antiperspirants available that do not use aluminium, so try one of those instead.
It may also help to wear natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, or clothes made of fabrics that wick moisture and dry faster, such as polyester blends. They will help you avoid body odour and will not show underarm sweat stains as much.
You might find your feet sweat more during puberty too, which can cause foot odour. Try to avoid shoes made of man-made materials. Don’t wear the same shoes every day, so they have a chance to dry completely between wears.
– which refers to whiteheads, blackheads and pimples – is caused by hormones and blocked pores in the skin. Some boys will get a lot of acne, and some will not get much at all.
If you have a problem with acne, try cleansing your skin with a gentle non-soap cleanser. Over-the-counter acne treatment products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can also help. Try to use sunscreens and facial products that are labelled as ‘oil-free’ or ‘non-comedogenic’.
If these products do not help with your acne, don’t worry, there is more you can do. You can visit your doctor and they can refer you to a dermatologist, who can help you find a treatment.
Many boys are keen to get some muscle definition as they grow. But you need to be patient, because muscles don’t grow until later in puberty, when your body produces more testosterone.
Until then, lifting weights can help you build strength, but not muscle. If you like to work out with weights, do more repetitions of lighter weights rather than trying to lift heavy weights. Over-lifting can damage your growth plates, which control the length and shape of your bones. Injuries to these growth plates can negatively affect your growth.
Remember that there is no ‘right’ way for your body to look. Focus on building a strong, healthy body, rather than growing your muscles in a particular way, to look a certain way.
With all the changes you go through with puberty, it can be easy to become self-conscious and uncomfortable with your body. It’s natural to want to look good and feel confident in your own skin.
As you go through puberty
and see your body changing, how you look and how you compare with others can become important to you. It’s normal to think about body image
, but try not to let it get you down.
Some people worry about how they look because they want to fit in. The media can make the pressure worse by constantly showing images of the ‘perfect’ or ideal body. But most media images have been altered by lighting effects, camera techniques and computer software. The flawless faces and bodies they show are false and unrealistic.
Remember, there is no perfect body.
Friends, peers and family can also add to your body insecurities. They usually mean well, but sometimes a small comment about how you look can hurt.
It is important to remember you can control some things about your physical appearance – for example, you can keep your hair and body clean – but not other things – like how tall you are, or the colour of your eyes.
The best thing you can do is look after yourself and stay healthy. You will look and feel your best when you get enough sleep and exercise, and eat healthily.
It can also help to remember all the great things that your body can do. They might include playing the drums, singing in a choir, doing martial arts, going bushwalking or riding a skateboard.
Involving yourself in activities can also help you meet like-minded people. Try to hang out with people who have healthy attitudes towards their bodies, and who do not spend their time criticising themselves or others.
Dealing with body image issues
If you are struggling with issues to do with your body or self-esteem, it will help to talk to someone you can trust – perhaps a family member or friend, or your doctor.
Even if you are not having a difficult time, it’s important to see your doctor from time to time to talk about how things are going. Try to have a general check-up with your doctor at least once a year, particularly while you are going through puberty.
Where to get help