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13.62: Female Reproductive Development

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What changes happen during puberty?

A lot changes during this time. Girls may become interested in many new things, including the art of makeup.

Sexual Development in Females

Female reproductive organs form before birth. However, as in males, the organs do not mature until puberty.

Development Before Birth

Unlike males, females are not influenced by the male sex hormone testosterone during embryonic development. This is because they lack a Y chromosome. As a result, females do not develop male reproductive organs. By the third month of fetal development, most of the internal female organs have formed. Immature eggs also form in the ovary before birth. Whereas a mature male produces sperm throughout his life, a female produces all the eggs she will ever make before birth.

Changes of Puberty

Like baby boys, baby girls are born with all their reproductive organs present but immature and unable to function. Female reproductive organs also grow very little until puberty. Girls begin puberty a year or two earlier than boys, at an average age of 10 years. Girls also complete puberty sooner than boys, in about 4 years instead of 6. Puberty in girls starts when the hypothalamus “tells” the pituitary gland to secrete hormones that target the ovaries. Two pituitary hormones are involved: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) . These hormones stimulate the ovary to produce estrogen . Estrogen, in turn, promotes growth and other physical changes of puberty. It stimulates growth and development of the internal reproductive organs, breasts, and pubic hair (see Figure below ). You can watch an animation of these and other changes that girls experience during puberty at this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/interactives/lifecycle/teenagers/ .

Changes in Females During Puberty. Two obvious changes of puberty in girls are growth and development of the breasts and pubic hair. The stages begin around age 10 and are completed by about age 14.

Adolescent Growth Spurt

Like boys, girls also go through an adolescent growth spurt . However, girls typically start their growth spurt a year or two earlier than boys (and therefore a couple of centimeters shorter, on average). Girls also have a shorter growth spurt. For example, they typically reach their adult height by about age 15. In addition, girls generally do not grow as fast as boys do during the growth spurt, even at their peak rate of growth. As a result, females are about 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) shorter, on average, than males by the time they reach their final height.


One of the most significant changes in females during puberty is menarche. Menarche is the beginning of menstruation , or monthly periods. In U.S. girls, the average age of menarche is 12.5 years, although there is a lot of variation in this age. The variation may be due to a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors, such as diet.


  • Female reproductive organs form before birth. However, they do not mature until puberty.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What triggers puberty in girls?
  2. How does a girl's face change during puberty?
  3. Describe changes in the breasts during puberty.
  4. Describe changes to the hips and thighs during puberty.


1. State two ways that puberty differs in girls and boys.

2. Define menstruation. What is the first menstrual period called?

3. Males and females are quite similar in height when they begin the adolescent growth spurt. Why are females about 10 centimeters shorter than males by adulthood?


adolescent growth spurt

adolescent growth spurt

Period of rapid growth that occurs during puberty.


Female sex hormone secreted by the ovaries.
follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

Pituitary gland hormone that stimulates the ovaries to secrete estrogen and follicles in the ovaries to mature.


Beginning of menstruation; first monthly period in females.


Process in which the endometrium of the uterus is shed from the body during the first several days of the menstrual cycle; also called monthly period.

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Date Created:

Feb 24, 2012

Last Modified:

Dec 29, 2014
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