What are the unknown unknowns about puberty?

sex education unknown unknownsI am still in Zimbabwe this week, and I am still listening, learning, and taking in this amazing country and people. I may blog about my experiences here, but I feel the need to just drink everything in right now rather than talking about it quite yet.


In the meantime, I am going to write about Changes, Changes, Changes this week. My time in Zimbabwe is reminding me that around the world, many girls start menstruation with zero information. And so it is Chapter 3: Puberty Basics, that I will be writing about.


Puberty Basics is introduced with a pre-test for the teachers:




A Test for Teachers

Directions: The following true/false test is intended to help you clarify your knowledge and attitudes about puberty development and should be completed before beginning your sexual health education lessons. Read the following statements and indicate whether you think the statements are true or false.

  1. Puberty usually takes place over a three-year period.
  2. Boys who experience physical development earlier than most of their peers tend to go through the physical changes of puberty at a faster pace than their peers.
  3. Girls who experience physical development earlier than most of their peers tend to be more popular than later developers.
  4. In boys, the growth of pubic hair generally occurs before the growth of the penis.
  5. In pubescent males, erections are sporadic and infrequent.
  6. Breast development is a common occurrence among puberty-aged males.
  7. Most males experience their first ejaculation through masturbation.
  8. Masturbation is common for children.
  9. Many adolescent females masturbate.
  10. In females, the first menstruation usually occurs before breast development.
  11. In the menstrual cycle, ovulation usually occurs immediately after menstruation.
  12. Proper hygienic habits will prevent most acne conditions.




A mixture of true and false, this pre-test encourages teachers to consider their own knowledge and beliefs about frequently-asked questions in a puberty classroom. Educators and facilitators can feel defensive when faced with a topic that they are unfamiliar with, and few adults have been trained to teach about puberty or sexuality. There is an assumption that because all adults went through puberty that they have correct information about it – which is, unfortunately, not at all true!


This quiz is followed-up with three pages of discussion, giving the correct answers to each of the statements and a description of why it is either true or false. The discussion about the quiz is further supported by two fact sheets: Sexual Development and Sexual Problems in Children Ages 2 – 12 and Stages of Puberty Development for Girls and Boys. Even for educators who answered the quiz questions correctly, the verbiage of how to describe why the answer is true or false, the published citation about the points, and reading material on typical and atypical development are valuable resources.