The Average Age of the Onset of Puberty
Puberty normally starts between ages 9 and 13 in girls and between ages 11 and 14 in boys. Doctors diagnose ‘early’ or ‘precocious’ puberty when this natural biological process begins before age 8 in girls and before age 10 in boys.
Experts say that on average, children are hitting puberty earlier than they did two decades ago. In India, while the average age of starting menstruation has dropped by a few months to a year over the past two decades, other early signs of maturation are happening more than a year earlier, largely because of environmental triggers. There are many contributing factors. Early puberty, termed as precocious puberty, is associated with better nutrition, improved medical access in urban areas and increased mental stimulation.
Children who are hooked to junk food or a high-protein diet, especially non-vegetarian, are generally found to hit puberty earlier than those who are not. These foods stimulate the production of the hormone leptin, which in turn triggers puberty. Moreover, physical exercise is not a regular feature in a child’s day to day life today, becoming another contributing factor.
Exposure to chemicals that mimic the properties of the female hormone estrogen is also one of the reasons for fast-tracked puberty in girls. Estrogen-like chemicals in pesticides, plastics and shampoos and growth hormones found in meat and milk are contaminating the environment and triggering early sexual development in girls.
Studies have also established a link between increased television viewing and early puberty. Surprisingly, it wasn’t viewing sexual content, as much as the radiation emitted, which triggered puberty in young girls and boys. Watching too much television suppresses production of melanin, a hormone that slows down the progress to sexual maturity.
The Average Age of Marriage
In today’s India, people in their early twenties are more educated than ever before. They are becoming more and more career oriented, their personal ambitions overtaking submission to socio-cultural norms on their priority list. The general plan of action for a young professional now involves claiming a certain position of financial assurance before decided to start building a family. And this is true for women as well. The trend of looking down upon a female offspring and treating her unequally is disappearing, albeit very gradually. A girl from an urban household today is allowed to dream big, in terms of her profession and career.
And hence a mindset-shift is in progress in India. Thanks to aggressive campaigns, incentives and stringent laws, early marriages look to be on their way out. The mean age for marriage in the population has increased over the last 10 years for men as well as women, implying that Indians are now marrying at a later stage of life. The mean age at the time of marrying has increased from 18.3 to 19.3 among women and has reached 23.3 from 22.6 for men.
The gap between the average age of the onset of puberty and the average age of marriage is increasing. And this is a big factor that contributes in making pre-marital sex more and more common in India. While we’re still debating about it being either acceptable or religious blasphemy, young adults are acting on their free will. It’s high time we come out of denial, accept this fact and do what’s needed- impart good and effective sexuality education.