Premature sexual development in girls can occur as the result of a medical condition, environmental factors or in response to sexual abuse. Puberty is challenging for most children, but the experience becomes even more difficult when it occurs too soon. Risks to young women who experience premature development can be profound, from an emotional, social and physical perspective. Although medical intervention can help alleviate the problem, psychological intervention is indicated in many cases.
The Onset of Early Puberty
Experts say that puberty in girls normally begins today between the ages of 8 and 13. Sexual development that begins prior to age 7 is considered to be an early onset, also known as precocious puberty. This may be the result of premature activation of the pituitary gland, which is responsible for producing the hormones that stimulate the ovaries, which in turn produce the hormones responsible for producing estrogen. Other physical conditions can cause breast or pubic hair growth at an early age, but these may not indicate true puberty. Puberty does onset much earlier today than it did even a generation ago, so parents are encouraged to seek a medical opinion as to whether the onset of puberty is truly early. In some cases, medication can suppress premature development. Menstruation typically begins two to three years after the first signs of puberty.
The Risks of Precocious Puberty
True early onset puberty can result from serious medical conditions that include genetic mutations, tumors, benign growths and brain injury or infection. It may also occur due to a high-fat diet, lack of physical activity or obesity. In a growing number of cases, environmental contaminants have been linked to early onset puberty. Some ethnic groups experience puberty at an earlier age than others. The social and emotional risks are also profound. A girl who develops physically before her peers is more likely to be the victim of harassment, both from kids her own age and from older males. Girls who experience early sexual development are more prone to risk-taking, early sexual activity, substance abuse, depression and eating disorders.
Early Sexual Development as a Result of Abuse
Research in this subject reveals a strong indication that sexual abuse results in the early onset of sexual development in girls, as well as several other negative outcomes. These include maladaptive sexual development, dissociative symptoms, PTSD, self-mutilation, obesity and depression. Sexual abuse at a young age also correlates to teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, addiction and domestic violence. Often the first indication of a problem is the display of socially inappropriate or hyper-sexualized behaviors in young girls, indicating a need to seek prompt medical attention.
If your daughter is experiencing early onset puberty, see your pediatrician immediately to check for potential medical causes. Whether precocious puberty is the result of a medical issue or another cause, psychological intervention is indicated to help her cope with the situation. This becomes even more critical if she has been abused. Havenwood Academy specializes in helping female abuse victims overcome the challenges associated with recovery. Contact them today to discuss the implications of your daughter’s premature sexual development.