Is Second Puberty Real?

As if the first one wasn't bad enough, word is going around that there's a second puberty. "Is this true?" you may ask, with fear in your eyes. Relax. Not really. The phrase "second puberty" is not a medical term and there are no scientific studies to prove it exists.

However (you knew that was coming), the body naturally changes as it ages over the course of decades. These changes occur in a person's 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond, and can be quite dramatic, approaching the emotional and physical upheaval of puberty during adolescence. Here's how the body changes during these decades, each of which may be considered a "second puberty."

In their 20's, for both men and women, bone and muscle mass reach their peak (per Healthline). Stretch marks may appear as the body changes, and acne may be worse than usual, due to hormones and the use of certain types of birth control, as Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD, Professor in the Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine, writes for Flo. Emotionally, 20-somethings are dealing with their personal and social lives for the first time as independent adults, and may experience significant psychological challenges, which can lead to anxiety or depression.

Alas, in the 30's, bone and muscle mass begin to decline, while both skin and hair show signs of aging, from noticeable wrinkles to the first glints of gray. Metabolism slows, which may cause weight gain and changes in body contours. In men, testosterone levels begin to decrease during the mid-30s. In women, fertility begins to decline. As for emotional changes in the 30s, who among us is not crestfallen over the appearance of the first gray hairs or crows feet? Or, for women who have yet to have children, who's not worried about the lowered prospects of becoming pregnant?

The closest phase to a "second puberty"

The 40s is the front-runner decade for the term "second puberty." Lots of major physical and emotional changes begin now and continue into the 50s. For both men and women, fat is redistributed, now piling on the belly or chest. Up to an inch or two of height is lost, due to worn-down spinal discs. Teeth become more sensitive to hot and cold, while other dental problems, such as gum disease, are more likely to occur. 

In men, the decrease of testosterone, which began in the 30s, now becomes more apparent. This period is called male menopause or andropause. One obvious sign is difficulty maintaining erections. But there are many other symptoms, ranging from insomnia to development of breasts to reduced sex drive (per Healthline). Men may also find it difficult to urinate, due to a growth spurt of the prostate. Psychologically, a man in andropause may experience depression, decreased motivation, and difficulty concentrating.

Women have their own second puberty in the form of perimenopause and then, eventually, menopause. Perimenopause, which is the transition to menopause, generally begins in the 40s (per WebMD). During perimenopause, estrogen levels drop and lead to such challenges as irregular periods, vaginal dryness, fatigue, and hot flashes. Emotional symptoms may include irritability, mood swings, and lower sex drive. Menopause itself occurs at an average age of 52.

Second puberty may happen in transgender people

All of the above information is for cisgender people. Transgender folks may indeed experience a second puberty if they decide to undergo gender-affirming treatment after the initial puberty. The hormones given may cause them to experience puberty symptoms associated with their affirmed gender.

Transgender women undergoing hormone therapy experience breast development, softer skin, sparser body hair, fat stores in the hips, thighs, and butt, and mood changes. Transgender men will notice that their bodies take on a more masculine appearance, with muscle growth and a change in body shape. Skin will become oilier, facial hair will increase, while hair on the head may be lost. The voice will change, the clitoris will enlarge, and periods will stop.

Overall, physical changes due to hormone therapy can take anywhere from one month to five years to reach maximum effect (per WebMD). The puberty of cisgender people generally develops over five years (per Cleveland Clinic). However, the emotional changes brought on by hormone therapy may happen within weeks by quickly easing the feelings of gender dysphoria. In natural puberty — ask any parent of an adolescent — emotions seem to be on a roller coaster for years on end.