An Explanation of Sexual Maturity

Sexual maturity is reached when an organism can reproduce. Sexual maturity exists in both animals and plants. Development begins before sexual maturity. In humans, development takes place for the entire duration of life. There are stages of development that take place from birth to old age. When humans reach the reproductive stage of development or puberty they have reached sexual maturity. However, environmental and social factors may play a part in the age when sexual maturation actually occurs for all species.

Sexual maturity in humans

Humans take longer to reach sexual maturity than do most animals. The female human may reach puberty between the ages of eight and16. The male will reach puberty somewhere between 12 and 15. A human who is sexually mature has reached the age of puberty. This means that the male or female human is able to reproduce and have offspring. Genes or hereditary factors, along with environmental stimuli, will affect the age at which a human, animal or other organism becomes sexually mature.

According to a study discussed in Live Science, males reach a peak of testosterone production at the end of adolescence when there is also a peak in their mortality rate. The high testosterone production is believed to cause recklessness in boys at this time. Also, this study discusses how males are maturing earlier by about 2.5 months since 1700. Girls are also reaching sexual maturity earlier.

Comparisons of sexual maturity in different species

According to a study done in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, entitled “Sexual Maturation in Male Prairie Voles: Effects of the Social Environment,” “Sexual maturity was assessed as the ability of the young male to produce urine capable of activating a diestrous adult female into estrus, as females remain anestrus until they ingest a male urinary chemosignal.” For the adult male albino house mouse and the prairie deer mouse, sexual maturation will be inhibited by the presence of unfamiliar adult males or living with siblings. Urinary chemosignals must be present in order to activate the female to procreate. Prairie voles are sexually mature at about 40 to 45 days. 

This finding indicates that in some species there is an environmental factor that helps to bring on sexual maturity, or the ability to reproduce.

In the ICES Journal of Marine Sciences, another study discussed gonad maturity as opposed to functional maturity with regard to sexual maturity in the spider crab, whereby gonad maturity would indicate sexual maturity. However, it is stated that “gonad maturity may not be sufficient to define functional maturity.” Functional maturity would also include mating ability, “which depends on physiological, behavioral, and morphological aspects.”

Another study determines that sexual maturity in rabbits is “defined by the physical and chemical characteristics of the semen.” Rabbits were considered sexually mature by six months of age due to positive mounting behavior at that age, but also the characteristics of the semen would have to be tested to determine true sexual maturity.

The male goat called the buck or billy reaches sexual maturity when he is about four months old, but recommendations from University Extension state that it is best to start him breeding when he is a year old. Also each year thereafter he can breed more females – by the age of three years and older he can breed up to 40 females at a time. The female, called the doe or nanny, reaches sexual maturity between four months and one year.  Sexual maturity also depends on the breed, genetic makeup, birth season, feeding and nutrition, and health. Puberty or sexual maturity occurs with the doe’s first heat or estrus.

Sexual maturity in plants

Sexual maturity in plants happens as plants grow older. In plants a hormonal signal is sent from the leaves to the shoot apex, which stimulates sexual reproduction and development. Contributing factors to sexual maturity in plants are size, age, ecology, environment, sun exposure, competition, nutrients and temperature.

Sexual maturity begins with the ability to reproduce. Sexual maturity is different for all species. For each species there is a special process whereby sexual maturity is reached.