Birth Control Methods
(For Parents of Teenagers with Typical Development)
Note: This article's not just for you – share it with your teen.
Birth control refers to the different methods that people use to intentionally prevent pregnancy. Did you know that if you have unprotected vaginal sex (not using any birth control at all), you or your partner has an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within just one year? Or to put it another way, if you knew 100 couples who were having unprotected vaginal sex, by the end of one year 85 of those couples would be dealing with a pregnancy. Some of them would already be parents!
So, it's probably obvious that if you're having vaginal sex and are not prepared to become pregnant or do not want your partner to become pregnant, finding a reliable method of birth control which works for you is essential.
Wondering which method of birth control is the one that’s just right for you?
While we don't have as many options as we should, there are still some user-friendly, safe, and effective methods to choose from. But it can be pretty confusing to figure out what's best for you, especially when you're a younger person who’s new to the whole idea of birth control or when you don’t have a healthcare provider who’s willing to provide unbiased information without passing judgment. It's particularly tricky when advertisements make some methods look far better than other methods. Or your best friend might love her method, but it may be the worst method for you ever. What method is right for you is a highly individual decision – we all have different personalities, sex lives, relationships, and health histories. In other words, one size does not fit all when it comes to contraception.
The best method for anyone is always going to be the method that particular person can use properly and consistently, can afford and access, which fits best with their own life, health history, needs, and concerns, and which – obviously – is as effective as they want and need it to be.
Maybe you're thinking about sex for the first time and want to be prepared, maybe you've taken risks you didn't want to and are now looking for a reliable method, or maybe what you've been using hasn't been working out for you. Your healthcare provider is probably the best person for you to talk with about choosing a method, and in the case of some methods, you'll need to see them anyway for a prescription, an insertion, a shot, or a fitting. You’ll also want to see your healthcare provider for annual sexual healthcare examinations, and since pregnancy isn't the only risk that comes with being sexually active, you’ll want to see your healthcare provider for sexually transmitted infection screenings.
Before you talk with your healthcare provider, it may be helpful to have a good idea about what methods interest you most. That way, you can talk with your provider on a more equal footing – they’re less likely to talk down to you if you already know the facts. And let's be honest – not all healthcare providers are good at what they do. Some will hardly listen to your needs because they have their own preferences, and so they may just suggest the method which they like. With younger patients, some doctors feel like they need to make the choice instead of you. Again, have a good idea of what you want before you visit your provider – it makes it a lot easier to be confident when you know what will and will not work for you.
Starting from Scratch
Let’s start by narrowing down your choices of birth control. Click which of the following statements sounds most like you (if you already have a birth control method in mind, you can skip down to the next section):
Got an Inkling?
Already know which method you want to use, but you just need more information about it?
No problem. You can get information on any of the following methods by just giving them a click:
Note: We did not include sterilization (permanent birth control) in our list of methods. For females, that means having a surgical procedure called a tubal ligation. For males, that means having a surgical procedure called a vasectomy. Some teens and young adults may already know that they never want to have children, but for most young people, that decision is a long way off. If you’re sure you never want to have children, talk with your healthcare provider about these procedures.
It’s not just unwanted pregnancies that we’re talking about. Sexually active teens and young adults also risk getting or spreading sexually transmitted infections. Although 15-24 year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population in the United States, they account for nearly half of all new sexually transmitted infections each year. Often, people have some strange ideas about who is most likely to get a sexually transmitted infection, but the fact of the matter is that younger people – heterosexual, bisexual, or gay – have been the highest risk group for some time now.
Condoms are the only form of birth control that also provide protection against sexually transmitted infections. Keep this in mind if you’re seriously thinking about switching from condoms to another method. You can read all about safer sex practices by reading Safer Sex, but the rule of thumb that most medical experts agree upon is that you should use condoms during the first six months of any new sexual relationship. At the beginning of the six months, each partner should be screened fully for sexually transmitted infections. At the end of the six months, they should be screened again. If both screenings for each person show no infections, and if both people have not had sex with anyone else during the six months, then it should be safe to switch from condoms to another form of birth control.
Adapted with permission from an article by Heather Corinna. The original article, “Birth Control Bingo,” can be found on www.scarleteen.com.