Birth Control for Teens
One of the most challenging decisions teens face is whether to have sex or not. The idea that your teen could be sexually active is also one of the most anxiety-producing topics of conversation for parents as well. As a parent, you must consider all the potential, life-altering consequences of this decision over which you have little control. The truth is, peer pressure, curiosity and the intense fear associated with "losing" one's first love are more likely to control the decision-making process. Having said that, as a parent, you can help to make sure they are as adequately prepared as possible, should they choose to have sex.
It is not surprising to think that most teen pregnancies (of which there are approximately 18 births per 1000 girls ages 15 to 19) that occur in the United States each year are unplanned. The number of teen pregnancies (and deliveries) has been dropping each year according to the CDC, but the rate is still high enough to be of concern. Unfortunately, the statistics for teen dropouts, graduation, unemployment, and criminal activity are also sobering as related to pregnancy and childbirth at a young age.
There are many different forms of contraception on the market today, some of which your teen does not need a doctor's appointment or a physician to obtain. Some are preventative, whereas others are reactionary in their uses. Some are a spur of the moment use, yet others still are long term and quite reliable. Below we will discuss some of the most common varieties of birth control along with their uses, pros and cons. Finally, we will take a moment to address how to talk about this particularly sensitive subject with your son or daughter.
Different Types of Birth Control
Birth Control Patch
Studies of the patch found it to be as effective as the birth control pill, with approximately nine out of every 100 couples experiencing an unintended pregnancy during the first year of use. This statistic depends on whether the patch is being used as directed. Also, like the pill, smoking while using the patch can increase the risk of certain side effects. The most common side effects are irregular menstrual cycles, nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, mood alterations and blood clots (rarely). There can also be skin reactions associated with the patch location.
Birth Control Pill
The effectiveness of the pill is essentially the same as the patch, with approximately nine out of 100 couples experiencing an unintended pregnancy. Again, the success or failure has a lot to do with whether the medication is taken correctly. The side effects of the pill are also like those of the patch. However, the pill does have some positive side effects, including lighter periods, reduced cramps, improved acne, and for some women and girls, it has been found to protect against ovarian cysts, anemia, and ovarian and endometrial cancers.
Birth Control Ring
As with the patch and the pill, the failure rate of the ring is approximately nine out of every 100 couples. The side effects are like those of the patch. The ring is an excellent choice for someone unlikely to remember to take a pill once per day. There are additional medical concerns associated with the ring which would need to be discussed with a medical provider before deciding if it is indeed the best choice.
Birth Control Shot
The birth control shot is an injection given to a girl every three months to help prevent pregnancy. The birth control shot is more effective than the preceding three birth control methods. Approximately six out of every 100 couples may experience an accidental pregnancy. This chance increases if the shot is not repeated every three months. The side effects of the shot include irregular periods or no period at all, weight gain, headaches, depression, and in some cases, a reduction in bone density. Additionally, once someone decides to stop the shot in the interest of getting pregnant, they may notice fertility issues that can persist for up to a year after their last injection.
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Male condoms and female condoms prevent sperm from entering into a vagina. A male condom is worn on the penis while a female condom is inserted into the vagina. Male and female condoms should not be used together as the friction created between the two could cause them to break or slip out of place. Male condoms have been found to be more effective than female condoms.
Implantable contraception is an effective birth control method as fewer than 1% of 100 typical couples experience an unintended pregnancy. Implants can have similar side effects to other methods of birth control, including alterations in periods, weight gain, headaches, depression and increased risk of blood clots. Implants can also be quite expensive, depending on your insurance coverage, in some cases ranging up to $1000.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
The intrauterine device (IUD) is a device that is placed into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Encourage your daughter to consult with her pediatrician about whether the copper-covered or hormone progestin would be better for her. You can leave the IUD inserted for years and then remove it at any time. Fewer than one out of 100 typical couples using an IUD will experience an unintended pregnancy each year.
There are other methods such as fertility awareness (cycle tracking), spermicide and withdrawal that are also considered "birth control" but are minimally effective with failure rates of roughly 25%. There are also emergency contraception methods (Morning-After pill, Plan B, or ECP) which are used after unprotected sex. These can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex and are usually effective. However, it is undoubtedly better to be proactive as opposed to reactive in this case. It is also valuable to note, only condoms (male and female) are effective in preventing STDs. None of the other birth control methods available are useful in this area.
Talking to Your Teen About Safe Sex
First, remember that talking to your teen about sex and birth control is not you giving them "permission" to have a sexual relationship with someone. It is essential for them to feel as though they can talk to you and ask you questions without upsetting you or fearing restrictions in their social lives as a result of the questions they ask. Research shows that teens who discuss sex and birth control with their parents are more likely to wait to have sex and use protection when they do. The reality is, teens, talk about and learn about sex whether you are part of the conversation or not. Avoiding the conversation may be more problematic than you hope. Here are some tips:
- As a parent, you may feel concerned and defensive. However, it is important to help your teenager understand that they can openly discuss sex with you.
- It is also important to ease into the conversation so that the conversation feels more natural.
- You should prepare a list of questions to discuss with your teenager about their future dreams, and how a baby may affect their ability to achieve those goals.
- A conversation about sex can be emotional and it is important to discuss such emotions.
- Do not fabricate answers if you are unsure. You can seek support from resources for more information.
- Express your concerns and share your reasons for why your teenager may want to consider delaying engaging in intimacy.
- Ensure that your teenager understands that you will always be there for them.
The conversation about sex and birth control does not need to be "the talk." Take the time to be open and understanding. Ask questions and respect their answers. Keep in mind, this conversation may be just as hard for them as it is for you. However, in the end, if your teen feels they can talk to you, they are more likely to turn to you for help and advice when they need it most rather than to another source such as their friends or social media.