Talking to Teens About Birth Control: The Pill, IUDs, and Condoms
Fact checked by Dr. Chelsea Hetherington, Ph.D. Dr. Hetherington is a developmental psychologist, writer, coach, and consultant.
The recent overturn of Roe V Wade and continued restrictions on abortion access across the US have sparked a surge in teens seeking out birth control options to prevent pregnancy. Especially in states with laws that restrict access to abortion and emergency contraception, many teens and parents alike want to know how best to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
Related: Talking to Your Teen About Sex
Should Teens Take Birth Control?
As a parent, you might feel uncomfortable with the idea of your teenager using birth control. If this topic puts you into a state of anxiety and you’d rather just avoid it, then you’re not alone.
Despite your discomfort, your teen may still be at a risk for an unwanted pregnancy or STIs. The CDC reports that about half of US teens will have sex before they turn 18 years old. Birth control is a relatively low-cost pregnancy prevention tool that can help your teen reduce the risk of pregnancy and STIs.
Beyond protecting against unwanted pregnancy or STIs, there are many other reasons that a teen might decide to take birth control, including managing heavy periods, treating hormonal acne, helping with painful cramps, or treating conditions like ovarian cysts or endometriosis.
Best Types of Birth Control for Teens
There are many different methods of birth control that can be used by teenagers. Of the many forms of birth control, they typically fall into one of two categories - hormonal methods and barrier methods.
Hormonal birth control works by preventing ovulation and therefore preventing pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptive methods do not protect against STIs.
- Intrauterine devices (IUD): A hormonal IUD is up to 99.8% effective at preventing pregnancy and can last for 3 to 7 years. A hormonal IUD is a T-shaped device that’s inserted into the uterus by a medical provider. While hormonal IUDs are typically safe, the insertion process can be quite painful. An IUD will not protect against STDs.
- Subdermal implant: A subdermal implant, like Nexplanon, is a small device that’s inserted into the upper arm. The impact releases progestin which helps prevent pregnancy and is up to 99.5% effective. A subdermal implant does not protect against STIs.
- Birth control pills: Oral contraceptives require the user to take a pill at the same time every day, which might be challenging for some. Some common side effects include weight gain and headaches, though most also experience lighter periods and improved acne. Rarely, oral contraceptives may lead to blood clots. The pill is 92% effective and does not prevent STIs.
- Vaginal ring: A vaginal ring, like Nuvaring, involves inserting a flexible ring into the vagina once per month. Users see similar side effects and benefits as with birth control pills. Vaginal rings are 91% effective and do not protect against STIs.
- Injection: A birth control injection, like Depo-Provera, requires a doctor’s visit but is 94% effective at preventing pregnancy. Users must get an injection every 3 months. Birth control injections do not prevent STIs.
- Intrauterine devices (IUD): A copper IUD is inserted similar to a hormonal IUD, but does not contain hormones. It works by making the uterus inhospitable for sperm, preventing fertilization. As with hormonal IUDs, a copper IUD does not prevent the spread of STDs.
- Male condom: The male condom is worn on the penis and prevents sperm from entering the vagina. Condoms are available over the counter, making them easy to access, and are 98% effective. Condoms protect against both pregnancy and STDs.
- Cervical cap: A cervical cap, also called a female condom, is inserted into the vagina and blocks sperm from entering the uterus via the cervix. Cervical caps are most effective when used in conjunction with spermicide – a gel that kills sperm. On its own, a cervical cap is 72% effective, but with spermicide, its effectiveness increases to 92%. Cervical caps do not protect against STIs.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Birth Control
It can undoubtedly be uncomfortable to talk to your teen about birth control. The best thing you can do as a parent is to engage in these conversations openly and earlier than you may think.
Instead of thinking of “the talk” as one awkward conversation that happens at a specific time, have several conversations with your teen about their reproductive health, even before they enter adolescence. By sharing openly and without shame, you will create an environment where your teen feels empowered to come to you when they have questions or need support.
Check in with your teen, especially as they begin dating and entering romantic relationships. Instead of assuming they aren’t having sex yet or assuming they’re already using contraception, ask them about it. Ask if they have questions or want help accessing different forms of birth control.
Birth Control for LGBTQ+ Teens
If your teenager is gay or transgender, you might think that there’s no need to discuss birth control with them or that their sexual activity won’t result in an unintended pregnancy. This isn’t necessarily true! In fact, research shows that sexually active LGBTQ+ teens are more likely to become pregnant than their cis, straight peers.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans teens are all capable of becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant. Pregnancy prevention education is important for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ+ teens are also still susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases from having sex, which makes it important for them to use condoms and avoid unprotected sex. For gay men or trans women, medications like PrEP can help to protect them from the spread of HIV.
Access to Birth Control for Teens
If your teen is ready to start birth control, the best place to start is by talking to your teen’s healthcare provider. Together, you, your teen, and your teen’s doctor can evaluate the available birth control options and determine which is best for your teen.
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Dr. Chelsea Hetherington (she/her) is a developmental psychologist, writer, coach, and consultant.