As a teenager, my first introduction to birth control came in the pages of a Seventeen Magazine. Wanting to learn more inspired me to ask my mother some questions. She promptly took me to see her friend, a woman practicing OB/GYN, where I got fact-based, straightforward information.
I was very fortunate. Not everyone has a parent they feel comfortable asking questions to, nor access to a doctor who can educate them about the ins and outs of birth control. What’s different about my days as a teenager and what my daughters will experience is the Internet. When they have questions, a simple search can lead them down a thousand rabbit holes of information, good and bad. That is why parents and caregivers need to step in early and start explaining to girls what birth control is and how it works.
Having the Birth Control Conversation Early
Dr. Shanna Garza, who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Girls to Women Health and Wellness, says conversations with your daughter about sexuality are built on years of open communication and emotional closeness. She recommends starting these discussions at younger ages and speaking frankly about the physical mechanics of sex, using anatomically correct terms for genitals, and talking about conception’s physiology.
“When teens ask questions about sex, answer truthfully and remind them that you will always tell them the truth,” she says. “Educate them about the risks of sex, including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and emphasize the emotional side of sex. They should know that sex is not about performance but about pleasure in a healthy and committed relationship. We usually define a healthy relationship as one in which teen girls can communicate openly about what is right for them and that their wishes are respected.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of U.S. teens have had sexual intercourse by age 18. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents talk to their teens about how not having sexual intercourse is the best way to prevent STIs, HIV infection, and pregnancy; they also stress these discussions should address reliable birth control options.
Even if your family’s religious and cultural traditions do not support birth control usage, it is still essential to give your child an understanding of contraceptives. In the long run, having as much information as possible will benefit her as she transitions into adulthood.
Addressing Birth Control Options
If the idea of discussing birth control with your teenage girl freaks you out, make an appointment with her pediatrician to discuss the topic with her instead. You can also consider making an appointment for her to see a physician specializing in pediatric and adolescent gynecology. Or see what education services your community’s public health system offers. The most important thing is for your teenager to discuss birth control with a knowledgeable resource dedicated to what is best for her health.
Regarding available birth control options, the AAP breaks them down into four categories:
- long-acting reversible contraceptives
- short-acting contraceptives
- barrier methods of protection
- other methods (that do not work as well as those in the prior categories)
Stress to your teenager that if she chooses to become sexually active (and does not want a resulting pregnancy or STI), she must set an unbreakable rule for herself that no birth control means no sex. She also needs to understand which methods can prevent pregnancy, which can prevent STIs, and which ones prevent both. Myths also need to be debunked, such as a girl can’t become pregnant if her partner “pulls out,” she’s having her period during sex, or having sex just one time won’t lead to pregnancy.
Don’t Be Afraid
It can be difficult for parents to realize their child is now old enough to discuss birth control and sexual activity. However, that uncomfortable feeling should not stop you from being a trusted voice for your girl. Consider everything else you’ve counseled her on. Birth control is just another chapter of the journey that’s too important for any parent or caregiver to ignore.
Amaze.org: Animated videos give teens answers to what they want to know about sex, their bodies, and relationships.
Planned Parenthood: Age-based tool kits on pregnancy and reproduction
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Top image by Olya Kobruseva