Birth Control for Teens
Birth control is any method used to prevent pregnancy. If you have sex without birth control, there's a chance that you could get pregnant. The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But finding a good method of birth control that you're comfortable with can help avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
There are lots of good options for birth control. Your best choices are those that you find easy to use—so you never go without it.
Some birth control methods work around the clock. Others work only when you use them, which means it's so very important to use them every time you have sex. And of course, no matter what kind of birth control you use, you always need a plan for protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Your options for birth control include:
- Abstinence. Not having sex (abstinence) is the most effective method of birth control and protection from STIs.
- Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). LARC includes implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs). LARC is the best reversible method for preventing pregnancy. "Long-acting" means that they will prevent pregnancy for years. "Reversible" means that you can have them removed if you want to get pregnant later.
- The implant. The implant, which is about the size of a matchstick, is put under the skin on the inside of your upper arm. It releases hormones that prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years.footnote 1 Talk to your doctor about how long you can use it. The implant does not protect against STIs.
- Intrauterine device (IUD). The IUD is a small device that is inserted into the uterus by your doctor. There are two main types of IUDs—copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs. When an IUD is in place, it can provide birth control for 3 to 12 years, depending on the type.footnote 2 Talk to your doctor about how long you can use it. IUDs do not protect against STIs.
- Barrier methods. Typically, barrier methods are not highly effective at preventing pregnancy. The diaphragm, the cap, and male or female condoms are examples of barrier methods. They block the sperm from fertilizing an egg. You use one each time you have sex. Using a condom is the only barrier method that helps protect against STIs.
- The pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring. These methods are very reliable means of birth control. These methods have hormones that stop you from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). You can choose to take a pill at the same time every day, change a patch every week, or change a ring every 3 weeks. These methods do not protect against STIs.
- The shot. This method is a very reliable means of birth control. The shot contains hormones that prevent pregnancy for 3 months. You see your doctor every 3 months for the shot. The shot does not protect against STIs.
Emergency contraception (EC) can be used to prevent pregnancy if you've had sex without birth control you can count on. The most effective emergency contraception is an IUD (inserted by a doctor). You can also get emergency contraceptive pills. You can get them with a prescription from your doctor or without a prescription at most drugstores.
If you have unprotected sex, use EC as soon as possible. If you are already pregnant and use EC pills, they will not stop or harm a pregnancy.
- Birth Control Hormones: The Implant
- Birth Control Hormones: The Mini-Pill
- Birth Control Hormones: The Patch
- Birth Control Hormones: The Pill
- Birth Control Hormones: The Ring
- Birth Control Hormones: The Shot
- Birth Control: Pros and Cons of Hormonal Methods
- Cervical Cap for Birth Control
- Contraceptive Sponge for Birth Control
- Diaphragm for Birth Control
- Emergency Contraception
- Female Condoms
- How Birth Control Methods Prevent Pregnancy
- Intrauterine Device (IUD) for Birth Control
- Male Condoms
- Spermicide for Birth Control
How to Decide
Choosing birth control is a very personal thing. Your best choices are those that you find easy to use—so you never go without it.
First, think through some basic facts about your birth control options. Then, focus in on what's important to you. And then, think about who you are and what your style is.
How well does each birth control method protect you?
- Some methods depend on you and how well you use them—every time. These include hormone pills or the hormone patch or ring. The same is true for the condom, sponge, diaphragm, or cap.
- Some methods work very well for long periods of time without you having to do anything. These include the hormone implant or shot, and the IUD.
- Condoms are the only method of birth control that helps protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But using a condom is not the best way to prevent pregnancy. To avoid both STIs and pregnancy, use condoms along with another type of birth control.
- Abstinence depends on your commitment to not have sex. Not having vaginal intercourse prevents pregnancy. And not having oral sex, anal sex, or vaginal sex prevents STIs.
Is it easy to keep with you?
- Some methods easily fit in your bag. These include hormone pills or a condom, sponge, diaphragm, or cap.
- Some methods don't have to be carried around at all. These include the hormone shot or implant, the IUD, or the ring.
What do you think of as "easy to use"?
"Easy to use" birth control means different things to different people. What are you more comfortable with? You may want to try a method a few times. And then you may want to try some others.
- You may have no trouble making sure you have a method with you whenever you need it. Or that may be too hard to keep track of.
- It might be easy for you to put a sponge, cap, or ring into your vagina. Or that could be something you just won't do.
- Using a method every time you have sex, without error, might be easy for you. Or it may be hard to get it right. If you ever use drugs or alcohol before having sex, this is important to think about.
- "Easy" could mean you don't have to think about it, like the IUD or the implant. Or maybe you're looking for something you can easily switch off of so you can change to another method.
Can you stay on a schedule?
Are you good at remembering things? Or do you tend to lose track of things like your keys or what's on your calendar?
- Can you take a daily pill or change a weekly patch? How about going to your doctor's office every 3 months for a shot?
- Or do you need something that you hardly ever have to think about, like an IUD or a hormone implant?
How to Get Birth Control
Here are some places you can get birth control.
From a store
You can buy some methods of birth control without going to a doctor. You can get male condoms in grocery stores, convenience stores, or drugstores. And you can get female condoms or a sponge and spermicide from a drugstore.
You can get some forms of emergency contraception without a prescription at most drugstores.
From a doctor
At a doctor's office or family planning clinic, you can get:
- A hormone shot.
- A hormone implant.
- An intrauterine device (IUD), including the type used for emergency contraception.
- A prescription for a diaphragm or cervical cap.
- A prescription for hormone pills, patches, or rings.
- A prescription for certain kinds of emergency contraception.
Follow these tips to help you use abstinence for preventing pregnancy.
- Before things get sexual, know what you want and how you feel.
Be clear with your partner about your limits.
- Remember why you chose abstinence.
Think about your reasons and why they are important to you. How you feel and what you believe matter.
- Try to avoid getting into situations where staying abstinent could be hard.
- Don't abuse alcohol or drugs.
Alcohol and drugs can affect your decisions. They can make you let down your guard and forget why you decided to be abstinent.
- Get support from someone you trust.
It really helps. Share your decision, and talk about any challenges you're having staying abstinent. Your local Planned Parenthood clinic or women's health center may have a teen support group where you can talk with other teens about abstinence.
Myth or Truth?
Here are some things you may have heard about sex, pregnancy, and birth control.
A friend told me that you can't get pregnant if you haven't had a period at all, or even lately.
Don't believe it! You make an egg, or ovulate, and then have a period. And ovulation can happen at any time. There's no day of the month when it's safe to have sex without birth control.
I heard a guy say that having birth control means you'll say yes to sex at any time.
Having protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) means that it's there when you need it. But being prepared doesn't mean having to say yes unless you're comfortable with it.
My sister told me you don't need birth control if you just douche after having sex.
Flushing water into the vagina or douching after sex does not prevent pregnancy.
I should be able to count on my partner to have a condom.
Every time? Anyone can be forgetful. It's best that you count on yourself. But for a built-in backup plan, you and your partner can agree to both keep protection with you.
I worry that when I first go to a doctor for birth control, I'll need to have a pelvic exam.
Most teens don't have a pelvic exam when they first go for birth control. But if you already have a health problem that needs to be checked, you might. If you do need a pelvic exam and you're nervous about it, talk to your doctor about it ahead of time.
Sometimes I feel like it's not okay to say "no" or "stop."
It's always okay to say "no" or "stop" at any time. It's important that you feel safe with your sex partner and with what you're doing together.
If I have sex only sometimes, I won't get pregnant or an STI.
Not having sex is the best way to prevent pregnancy and any STI. If you do have sex, there's always a chance you can get pregnant or an STI, so use birth control and a condom every time.
- Thaxton L, Lavelanet A (2019). Systematic review of efficacy with extending contraceptive implant duration. International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics: The Official Organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 144(1): 2–8. DOI: 10.1002/ijgo.12696. Accessed December 7, 2022.
- Ti AJ, et al. (2020). Effectiveness and safety of extending intrauterine device duration: A systematic review. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 223(1): 24–35.e3. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2020.01.014. Accessed August 29, 2022.
Current as of: August 2, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology