Birth control in medicine is often used not just as a means for preventing pregnancy, but also as a life saving treatment option. For nearly 2/3rds of the teens I prescribe birth control to, we’re using it to help alleviate cramps that keep them home from school, irregular periods that are impossible to plan for, or such heavy bleeding that they’ve required a blood transfusion. Birth control has changed significantly over the past few decades, but one thing remains: it can change a life.
This past year, there has been a lot of debate over birth control. How safe is it? Should options, such as Plan B emergency contraception be available without a prescription? If my teen is on birth control does that mean they have permission to have sex?
What we know in medicine is this:
1. There are many types of birth control. Some options may be safer for each individual than others. For example, if your teen has a history of blood clots (like a pulmonary embolus or deep vein clot) they should not have birth control that contains estrogen. This doesn’t mean birth control is out of the question for controlling heavy or irregular periods, it just means they need to talk with their doctor about which option is best for them.
2. Birth control is safe. The emergency contraceptive, plan B, is not a long-term form of birth control, but it has a side effect profile that is safer than Acetaminophen (Tylenol is a brand name)!
3. Using birth control does not equal providing permission to have sex. Abstinence is the only 100% guarantee to prevent unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. However, nearly half of students will have had sex before they graduate from high school. The rate of unplanned pregnancy amongst teens has been decreasing in the US, yet it is still among the highest of any industrialized country. The risk of consequences from having unprotected sex without birth control are much higher than offering a contraceptive to a teen who asks for it.
On November 12, 2013, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is asking people nationwide to use the power of social media to create a positive buzz about birth control. They are calling this overall effort “Thanks, Birth Control.” The Campaign is asking people who have had a positive experience with birth control to post it on their social media using #thxbirthcontrol. While I have no political or financial ties to their cause, I can appreciate their efforts to divert some positive attention to the benefits of birth control and highlight the positive impacts it has had on people for the past decades.
For more information on birth control please see our previous posts:
For more on preventing unplanned pregnancy: