Birth control for teens is a topic that can be challenging to discuss. Both parents and teens may be uncomfortable discussing such an intimate topic, but open communication is so important. This post on emergency contraception for teens is the second in a series of 3 posts on teens and birth control.
As I’ve mentioned before, the only way to prevent pregnancy 100% of the time is to not have sex at all. As parents, having open communication with your teens about expectations and family values is an effective way to help your teen wait to have sex until they are older.
Emergency contraception is a backup method that is not meant as a substitute for longer term contraception. Please see my post on hormone containing methods for more information on more effective long-term contraception. Talk with your teen’s doctor if any of them sound like a method of interest or if you have more questions after reading.
If the condom breaks, a couple had sex but didn’t use birth control, or they were late taking a pill or getting the next Depo shot, there is a back up method to help prevent pregnancy. “The Morning After” pill can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex (though most effective if taken within 3 days). There are a couple of different types available (Plan B, Ella). It does not stop a pregnancy that has already occurred (it is not an ‘abortion pill’) and should not be used as a regular form of birth control (there are much more effective methods discussed in Hormone Containing Methods). However, accidents happen. Nearly 50% of high school students have had sex, but only 23% use birth control. Emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy, which in teens, has many physical and social implications.
Plan B is available from pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription to anyone age 17 or older, though availability is being threatened. There has been a lot in the media recently about the availability of emergency contraception without a prescription in stores and pharmacies. The government denied access to emergency contraception over the counter despite approval from the FDA. As a medical provider, I disagree with this decision. Emergency contraception is safe and effective for young women of all ages. The most common side effect is nausea, but this is much safer than an unplanned pregnancy.
Our colleague SeattleMamaDoc talks more about the government decision here!
Separate Topics (but related): Sexually transmitted infections and HPV vaccine
It is challenging to talk about birth control and not talk about other topics of sexual health. I want to briefly mention sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and the HPV vaccine here, but we have a recent post on the HPV vaccine with more information and will have future posts on STI’s.
If your teen is sexually active or thinking about becoming sexually active, encourage them and their partner to know their status and get tested for common STI’s. Infections like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis can affect fertility and health long-term. Most people who are infected with an STI or HIV have no symptoms of being sick at all. Talk with your doctor early (before a teen has sex if possible!) about the vaccination for HPV, the virus that can cause genital warts, cervical, throat, and anal cancer.
Stay tuned for the final post in this series on teens and birth control where we will discuss barrier methods.
Here are more posts on contraception in teens: