At Pandia Health, we’re here to provide reliable information about reproductive health, and that extends to parents learning about and getting birth control for teens.
You’re raising strong, independent people who are well-informed about how their bodies work and you want them to feel empowered to choose the right birth control method for them. We are so here for this journey!
In this article, we will give you the information you need to have discussions with your sexually active teens about effective methods of hormonal and barrier birth control, and how some types of birth control can not only be used to prevent pregnancy, but also help with painful periods, acne, and more.
When to Discuss Birth Control with Your Kids
There’s no perfect age to start having conversations about birth control with your kids. If you haven’t had a discussion about sex and reproduction by their middle school years, that is generally a good time to introduce the topic.
As those conversations progress or as your child ages, you can begin to include more specific and relevant information about effective birth control methods and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Types of Birth Control for Teens
Introduce your teen to the many forms of birth control that are easy to use and effective at preventing pregnancy. These include both short-acting hormonal options and long-acting contraceptive methods.
Short-acting hormonal contraceptives
The following birth control methods are among the most commonly used and effective at preventing pregnancy and may be the most well-suited for your teen.
Birth control pills
Oral contraceptive pills are a popular option for teens. Not only are they effective for pregnancy prevention, but they can also be used to help ease heavy, painful, or irregular periods, reduce hormonal acne, and even delay periods.
At Pandia Health we believe no one should miss class, exams, or any important event because they are on their period. We want people with uteri on a level playing ground with those without uteri and if bleeding once a month is a problem for some people with uteri, we want them to know they can make #PeriodsOptional and they can safely skip their periods. You can learn more about having no period or fewer periods here and see our CEO/Co-Founder, Dr. Sophia Yen’s TED talk where she explains all the benefits of skipping your period.
It is important to know that there are 2 types of birth control pills: combined oral contraceptive pill or the progestin-only “mini-pill.” Pandia Health’s expert doctors will determine which one is right for your teen based on their answers on our health information questionnaire.
The pill works by stopping sperm from fertilizing an egg. The hormones in the combined birth control pill stop ovulation, meaning there’s no egg for the sperm to fertilize. Progestins in the pill thicken the mucus in the cervix, making it harder for a sperm to swim to an egg. Progestins also thin the lining of the uterus, resulting in less blood loss with withdrawal bleeds.
Birth control pills are easy to take as long as your teen can remember to take them consistently. They’ll take 1 pill every day, ideally at the same time each day (preferably right at bedtime or after the biggest meal of the day to prevent nausea).
For most pills, after taking 21 days of active hormonal pills, your teen will switch to sugar or placebo pills with no hormones that are meant to keep them in the habit of taking a pill every day. They can also decide to skip these pills and move on to the next pack, and it’s totally safe to do so. When used perfectly, the pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
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The vaginal ring is a small, flexible silicone ring placed inside the vagina and prevents pregnancy as it releases a continuous dose of hormones.
Depending on the brand, the ring can last up to 5 weeks (NuvaRing) or one year (Annovera). Rings are generally left in for 21-4 days, and then out for 7 or 4 days and a new one (monthly ring) or old one (one year ring) reinserted.
The vaginal has two main active hormones: progesterone and estrogen, just like the combination pill. Because the combination of hormones is the same as the pill, the vaginal ring works just like the pill in preventing pregnancy and is also 99% effective.
Many consider the contraceptive vaginal ring to be more convenient than the pill because you only have to change it out once every three weeks!
Birth control patch
Much like the vaginal ring and birth control pills, the birth control patch is just as effective at preventing pregnancy but only needs to be changed out once a week, and your teen can apply the patch themselves! No need for a trip to the doctor’s office, unlike the birth control shot, implant, or IUD.
The birth control patch contains the same hormones as the combination pill and vaginal ring: progestin and estrogen. The patch is 99% effective when used perfectly.
It’s easy to use a Xulane or Twirla patch: just stick a new patch to clean, dry skin on the abdomen below the belly button, buttocks, upper outer arm, or upper body (just not the breasts). The Xulane and Twirla patches are applied and worn for 7 days for 3 consecutive weeks (change to a new patch every 7 days), with no patch being worn during week 4. You could also wear a patch for 12 weeks (change to a new patch every 7 days) but you MUST take a break and have 1 week off after that or else the estrogen builds up and you are at higher risk for blood clots and death.
Birth control shot
The shot, also known as Depo-Provera, is a low-maintenance, highly effective form of longer-term birth control that is injected every 12 weeks.
The birth control shot contains the hormone progestin, which helps prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation. It is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
To get the shot’s full benefits, you and your teen have to remember to get a new shot every 12 weeks. That might mean setting up recurring doctor’s appointments because most people go to a provider to receive the injection. The shot can also be self-administered, so it’s possible to get a supply of shots that you can bring home, but that is only done if you have a family member who is experienced administering intramuscular or subcutaneous shots.
With the shot, it’s likely that periods will get lighter or go away completely.
One negative to the shot is that it gives you the munchies which might make you gain weight. You can minimize that by drinking diet soda and chewing sugar free gum, but if you like french fries, chips, and dessert, then you most likely will gain weight. Plus, it’s not good for your bones (but pregnancy is worse and you get back to full bone density in 3 years once you come off the medication).
Long-acting reversible contraceptives for Teens
An alternative to short-acting hormonal birth control is long-acting reversible contraceptives LARCs (i.e., the IUD or implant) because they are very effective and don’t require remembering to take a pill every day, put on a new patch every week, or change a ring every month.
If your teen doesn’t like the idea of having something in their uterus or arm for years, then you and your teen should consider other methods like the short-acting birth control options.
Hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)
The IUD is a T-shaped, flexible plastic device that is inserted into the uterus by a doctor or other trained health professional.
The standard dose IUDs are Mirena, Liletta which work for 7 years in a row. 30% of their users will have no periods and no ovulation. 70% will have lighter periods. The lower dose (Kyleena, Skyla) do not last as long (5 years and 3 yrs) and are more likely to have monthly bleeds (99% have monthly bleeds).
The negative of the copper IUD is that more blood and more cramps are the top side effects. If your teen doesn’t notice their monthly bleed and doesn’t have cramps, then this might be a GREAT option. However, if they notice every cramp, then some other method of birth control for teens should be explored.
Regardless of which one your teen chooses, know that IUDs are one of the most effective, lowest maintenance birth control methods available for preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
The hormonal implant (Nexaplanon) is the most effective birth control option for preventing pregnancy, beating vasectomy! It’s a very small rod (the size of a matchstick) that is inserted under the skin of the upper arm and prevents pregnancy for up to 5 years. Like the hormonal IUD, the implant releases small, continuous amounts of progestin over its life to prevent pregnancy and is 99% effective.
Because it is implanted under the skin, a doctor’s office visit is required for insertion and removal.
The implant is a very low-maintenance option because once it’s inserted, you can forget about it!
If your heterosexual teen has difficulties taking birth control, like missing 3 or more consecutive days of the pill, patch, or ring (or their partner didn’t wear a condom or the condom broke), emergency contraception (like Ella or Plan B) can come to the rescue. It works by preventing an egg from being released or fertilized, and/or a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
The “morning after pill” also knows as Emergency Contraception (EC) can actually be used for up to 5 days after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. However, Pandia Health’s experts recommend that you take emergency contraceptive pills ASAP because these pills do not work as well after ovulation occurs (when the egg comes out).
The emergency contraceptive pill should be saved for emergency situations and should not be used as a regular method for teen pregnancy prevention, because the pill, patch, ring, IUD, shot, implant all work better than emergency contraception.
Barrier methods work by establishing a physical barrier between the egg and the sperm to prevent pregnancy, but they are also less effective than hormonal birth control methods.
Male condoms and female condoms are the most common barrier methods and one of the most effective at preventing sexually transmitted infections. In everyday use, condoms are 87% effective in preventing pregnancy.
A diaphragm is inserted into the vagina so that it covers the cervix. Diaphragms can be inserted up to 2 hours before sex; any longer and the spermicide won’t be as effective. Diaphragms should be left in for at least 6 hours after sex, but no longer than 24 hours. The diaphragm should NOT be removed if you have sex again within 6 hrs. You should wait for 6 hrs after the last ejaculation to remove the diaphragm. If the diaphragm has been in place for more than 3 hrs, you need to add more spermicide to the outside. When used consistently and correctly, diaphragms are 94% effective at preventing pregnancy, but due to the complexity of use, they are not a very popular option.
Final Thoughts About Birth Control for Teens
When you’re ready to start having the birth control conversation with your teen, Pandia Health is here to help your teen find the best birth control pill or patch for them. We pride ourselves on prescribing birth control based on the ‘Pandia Health algorithm,’ which considers several factors, including age, race as a proxy for genetics, BMI, and personal medical history. All these factors can influence your teen’s body’s reaction to birth control.
Disclaimer: This article, even if and to the extent that features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners, it is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider for specific health needs