Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on February 16, 2021

When Should Women Start Taking Birth Control?

Birth control pill packet in denim jean pants pocket

A brief history:

When the birth control pill became widely available to U.S. women in the 1970s, it revolutionized their lives. For the first time in history, the average woman had the freedom and ability to pursue higher education, earn more money, and decide when she would get pregnant and how often. In addition to those benefits, the pill also created healthier pregnancy outcomes for both women and the children they chose to have. Reproductive choice has been shown to improve economic outcomes for children and adults alike.

While the birth control pill is highly effective at protecting women against unintended pregnancies, it can also improve the symptoms of numerous health conditions (acne, headaches, mood swings, etc.) Not to mention, taking birth control reduces the pain and inconvenience of heavy periods and hormone fluctuations.

On the surface, it might seem like women should start the pill or other forms of hormonal birth control once they become sexually active, but that’s not necessarily the case. The following article will explore when it’s safe to start taking birth control and how young women can benefit from taking oral contraceptives in particular.

Why do women take birth control?

Many women start using oral contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy. Currently, there are 61 million U.S. women of reproductive age, meaning they are between the ages of 15 and 44. 70% of those women are at risk of unintended pregnancy, meaning that they are sexually active, but do not want to become pregnant. The women who are at the highest risk of unintended pregnancy are between the ages of 15 and 19.

Arguably, it is women in this age group who would experience the most disruption to their lives if they were to become pregnant unintentionally. Recent studies indicate that 42% of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 have had sexual intercourse. 99% of those sexually active teens use some form of birth control. The most common forms are:

Male Condoms

A male condom is a “thin sheath placed over the erect penis.” In addition to birth control, condoms should be used because they are the only form of birth control that will protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). 

Withdrawal

Known as the “pull out” method, withdrawal contraception is when the penis is withdrawn from the vaigna before ejaculation to prevent pregnancy. While this may seem like an easy solution, it is less effective than other methods. 

The Pill

Birth control pills are a common method of contraception and help to prevent pregnancy. Using this method, those with uteri take a pill once per day (make sure to take it with water!). When the pill is taken as prescribed, it is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone, the hormones in the combination pill, may also lead to positive health outcomes such as improved bone density and increased levels of good cholesterol. Those who take the pill also have the option to make their #PeriodsOptional by skipping the sugar pills at the end of each pack. 

Many adults may be uncomfortable with teenage sexual activity, but when around half of all teens are sexually active, it’s important that they have access to safe and effective birth control.

Male condoms have an effectiveness rate of 82%, and the withdrawal method has an effective rate of 78%. The pill, in contrast, has an effectiveness rate of 91%. Out of these three birth control methods that teens are most likely to use, the pill is the only one that teenage girls have direct control over.

What is the youngest that a woman can start birth control?

Average age to start birth control

Age 16 is the most common age for teenagers to start taking the pill. At this age, most young women have established a menstrual cycle. Some teenagers are ready to start the pill at a younger age, but it’s crucial to discuss this with a doctor first.

Women who are between the ages of 15-19 are more at risk of unintended pregnancy, which is also why 16 is a common age to start birth control. 

What factors should you consider before starting birth control?

It’s also important to consider the psychological maturity of the individual because the pill does require that the user sticks to a schedule or regimen when taking it. ot taking the pill correctly means the user loses most of its benefits. While missing one pill may not have a large effect, as taking the missed pill with your next pill on the following day is a safe method, it is a best practice to develop a routine to avoid unnecessary stress. On the other hand, the progesterone-only pill (a.k.a mini pill) must be taken at the same time every day in order to protect against pregnancy. 

Best birth control for teens

IUD or Implant

As the old saying goes, “set it and forget it.” Teens have busy, chaotic lives so it may be difficult for them to remember to take their birth control every day and at the same time. With an IUD, you do not need to worry about your birth control for 3-10 years (it depends on the brand you choose). Similarly, the implant only needs to be replaced every three years

Condoms

Condoms are especially important in preventing unplanned pregnancy and the transmission of STIs. Teenagers who are sexually active should use condoms to ensure good sexual health. Unlike an IUD, implant, or pill, however, this method of contraception does not provide health benefits such as helping with PCOS and making your #PeriodsOptional. 

The Pill

Combined Oral Contraceptive Pills are a great choice to treat acne and painful, heavy periods. For maximum effectiveness, the pill should be taken daily at the same time. With 40 varieties of the birth control pill, if one does not work for you there are plenty others to choose from, making the pill a great option for many women.

What are some of the side effects of the birth control pill in teens?

The side effects of birth control pills are the same for teenagers as they are for adults with uteri. The main difference is that teenagers may be more affected by acne. For this reason, iIf a teenager is prone to acne, they should steer clear of progestin-only pills (POPs). That said, birth control is actually used to help treat acne and can be a great tool to clear up skin. Individuals who take the pill may also notice swollen or tender breasts. If this is something that becomes disruptive, switching to a different form of birth control with the help of a doctor is always an option.

How soon do birth control side effects start?

After starting birth control, individuals may experience side effects such as headaches, nausea, sore breasts, and/or spotting (bleeding between periods). It typically takes two-three months for these side effects to go away and for your period to become more regulated.  If after a few months you still are experiencing side effects, speak with your doctor about whether you should switch birth control methods. Thankfully, there are 40+ different types of the pill alone, so if one method does not work for you, you may need to try other options to find your perfect fit.

What does birth control help with?

7% of birth control pill users take the pill strictly for medical reasons, and not to prevent pregnancy. A woman does not have to be sexually active to benefit from the pill. She may be prescribed birth control to help with one or more of the following health conditions:

Heavy, irregular periods

Teenagers are more likely to suffer from heavy, irregular periods compared to older women. Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms can cause acne, cramping, and bloating that can make it difficult to go to school or even complete daily activities. This can be painful, and emotionally distressing for young girls. In addition, heavy bleeding can cause iron deficiency anemia. Teens are at a higher risk of developing this disorder because their bodies use up iron stores more quickly than adults. Furthermore, the pill may be beneficial, as it helps regulate hormone levels and decrease bleeding during periods.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can cause heavy and irregular periods, excess hair growth, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Symptoms typically start in the teen years and can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Individuals with PCOS may be prescribed birth control to help alleviate symptoms.

Acne

Hormonal swings related to the menstrual cycle can make adolescent acne worse. This can be painful, leave permanent scars, and cause emotional distress. Teenage girls who regularly experience acne are often prescribed hormonal birth control to improve the condition of their skin.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition that causes the cells of the uterine lining or endometrium, to begin growing outside of the uterus. These cells attach to the outside of the uterus, and develop on the kidneys, bladder, ovaries, fallopian tubes, or intestines. If left untreated, endometriosis can cause excruciating pain, anemia, and potentially infertility or ovarian cancer as a result of internal scarring. Birth control pills can be used to suppress the growth of endometrial cells and thus, protect women’s fertility and overall health.

What’s the takeaway? 

While birth control pills are the most commonly prescribed hormonal contraceptive for teens, forgetfulness may be a concern. If parents or guardians are worried that the pill is not the best method for their teenager they can consider the patch, ring, shot, implant, or IUD. Regardless, it is important to note that birth control is beneficial for both preventing unplanned pregnancy and improving quality of life.

How can Pandia Health help?

It’s now easier than ever before to access safe and effective hormonal contraceptives. Pandia Health is leading the way with convenient birth control delivery services for women who wish to start the pill, patch, or birth control ring. If you live in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, NV, TX, TN, PA, WA, or WY you can sign up for an online consultation with one of our expert doctors. You can also transfer current a birth control prescription to our pharmacy for FREE delivery right to your mailbox. 

#SkipTheTrip to the pharmacy and gain a #PandiaPeaceOfMind in knowing that you will never run out of birth control on our watch.

Frequently Asked Questions

How old do you have to be to get birth control in the US?

There is no age restriction for birth control. If you can get pregnant or get someone pregnant, then you should have access to birth control. There are certain states that may require parental notification or consent though most are exempt from that state law if you go to a title X Family Planning clinic (funded by the US government).

When should you start birth control?

The most common age to start taking birth control is 16, but some teenagers may take it even earlier. If you can get pregnant or get someone pregnant, then you should have access to birth control. Whenever you decide you may want to start taking birth control, consult a doctor, as they can help you determine which method is best for you. 

Should I take birth control?

If you are someone who is heterosexually sexually active and wants to prevent an unintended pregnancy, birth control is a great option. Birth control also helps regulate irregular periods and manage PMS symptoms such as cramps, headaches, and acne. 

What does birth control help with?

Birth control is a great way to prevent unintended pregnancy, make your #PeriodsOptional, and improve your overall quality of life as a woman of reproductive age. More specifically, it can help relieve symptoms of several health conditions including PCOS, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, and endometriosis.

Is birth control worth it?

Yes, birth control is worth it in making your life easier in terms of helping you prevent unintended pregnancy and other health issues. Talk with your doctor to learn which birth control method is best for you. The birth control pill is generally $15/pack without insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act any FDA approved birth control for those with uteri is available to those with insurance for “free” = no copay, no deductible.

Should I put my daughter on “birth control” when she is not sexually active?

If your daughter is experiencing heavy or painful periods or severe PMS and/or is looking to make her life easier by making her #PeriodsOptional, then birth control is a great option. Check out our CEO and co-founder Dr. Sophia Yen’s TEDxBerkeley talk on the science and safety of #FewerPeriods Dr. Yen waiting two years after your FIRST period to start hormonal treatment. If you start birth control before this time, then you may risk losing some of your last years of growth young women typically grow an extra one-two inches after their first period.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health. This article 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.