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Discussing sex and birth control with your teen

Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick is a freelance writer and editor who contributes regularly to SheKnows, MintLife, AOL, iVillage and other sites. In her articles, Elizabeth covers a variety of subjects including relationships, pregnancy, paren...

Sex talk

Reality shows such as 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are showing the truth about what can happen to teenagers who don’t know the facts about birth control and sex. The best thing you can do is get involved and talk to your children about preventing pregnancy -- even if the thought of it makes you squirm.

Birth control options for teens

Teens are not as mature as adults, but their reproductive systems (and hormones!) still work the same way. Precautions are necessary to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The subject of birth control should be a natural component of every sex conversation you have with your teen. Dr. Vinita Goyal, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, offers details about appropriate contraceptive options for teens.

Note: This is not a list of birth control recommendations. Have a frank discussion with your gynecologist to determine what type of birth control is best for your child's needs, behavior, personality and health.

  • Intrauterine device (IUD) -- The IUD is inserted by a medical professional and "well-tolerated in young women," says Goyal. There are two types of IUDs: One can stay in place for up to 10 years, the other for five. They affect menstrual cycles differently, so discuss long-term effects with your doctor. Says Goyal, "Both IUDs are 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy."
  • Oral contraceptives (aka, The Pill) -- Oral contraceptives are available in a variety of formulations and allow the user to maintain a normal menstrual cycle. Certain pills can be less than effective if not taken at the same time every day, however, and may not be right for teens. "Multiple studies have demonstrated that young women have difficulty adhering to this daily contraceptive regimen," says Goyal.
  • Patches and rings -- The transdermal patch needs to be changed weekly and the vaginal ring monthly. "These methods may be easier for teens to remember, but current studies also demonstrate that adherence to consistent, long-term use is problematic," Goyal says.
  • Injectable contraception -- This birth control requires a doctor visit every three months for a shot. Although this method is initially associated with weight gain and abnormal bleeding, many ultimately find it easier to use consistently and correctly compared to pills, Goyal says.
  • Implantable contraceptive rod -- The contraceptive implant is placed in the upper inner arm by a medical professional and can stay in place for up to three years. "The main side effect is unpredictable menstrual flow," Goyal says, but this method prevents pregnancy more than 99 percent of the time.

"Experts in our field believe that long-acting, reversible contraceptives or 'forgettable' methods, such as the implant and intrauterine device, have the unique ability to decrease the rates of unintended pregnancy," says Goyal. For busy teens who may have difficulty remembering to take their contraception every day, "'Forgettable' contraception may be the best option," says Goyal. "No matter which type of contraception is chosen, the best way for sexually active teens to prevent unintended pregnancy is to use a highly effective method consistently and correctly."

Remember, pregnancy isn't the only issue here; there is still the reality of STDs to consider. "The safest way to minimize the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection is to use a condom with every act of sexual intercourse," Goyal says, even if you are on another type of birth control.  

For more information about discussing sexual health issues with your children, visit Advocates for Youth, Campaign for Our Children and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Also, May 5, 2010, is The National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

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