If you are thinking about having sex for the first time or you already are having sexual intercourse, you should know about preventing an unplanned pregnancy. Although most methods depend on the girl to do or take something, it is important for guys to understand what is involved so that they can support their girlfriends. Also, don't forget that it is only the condom that can prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
No method of birth control is 100% effective. Unless you decide not to have vaginal sexual intercourse, there is always some risk of pregnancy.
Many sexual activities are almost always safe without having to take any special pregnancy precautions. These include holding hands, hugging, touching, kissing, mutual masturbation, and oral sex. Still, some teens decide to also have sexual intercourse. Having sex can be a very loving and special experience between two people. However, you should think about several important issues before you decide to have sex. Not only might sex give you a sexually transmitted disease or cause pregnancy, but you also can get hurt emotionally because of the strong feelings involved.
Decide ahead of time what is right for you. Find an adult with whom you can discuss your feelings and opinions, and ask questions. Although it is sometimes awkward to start the conversation, you can talk with your parents. You might also speak with your healthcare provider, school counselors, teachers, or adult relatives. You can usually discuss issues with these adults confidentially.
There are two main types of birth control:
Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills must be taken once every day. Many women like them because they allow them to know exactly when they are going to have their period. Usually periods are lighter, shorter, and have less cramping than before they started taking these pills. All medicines have side effects, so you need to talk with your healthcare provider about possible side effects. If you have a problem, usually your healthcare provider can prescribe a different one and that takes care of it.
Injections: Depo-Provera shots are injections of female hormones. Shots are given in a woman's arm or buttocks every 3 months. You don't have to think about taking a pill every day, and you are protected from pregnancy for 3 months until you get the next shot. Usually the shot area is not sore. Most women have irregular periods while they are using Depo-Provera.
Vaginal Ring: The vaginal hormonal ring, also called "NuvaRing" or "ring" for short, is about 2 inches across, and is as flexible as a rubber band. You insert the ring into your vagina like a tampon. Once in place, the ring stays in your vagina for 3 weeks at a time. The ring releases similar hormones as the birth control pill. After 3 weeks, you remove the ring. You will then have a period, and insert a new ring one week later. The advantages are that you need to remember to do only 2 things: Insert the ring every month, and then remove it 3 weeks later.
The Patch: Ortho-Evra, or "the Patch" contains hormones, though the patch has 60% more estrogen than the pill. A patch, about 2 X 2 inches square, releases hormones slowly through the skin. It is placed on the abdomen, buttocks, shoulder, or upper arm. It needs to be changed once a week. A new patch is put on weekly for 3 weeks in a row, and the old patch removed. You do not put on a patch in the 4th week, and will then have your period. The patch can be worn during showers/swimming, and it rarely falls off. Some people experience mild skin irritation. Because the patch has more estrogen than the pill, women at high risk for blood clots need to pay attention to this potential side effects.
Implantable Hormones: Implanon is the only implantable hormone available. It suppresses release of hormones from the pituitary gland to prevent ovulation and pregnancy. Implanon is a small rod, about 3 inches long, inserted by a healthcare provider into the upper arm. Once inserted, there is a steady release of hormones that lasts for 3 years. The advantage of this method is that once inserted (a minor surgical procedure), you don't have to think about taking birth control for 3 years. Women may have irregular periods on occasion, more so than with other hormonal methods.
Condoms: There are two types of condoms, the male condom (by far the most common) and female condoms (available, but not used as regularly. Condoms help prevent pregnancy and if used correctly can prevent most sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are sold in drug stores, and may also be available at your healthcare provider's office. Condoms are placed on the erect penis before the penis is inserted in the vagina.
There is a female condom, one that lines a woman's vagina, but it is more difficult to use. Talk with a healthcare provider or other adult who knows how to use it before you try it.
You may have heard about Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as the "morning-after pill." This type of birth control is sometimes used in an emergency. For example, it might be used when a condom has broken. EC contains progesterone, one of the common hormones used in birth control pills, but at a higher dose. It is important to understand that EC works by slowing down the movement of the egg and sperm, so they don't ever meet. EC does not destroy an embryo so it is not a medical abortion.
Emergency contraception can't prevent all pregnancies, but it can help. EC is most effective if used within the first 24 hours, but can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sexual intercourse. In some states, EC is sold over the counter. In most states, however, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider. Call your healthcare provider's office after you have had unprotected sex and ask for a prescription.