If you’re a teen and want to have safe, consensual sex, it’s super important for you and your partner to use birth control. When you use birth control exactly right, it helps you and your partner avoid getting pregnant.
There are different types of birth control. Lots of teens get help from their parents and their doctor to decide which one is best for them.
But maybe your parents haven’t talked to you about birth control, and you’re not sure how to bring it up to them. Or maybe you want to find out if you can get birth control from your doctor in private, without your parents’ permission.
Here are some answers to common questions that teens have.
How Do You Talk to Your Parents About Birth Control?
It’s best if you can let one or both of your parents know that you want to use birth control to have safe sex, says Elizabeth M. Alderman, MD. She’s the chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
Being open and honest with your mom and dad is great. But that’s not the only reason to talk to them about birth control. It usually costs money, and your parents might be willing to pay for it, says Alderman, who’s also a professor of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Think about how you’ll start the conversation with your parents. For instance, birth control pills that women take to help prevent pregnancies can also be used to ease period pain. So, if you’re a teenage girl, it might be a good conversation starter, she says.
Still, your mom or dad may ask you why else you want to use birth control. So, be ready to give a direct answer, Alderman says.
Your parents might be understanding or even glad if you tell them you want to use birth control to have safe sex. But there’s a chance they could be angry or disappointed.
If they get upset, Alderman says you could tell them: “I’m trying to be responsible about this. I came to you because I didn’t want to go behind your back. And I’m doing this so I don’t get pregnant.”
That might help them see things differently – maybe not right away, but in time.
Still, some teens can’t talk to their parents about using birth control, or they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Can You Get Birth Control Without a Doctor’s Prescription?
If you have money of your own, you can buy some forms of birth control without a doctor’s prescription. That’s called over-the-counter birth control. You can get it at places like drugstores, some supermarkets, or online.
Some over-the-counter types of birth control are:
- Male condoms: You put one of these thin, fitted tubes over your penis before you have sex.
- Female condoms: You put one of these long plastic pouches in your vagina before you have sex.
- Vaginal sponge: You put this small, round device in your vagina before sex.
- Spermicide: This product has chemicals that kill sperm. It goes in your vagina before sex.
- Plan B One-Step: This is an emergency birth control pill that you can take after sex if you think your usual birth control didn’t work, or if you had unprotected sex. You shouldn’t use it as a regular type of birth control.
There are other types of birth control that you need a doctor’s prescription for:
- Birth control pills: You take these by mouth. The pills have hormones that help prevent pregnancies.
- Vaginal ring: You put this small, flexible ring into your vagina, and it uses hormones to prevent pregnancy. The hormones are slowly released and absorbed into your system. Follow the directions on how long you can leave the ring in.
- Skin patch: You place this small hormonal patch on your body. Follow the directions on how often to replace it.
- Several kinds of emergency contraception, like Ella.
There are also types of prescription birth control you need to a doctor’s help to use:
- Diaphragm: This is a small, flexible cup you put inside your vagina before sex. Your doctor needs to fit you for it.
- Hormonal shot: This is for females. Usually you get the shot every 3 months.
- Intrauterine device (IUD): Your doctor inserts this small device in your womb (uterus.) It’s safe and 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Beyond your regular gynecologic exams, there’s nothing for you to do for 3-10 years -- depending on the brand -- before your doctor removes or replaces it.
- Birth control implant: This device goes under a female’s skin. It is safe and 99% effective in preventing pregnancy and can last up to 3 years before a doctor removes or replaces it.
Before you pick one, read up on how well it works to prevent pregnancies and how to use it the right way.
Also, learn what it can and can’t do. For example, condoms can also help you avoid catching sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But some other popular forms of birth control, like the pill, patch, ring, and IUD, don’t prevent STDs.
Can You Get Prescription Birth Control Without Your Parents’ Permission?
It mainly depends on where you live. In the U.S., different states have different laws about whether your doctor can prescribe birth control for you without your parents’ permission.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia let people under 18 years old get birth control from a doctor on their own.
Another 23 states let people younger than 18 get birth control from their doctor only for certain reasons. Depending on the state, some of these are:
- You’re a certain minimum age.
- You’re married.
- You’ve already had a child or you’ve been pregnant before.
- You meet certain requirements, like having graduated high school.
- Your doctor says your health would be at risk without contraceptives.
Four states don’t have a clear rule on whether people younger than 18 can get birth control from a doctor without their parents’ permission.
You can find out what your state’s rules are in this chart.
What if Your Doctor Doesn’t Want to Give You Birth Control?
Even if you live in a state where you don’t need your parents’ permission to get birth control, it’s possible your doctor isn’t comfortable prescribing it to you. If that happens, the doctor should at least be able to recommend another place where you can get it, Alderman says.
For instance, you might be able to get it at a school-based clinic, she says. Or, if you’re in college but you’re younger than 18, your university’s health clinic might be able to help.
If You Talk to Your Doctor About Birth Control, Will They Tell Your Parents?
Groups of top experts say that teens should be able to have confidential – meaning private – talks with their doctors about things like birth control.
But it’s a good idea to make sure you know what your own doctor’s rules on privacy are. Around the time you hit adolescence (puberty), your doctor should have a discussion with you about this during an appointment.
They should explain what things they’ll keep private between you and them, and what things they’ll need to tell your parents about. If you’re not sure, ask.
If one of your parents usually stays in the exam room with you during doctor appointments, you could also ask for some time to talk to the doctor alone.
Even if your doctor agrees to keep your talks or visits about birth control confidential, there are still ways your parents could find out. Among those are:
Patient portal. This is a secure website that lets you see personal health information about your doctor appointments. If you and your parents both have access to your patient portal, they might see info about any birth control services you get from your doctor.
Insurance. Say you’re on your parents’ private health insurance plan, and you use the insurance to cover the cost of birth control. That info could show up on the insurance statements that your parents receive.
If you don’t want to use insurance to cover the cost of birth control, you might be able to find places that offer it for less money or for free. Some possible examples are family planning clinics and school or college health centers.
You might also be able to get birth control confidentially at a local Title X Family Planning Clinic. These clinics are part of a federal program that has guaranteed confidential care for teens.
But that may be changing. Some researchers found that not all Title X-funded clinics offer confidential birth control services to teens anymore.