What's the Best Birth Control for Teens?

More teens today are waiting to have sex. When they do have it, though, most say they've used some type of birth control -- like condoms or pills -- the last time they had intercourse.

If you're a parent of a sexually active teen, you probably just breathed a sigh of relief.

But the not-so-good news is that teens don't use these popular ways to prevent pregnancy all the time -- or correctly. So, you might wonder: What's the best and easiest type of birth control to help make sure your son or daughter doesn't become a parent too soon?

Here's what the experts say are the best options.

The Safest Bet: Abstinence

Not having sex, also called abstinence, is the only surefire way to avoid a pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV. Some strains of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer.

The Best Bet: IUDs and Implants

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are known as long-acting, reversible contraceptives. Doctors often prescribe them first.

Why? You don't have to think about them in the heat of the moment or remember to take a pill every day. And they work extremely well at preventing pregnancies. Less than 1 in every 100 females with an IUD or birth control implant will get pregnant during a year.

Here are the basics:

  • An IUD is a small, T-shaped device placed into the womb. It can stay there for 3-10 years, depending on the type. Some IUDs release hormones to provide more protection against pregnancy and to ease menstrual cramps.
  • The implant is a plastic rod about the size of a match. It goes under the skin on your upper arm. It prevents pregnancies for up to 3 years.
  • Each must be inserted by a health care provider.
  • Neither will protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Male condoms are best for that.

Other Good Bets: Shots & Patches

The shot is a drug called medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera). It has a long-acting form of the hormone progestin that lasts about 3 months.

If your teen chooses this option, she'll need to visit the doctor every 11-13 weeks for an injection. Girls who use this type of birth control might have lighter periods. But they could also gain weight and lose bone density. Only about 6 in every 100 females who choose this method get pregnant in the first year. That's a better success rate than birth control pills.

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The birth control patch, ethinyl estradiol/norelgestromin (Ortho Evra, Xulane), combines the hormones estrogen and progestin. It isn't as foolproof: You have to remember to apply and remove it on time. Your teen needs to stick it onto her body, usually the upper arm or her backside. She’ll wear it for 3 weeks, then take a week off. That's when she should get her period.

It doesn't prevent pregnancy as well as other methods. About 9 in every 100 users will get pregnant during the first year. Still, it’s easier to use than birth control pills.

How to Choose

Go to the doctor with your teen to discuss the options. Some things to consider:

  • Her overall health
  • Cultural and religious preferences
  • How well the method prevents pregnancy
  • Whether it prevents STDs
  • Ease of use
  • Cost

It can be hard to talk to your teen about sex and birth control. Her pediatrician or family doctor can help get the conversation started and either prescribe what she needs or refer you to a specialist.

As of March 2016, teens in 21 states and the District of Columbia are able to decide for themselves if they want birth control. They don’t need a parent's consent.

While most birth control methods require the girl to take action, boys should take responsibility, too. They should wear a condom during sex to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STDs. Condoms are the only protection against STDs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on May 04, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

News release, CDC.

CDC: "Genital HPV Infection -- Fact Sheet."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Birth Control for Sexually Active Teens."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "FAQ112 Especially for Teens: Birth Control."

Pediatrics, September 2014.

Guttmacher Institute State Policies in Brief: "Minors' Access to Contraceptive Services."  

TeensHealth: “What Kinds of Birth Control Work Best Against Pregnancy and STDs?”

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