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Birth control

Birth control (also called contraception) may seem confusing and overwhelming. If you think you’re ready to have sex, though, you need to be ready to protect your body and your future. It may be tempting to have sex without birth control, but that can cause serious problems.

Remember, if you feel close enough with someone to have sex, you should feel close enough to discuss birth control — even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

There are lots of possible questions about birth control. It’s a good idea to talk with your parents or another adult you trust, such as your doctor or nurse, before you have sex.

To help you get started, we’ve answered some common questions about birth control below.

Preventing pregnancy

Want to know about your birth control options? Check out this chart on the different types, how well they work, and more.

What do I need to know about birth control? arrow. top

The more you know about birth control, the more you can take charge of protecting yourself. Here are some key points:

  • Not having sex — abstinence  — is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease (STD) (also known as a sexually transmitted infection or STI).
  • All types of birth control can fail. Some fail more than others, and some work very well. For example, the intrauterine device (IUD) works almost 100% of the time. Learn about the different types of birth control and how well they work.
  • Whatever type of birth control you choose, use it right and every time to be safest.
  • If you’re not sure how to use your birth control, ask a doctor or nurse. It’s worth a little embarrassment to avoid serious problems.
  • Male latex condoms (or synthetic ones) are the best protection against STDs. And even they don’t fully protect against all STDs.
  • It’s important to use condoms and another birth control method for both STD protection and pregnancy prevention.

How does birth control work? arrow. top

During vaginal sex, the man’s penis goes into the woman’s vagina, which leads to her reproductive organs, including her uterus, or womb. When the man ejaculates (“comes”), his penis spurts semen, which contains millions of sperm. The sperm swim up into the woman’s uterus and fallopian tubes. If a sperm joins with an egg from the woman, she will become pregnant. There’s also a chance a woman can get pregnant if her partner’s sperm gets on the outside of her vagina and then swims inside.

Most birth control methods work either by preventing the egg from being released or by stopping the sperm from getting to the egg. Learn more about the different types of birth control and how they work.

Do I need to see a doctor to get birth control? arrow. top

Only condoms, contraceptive sponges, spermicides, and some kinds of emergency contraception are sold in stores like supermarkets and drugstores. All other kinds of birth control require a visit to a health care professional. Some people get contraception at a family planning clinic, where services are confidential (kept private) and often cost less or are free. You can find a family planning clinic online.

In the United States, most insurance companies have to pay for the whole cost of an appointment to talk to your doctor about birth control and for most types of birth control your doctor prescribes.

If you are having sex, you should see a health care professional regularly to protect your health even if you aren’t going for birth control.

What doesn’t work to prevent pregnancy? arrow. top

It’s very tempting to try to avoid getting pregnant without having to deal with some of the hassles of birth control. Check out the box below to see what some girls think prevents pregnancy — and whether they’re headed for trouble.

(If the tool above does not appear, please take a look at our text version of this tool.
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Why do teens sometimes not use birth control? arrow. top

There are a number of reasons teens sometimes don’t use birth control. Check out some common ones and why they don’t make good sense.

  • Some young women think they are not likely to get pregnant. Unfortunately, 4 out of 5 pregnancies among girls 19 and younger are not planned.
  • Some young people are afraid their parents will find out they’re having sex. If you get birth control from a doctor, ask about keeping the information private. Of course, if you get pregnant, chances are good that your parents will find out.
  • You might be afraid of what your partner will think. Anyone worth sharing sex with should be willing to talk about staying safe.
  • Some people think that using a birth control method now will not allow them to get pregnant when they are ready to have a baby. The truth is that nearly all kinds of birth control stop working right away when you stop using them. And condoms can actually protect your ability to have a baby later by helping to prevent STDs that can hurt your reproductive system.

Whatever the possible reasons to avoid birth control, there are so many more reasons to use it. Teens who get pregnant face a huge number of challenges, including possibly having their partner leave them, dropping out of school, and taking care of a baby’s many needs.

What if I need birth control in an emergency? arrow. top

Emergency contraception (EC) is birth control used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Women sometimes seek emergency contraception if they didn’t use birth control, if their birth control failed (like if the condom broke), or if they were forced to have sex.

Mainly, emergency contraception works by preventing your body from releasing an egg.

Here’s some important information about emergency contraception:

  • Emergency contraception sometimes is called the “morning-after pill.” It really shouldn’t be, though. You actually should take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.  
  • Emergency contraception is only for emergencies. It is not meant as a regular means of birth control.
  • You can get emergency contraception in a hospital emergency room, a family planning clinic, and many drugstores. If you need help finding emergency contraception, an EC website can help.
  • There’s a chance you can still get pregnant if you use emergency contraception. If more than seven days pass after you expect to get your period, you should take a pregnancy test.
  • Don’t use emergency contraception if you are already pregnant.
  • Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs).

There are different types of emergency contraception:

  • One type is the Plan B One-Step pill.
    • You should take Plan B One-Step as soon as possible within three days after unprotected sex.
    • You do not need a prescription from a doctor or proof of your age to buy it.
    • Plan B One-Step will be on the drugstore shelf, so you don’t need to ask the pharmacist for it.
  • Another type of pill, such as Next Choice, is similar to Plan B One-Step.
    • If you are under 17 you need a prescription for these pills.
    • Even if you are over 17, you need to ask for them because they are kept behind the pharmacy counter.
  • A third type of pill is ella.
    • Ella works better than Plan B or Next Choice and works up to five days after sex.
    • You need a prescription for ella.
  • A copper intrauterine device (IUD) works better than other types of emergency contraception.
    • You can get the IUD up to five days after sex.
    • You need to go to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or health clinic to have an IUD put into your uterus.

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 28, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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