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Birth control

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

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 it can cause serious problems. And 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 an adult you trust, like your parents or doctor. To help you get started, we’ve answered some common questions below.

What are some important points 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:

  • The only sure way to prevent pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is abstinence — not having sex.
  • All types of birth control can fail. Some fail more than others. Learn about the different types and how well they work. Whatever type 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.
  • Only male latex condoms protect against STIs. And even they don’t protect against all STIs.
  • Some people use condoms and another birth control method for STI protection and extra 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 groceries and drugstores. All other kinds of birth control require a visit to a health care provider. Some people get contraception at a family planning clinic, where privacy is definitely protected and services often cost less or are free. You can find a family planning clinic online.  

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.
Viewing the above requires the Adobe Flash Player. )

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 may just think they aren’t going to get pregnant. Unfortunately, nearly 2 out of 3 mothers under 18 didn’t plan to get pregnant.
  • 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 birth control will prevent them from getting pregnant in the future. 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 STIs that can hurt your reproductive system.

Whatever the possible reasons to avoid birth control, there are so many more to use it. Teens who get pregnant face a huge number of challenges, including possibly getting left by their partners, dropping out of school, and struggling to deal with a demanding baby.

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

Emergency contraception 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. Some common types include Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and ella. 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. Plus, it can still work up to 5 days after sex.
  • Emergency contraception is only for emergencies. It is not meant as a regular means of birth control.
  • If you are 17 and older, you can get some kinds of emergency contraception without a prescription. If you’re younger than 17, you will need a prescription. (In a small number of states, pharmacists can provide emergency contraception without a prescription even if you’re younger than 17.)
  • You should call your pharmacist before going to get emergency contraception. Not every pharmacy carries it (or carries the kind that you can get without a prescription). Also, it’s kept behind the counter, so you may need to go during certain hours.
  • You can get emergency contraception at an emergency room or family planning clinic. If you need help finding emergency contraception, visit
  • There’s a chance you can still get pregnant if you use emergency contraception. If more than 7 days pass after you expect to get your period, contact your doctor or nurse.
  • Don’t use emergency contraception if you are already pregnant.


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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