If you’re sexually active, or planning on having sex, it’s important to find a form of contraception that works for you. Regardless of your gender, sexual orientation, or genitalia, it’s important to consider which type of birth control to use.
This can be tricky for anyone. And if you’re a teenager who needs contraception, this can be even more difficult. You’ll have to consider other factors, like guardian consent, access, and cost.
The good news is that there are many kinds of contraception out there, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. While a healthcare worker is best equipped to help you figure out what’s best for your individual needs, this brief guide can help you choose a birth control method that works for you.
Key things to consider
Before you choose contraception, there are a few things you need to know as a teenager.
There isn’t a ‘right’ age — if you’re ready, you’re ready
There’s no ‘right’ age to start having sex, whether that’s solo (aka masturbation) or partnered.
Some people have sex as teenagers, others wait until their twenties, and others choose to be celibate forever — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your choice!
Choosing to have sex is a personal decision, and it’s up to you whether you want to or not. Just remember to practice enthusiastic consent when you’re with your partner(s) and take measures to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Some — not all — methods may require a guardian’s consent
Depending on the method you want to use, you might need consent from a guardian if you’re a minor. Laws on this can vary from state to state, so it’s important to look up the laws where you live or talk with a local healthcare provider.
For more about where you live, check out our comprehensive state-by-state guide.
Some methods may require a pelvic exam
In order to use certain forms of contraception, such as an intrauterine device (IUD), you’ll need a pelvic exam.
During a pelvic exam, a doctor or other healthcare professional will take a look at your vagina and vulva, inspecting the area for signs of infection or other underlying conditions. Pelvic exams usually include a Pap smear.
While a pelvic exam is no big deal for some, other people aren’t comfortable with them. If you fall into the latter camp, you might want to opt for a birth control method that doesn’t require a pelvic exam.
With that said, it’s usually recommended that you have a pelvic exam every year or so after becoming sexually active.
Birth control can also be used for symptom management
Many people use birth control, even when they aren’t sexually active.
The pill is associated with a range of benefits other than simply preventing pregnancy. Some people go on the contraceptive pill, for example, to help reduce acne, heavy periods, and menstrual cramps.
You don’t have to stick with the same method forever
Remember: You don’t have to use the same contraception forever. In fact, many people change methods.
You might change birth control methods because:
- you start experiencing side effects
- you’re able to afford a method that works better for you
- your lifestyle changes
Just make sure you talk with a healthcare professional before you stop using your current method and switch to a new one. They can advise you on the best way to make the transition, ideally minimizing any unwanted side effects during this time.
The best of the best
As with any other age group, there’s no real one-size-fits-all solution. The method you choose depends on what’s convenient for you and what works best with your body. For example, some people might experience side effects with one form of birth control, but not with others.
Here are some of the most popular and easy-to-use birth control methods.
The most accessible method: Condoms
Condoms are probably the most accessible form of birth control to you. They can be bought online or at a supermarket. And, unlike most forms of contraception, you don’t need a prescription.
Unless you have an allergy to latex or the lubricant commonly found on condoms, the side effects are usually pretty rare and mild.
A big advantage of using condoms is that they can also reduce your risk for contracting a STI.
They can also be used alongside other birth control methods, like an IUD and the pill, further reducing your chance of unwanted pregnancy.
However, in order for condoms to be effective, they need to be used correctly and consistently — and it’s not always as easy as it looks. Even if you do use condoms correctly, there’s a chance they’ll break.
The most effective methods: IUDs and implants
The most effective methods are the implant and the IUD. These are long-term birth control methods, but they can be removed early if you prefer.
A huge advantage is that you can get them inserted and then not worry about them. Compared with the pill, which you have to take every day, these options are pretty low-maintenance.
The implant is a matchstick-sized plastic rod that’s inserted under your skin. It releases the hormone progestin, which prevents ovulation.
According to Planned Parenthood, the implant is more than 99 percent effective. You don’t need a pelvic exam to obtain an implant, but you’ll have to see a healthcare professional to get it inserted.
You’ll need a pelvic exam and a prescription for IUD insertion, too.
There are two different kinds of IUDs: the copper IUD and hormonal IUD.
The copper IUD is a non-hormonal method, which is a bonus for those who doesn’t want to use hormonal contraception. The copper repels sperm, which is why it’s effective. The copper IUD can be left in for up to 12 years.
The hormonal IUD can be left in place for 3 to 7 years. It releases progestin, which prevents ovulation. Some people find that the hormonal IUD stops their period or makes it lighter.
With that said, some people find that implants or IUDs cause painful periods and bad PMS. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to predict how your body will react to these birth control methods.
The most popular method: Contraceptive pills
Oral contraceptive pills are a very popular birth control method. You can use the minipill (progestin only) or the combination pill (progestin and estrogen).
There are some potential drawbacks. First, you have to take them every single day around the same time in order for them to be effective.
Second, some people experience side effects, like acne or breast tenderness, while others find unexpected perks, like lighter periods, less acne, and a more regulated mood.
Other methods to be aware of
Plan B and other emergency contraceptives
If you’ve had sex without a condom, or if you used a condom that broke, you might want to use a form of emergency contraception (EC).
Hormonal emergency contraception can include:
- Plan B One-Step
- Next Choice
A copper IUD can also be used as EC if it’s inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex.
According to Planned Parenthood, emergency IUD insertion reduces the chance of pregnancy by 99 percent. However, you’ll need a healthcare professional to insert the IUD.
Fertility awareness (also called the ‘rhythm method’)
The rhythm method involves tracking your menstrual cycle to find out when you’re fertile. This helps you avoid penis-in-vagina sex — and other activities that may introduce semen to the vaginal canal, like fingering after touching pre-cum or ejaculate — around the fertile period. Doing so can reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
The fertility awareness method combines the rhythm method with observation methods (like tracking your temperature and checking your cervical mucus) to predict ovulation.
The effectiveness of the fertility awareness method depends on a lot of factors, including the method you use and how accurately you chart your cycle and symptoms.
This method can be combined with another method, like condoms, to further reduce your chances of unwanted pregnancy.
PSA: Withdrawal isn’t reliable
The withdrawal method, also known as the pull-out method, involves withdrawing the penis from the vagina before ejaculation occurs.
Although it’s a common approach to contraception, it isn’t very effective. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 22 percent of people who use the pull-out method become pregnant.
You may benefit from opting for a more effective form of birth control.
Questions to ask yourself when deciding
The contraception you choose depends on your specific situation. To help you figure out which method is best for you, ask yourself the following questions.
How well does it work?
You’ll want to use a very effective form of birth control. For this reason, it’s probably best to avoid something like the withdrawal method, which is known to be ineffective.
Is it easy to use?
Contraception is only effective when you use it correctly.
The easiest methods to “use” are long-term birth control methods, like the IUD or implant, because you don’t actually have to do anything. Once it’s inserted, you can basically forget about it.
The pill might not be ideal for someone who can’t remember to take it every day. But if this isn’t an issue for you, it could be a good fit.
Condoms aren’t always easy to use at first, but you’ll probably pick it up quickly with a little practice. Take a look at our guide on using condoms correctly for more information.
What are the potential side effects?
You can’t always predict if you’ll experience side effects. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects of the method you choose.
If the side effects feel too uncomfortable or unmanageable for you, you can go off that form of contraception and use another one.
Some forms of hormonal birth control aren’t suitable for people with certain health conditions. Be sure to tell your physician or other care provider about your full medical history, including any underlying conditions or medications you take, so they can take this into consideration.
How much does it cost?
Cost is an important factor. If you aren’t comfortable asking a guardian or other trusted adult for assistance, or if money is tight for you and your family, read our guide to finding low-cost contraception in your state.
Can it prevent STIs?
Preventing pregnancy is only one part of the safer sex conversation.
One way to reduce your risk of contracting an STI is to use a barrier method along with another birth control method. If you aren’t keen on condoms, you and your partner(s) can get tested for STIs together. A local sexual health clinic or Planned Parenthood might be able to help.
If you aren’t sure where to go or how to get it
While condoms can usually be purchased at your local store, you’ll need to see a healthcare professional to obtain other forms of contraception, like the pill or IUD.
If you have a primary care doctor, they can help you with contraception.
But, if seeing a general practitioner is too costly, or if you aren’t comfortable discussing birth control with your usual doctor, there are other options. This includes local health departments and family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood.
If you’re a college or university student, they’ll probably have a health clinic that offers free or discounted services.
If you’re a caregiver for a teen
If you’re an adult helping a teen choose contraception, there are a couple points to remember:
- Respect their autonomy. Remember that their decision to use birth control or engage in sexual activity is theirs.
- Keep an open line of communication. Let them know that they’re able to approach you with questions if they need to.
- Respect their privacy. They might not be comfortable discussing sex and birth control in detail. Be prepared to direct them to a doctor, clinic, or online resources if they have questions they don’t want to ask you.
Where to learn more
Interested in learning more? Planned Parenthood’s website has a range of useful posts and explainers.
You can also check out the following Healthline articles:
- “How to Figure Out Which Birth Control Method Is Right for You” by Gabrielle Kassel
- “How to Access Free or Low-Cost Birth Control in Each State” by Gabrielle Kassel
- “27 Things You Should Know Before You ‘Lose’ Your Virginity” by Annamarya Scaccia
- “26 Things to Know About Pain and Pleasure During Your First Time” by Sian Ferguson
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.