The decision to become sexually active is an important and highly personal decision. Unfortunately, many young men and women become sexually involved first and then worry about unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections afterward.
Things to consider when thinking about becoming sexually active:
- Is this something I really want to do?
- Am I being pressured into having sex?
- Are drugs or alcohol a factor in my decision?
- What is the best method of birth control for me?
- How do I plan to protect myself against sexually transmitted infections?
- What are my options if I became pregnant?
The only way to be 100% sure that a woman will not get pregnant is for her not to have sexual intercourse. If you decide to become sexually active, the best way to avoid pregnancy is through use of birth control (also called contraception). There are a variety of methods available. No one method is best for everyone and it is important that you learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each before making a choice.
It is important to remember to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections in addition to preventing pregnancy. A condom is the only form of birth control that also helps to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Regardless of the primary method of birth control chosen, a condom should be used every time you have sexual intercourse.
This is the only 100% sure method of birth control. It can be defined as having no sexual intercourse of any kind, or any intimate unclothed contact, even without penetration.
Advantages: No risk of pregnancy.
Potential Disadvantages: May not be a practical choice.
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
This method is 99% effective when taken correctly. A prescription is needed for birth control pills, along with a medical history and physical exam. Links provides prescriptions and written instructions about how to start the pill. Remember, birth control pills must be taken at the same time each day many of our clients set their cell phone alarms as a reminder. If not taken at the same time each day, breakthrough bleeding may occur and the risk of pregnancy increases.
Advantages: They are easy to use, are highly effective and come in a variety of doses. The pill typically causes lighter periods with less cramping, can help with acne, and also decreases a woman's risk of certain kinds of cancer.
Potential Disadvantages: The pill offers no protection from sexually transmitted infections always use a condom. Contrary to popular belief, the pill does NOT cause weight gain.
When used correctly every time, condoms are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. In practice, because condoms are not always used correctly, and there is a risk of them breaking or slipping off, they are 70-90% effective. Using contraceptive foam or suppositories in conjunction with the condom increases effectiveness. Condoms must be worn start to finish and a new condom must be used for each act of intercourse. They should be used for oral sex as well, and can be purchased in a variety of flavors.
Advantages: Condoms are readily available and easy to buy. They prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
Potential Disadvantages: Condoms can break or slip off. If it breaks or slips off there is a high risk of pregnancy. Some people are sensitive to spermicide, especially nonoxinol-9.
When used correctly, female condoms are 95% effective in preventing pregnancy. Incorrect use reduces their effectiveness to as low as 80%. Female condoms also create a barrier that helps to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections, as well as preventing pregnancy. The female condom looks like a pouch and has two rings one that is inserted into the vagina and placed at the cervix, and the other that stays outside the vaginal opening.
Advantages: Protects against sexually transmitted infections.
Potential Disadvantages: Female condoms are more expensive than traditional male condoms, and are not as widely available. Some women find them difficult to insert.
Other Forms of Birth Control Available by Prescription at Links
Depo-Provera (the shot)
The shot is an injection given once every three months, containing a hormone that prevents pregnancy.
Advantages: The shot provides safe, highly effective, long-lasting protection, with no need for action before, during, or after sex.
Potential Disadvantages: Can cause irregular bleeding. Unlike the pill, the shot can cause weight gain and/or bloating in some women. It offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Nuva-Ring (the ring)
The ring is a small flexible ring that a woman inserts into her vagina once a month. It stays in place for three weeks and then is removed for one week during menstruation. The ring releases the same hormones that are used in birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.
Advantages: The ring offers the same protection as birth control pills without the need to remember to take a daily pill.
Potential Disadvantage: If the ring is not inserted correctly it can fall out. It may cause discharge and may be felt by one or both partners. It offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections, and can be more expensive than other options.
Ortho Evra (the patch)
The patch is a thin, beige, plastic square that sticks to the skin. It is applied to the upper outer arm, abdomen, buttock, or upper back once a week for three weeks. The fourth week, no patch is applied and menstruation occurs. The patch releases the same hormones that are used in birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.
Advantages: The patch offers the same protection as birth control pills without the need to remember to take a daily pill.
Potential Disadvantage: The patch can fall off the skin or cause skin irritation from the adhesive. It offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections, and can be more expensive than other options.
Emergency Contraception Pills (ECP)
Emergency contraception (also known as "the morning after pill") is a way to reduce the risk of pregnancy after having unprotected intercourse. ECPs are regular birth control pills taken in a different way. Treatment must be started within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex. The pills are not 100% effective and can produce nausea and vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, breast tenderness, and an early or late menstrual period. If no period has started within three weeks of the treatment, a pregnancy test should be done. If you are already pregnant, ECPs will not cause an abortion or harm the fetus.
ECPs are only to be used in an emergency, not as a regular method of contraception. Links has ECPs available onsite just call us and come in. ECPs are also available over the counter at any pharmacy for those who are age 17 or older.