Birth control generally follows a pattern, according to a 2008 National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Young women rely on condoms initially, then choose the pill to delay pregnancy, and once their family is complete, opt for sterilization.
The CDC survey reflects this pattern. Fifty-four percent of women surveyed age 15 to 19 used the pill, compared to just 11 percent of women age 40 to 44.
Despite the variety of contraceptives on the market today, “For those who choose a hormonal contraceptive, the pill remains number one,” says Dr. Claudette Shephard, an OB-GYN with UT Medical Group who specializes in adolescent gynecology.
Advantage: 99 percent effective. Side effects (nausea, headaches, weight gain) are minimal.
Disadvantage: Risky for young women, since missing one or two days can lead to unwanted pregnancy. Best to program a reminder of this task into your phone so you don’t forget.
Depo-Provera, contraception in a shot
“Adolescents are bad at taking the pill,” says Nikole Gettings, director of clinical services at the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health. “It requires too much daily stuff.” Not so Depo-Provera, a shot you take just once every 12 weeks.
Gettings leads a free program called Between Teens offered several times a year at the center. Funded by a grant from The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the program has helped more than 300 teen girls learn about reproductive health and develop personal reproductive health plans. Instead of taking the pill, many teens opt for the Depo-Provera shot. Why? Because it’s easy, effective, and convenient. This injection (given by a health care provider) of the hormone progestin is taken once every three months.
Advantage: Fifty percent of women who use it stop having a period or experience lighter blood flow; only taken four times annually.
Disadvantage: No period to confirm you are not pregnant; weight gain.
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. IUDs were common until the late 1970s, when one brand began causing pelvic infections and resulted in IUDs being pulled from the market. However, today’s research has proven IUDs a safe, effective, and long-lasting form of birth conrol.
“I love recommending IUDs for teens,” says Gettings. Because an IUD is effective for five to 10 years, it can help a teen prevent an unwanted pregnancy and accomplish some personal goals: finish high school and college, or get established in the work world, she adds.
There are two types of IUDs on the market. The first is the Mirena, which releases a steady stream of progestin into the body. It’s good for up to five years, is easily removed by your doctor, and you can get pregnant right away once removed.
There’s also ParaGard, an IUD that doesn’t use hormones, a big plus for many women. It contains copper-wound plastic, which experts believe creates a toxic environment to sperm. It’s effective for up to 10 years.
Advantage: Eliminates period,
Disadvantage: Cost, light bleeding
Another hormonal form of birth control is the Patch. It’s a small adhesive skin patch containing estrogen and progestin that is absorbed through the skin. A fresh patch is applied once a week, and lasts for three weeks (week four you are patch-free).
Many women like this method for the once-a-week convenience. However, the Patch has undergone scrutiny because it’s been linked to an increase in blood clots. Warning of this risk is now included on the product’s label.
Advantage: Ease, long-lasting
Disadvantage: Women with risk factors should talk to their doctor.
While condoms (male and female) are one of the least effective contraceptives, (85 percent with typical use, eless for the female condom), they do have many advantages. When used properly (meaning every time you have intercourse), the effectiveness rate increases to 98 percent.
This is a popular method for teens because there is no age requirement to buy condoms and many clinics offer them for free. It is also the only method that prevents sexually transmitted diseases.
Advantage: Readily available, cuts down on STDs