A Teen’s Guide to Safe Sex and Contraceptive Methods

By Ketan Tamirisa, SBHA Youth Advisory Council member

The following reflects Ketan’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions.

Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

During my time volunteering at a free-outpatient clinic in Dallas, I met a 15-year-old girl who was four weeks pregnant. She was complaining of chest pain and had been vomiting excessively. Her partner, a 16-year-old boy, was sitting by her bedside. As she bawled her eyes out, she repeatedly said, “I’m not ready for this.” Those words have stuck with me ever since.

Through research, I’ve learned that this situation is far from an isolated incident. In the U.S., 85% of over 1 million teen pregnancies are unplanned, and an estimated 4 million new cases of STDs, excluding HIV, affect youth (2). These numbers are increasing rapidly, year after year. 

However, the problem runs far deeper. Adolescent pregnancies can have a major adverse impact on the health of the baby, often leading to low birth weights, developmental delays, or, worst of all—death. The mother is also at risk of developing various issues like high blood pressure and complications during and after pregnancy (1). These unplanned pregnancies can have detrimental long-term effects, from monetary stress to increased risk of a single-parent household. Children of teen parents also tend to have emotional problems, struggle to perform well in school, and are more likely to commit violent crimes. It’s time to start preventing this from occurring. 

One solution is rather simple: using contraception frequently and properly during intercourse. If you have questions about the information below or need help obtaining contraception, you should talk with your provider or visit your local school-based health center (SBHC).

First and foremost, contraception differs for both males and females. There are two types of contraceptives: short-term and long-term methods. Short-term methods are used at the time of sex, while long-term methods are used even during periods of abstinence (no sex). 

Short-term methods, also called pericoital contraception, include:

  • Condoms: thin latex “barrier” method
  • Diaphragms: circle of silicone inserted into the vagina
  • Cervical Caps: small cup made of silicone that fits over the cervix
  • Spermicides: chemical product that blocks the cervix

The main advantage of these short-term methods is that there are no lasting side effects. Most of these methods are around 70% effective at preventing pregnancy. 

Long-term methods include: 

  • Hormonal: contain estrogen or progestin; examples include an implant, an intrauterine device (IUD), injections, pills, vaginal rings, and skin patches

The main advantage of these long-term methods is that they are often 90% or better at preventing pregnancy. 

Key Principles to Remember:

  • As Raine et al. states, the responsibility for contraception is on both the male and female partners. It is vital to have mutual discussion and agreement before sexual acts (3)
  • Proper usage of the chosen method is necessary for prevention to be effective.
  • If barrier methods are being used, they need to be used every time.
  • Both short-term and long-term methods can have side effects.
  • Remember, no method is fail-proof—even the “best” methods can fail, especially if not employed properly.

All in all, adolescent pregnancies can have a major impact on the child and the parents. It’s imperative that you understand the various contraceptive methods and how to properly employ them. Visit your school-based health center when you want to learn more information, have questions to ask, or need contraceptive resources. Always have open, frank discussions with your sexual partner to make sure that you are both on the same page. Most importantly, ensure that you are ready before you engage in sexual activity. If you follow these general guidelines, you are well on your way to prioritizing your sexual health