For almost all teens, deciding whether or not to become sexually active is one of the first major decisions they control. Legally and morally, no one should be forced to have sex. Emotionally, it should be a shared decision between equals, mature enough to know and accept the consequences.
Making decisions about birth control is difficult. But asking the questions honestly about what you want and need, and what is best for you, can help you make the safest and healthiest decision.
Take your time and think about it. Do you feel ready to begin sexual activity? Is it what you–not your friends or your partner–think is best? is it what you want? Is the person you’re thinking about someone you’ll care about for a long time? Is he or she worthwhile enough to be your partner? Even with the latest advances in birth control, abstinence–not having sex–is still the only 100 percent-effective way of preventing pregnancy or infection.
Today, any couple–teenage or older–knows that sexual involvement must include some discussion about birth control and safe sex. These are hard things for anyone at any age to talk about, but unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are harder.
The right birth control will meet your needs plus prevent pregnancy and STDS. The wrong method does not provide the right protection at the right time.
To make the best choices about contraceptives (birth control methods), you should know what is available, including the new brands or types on the market. The newest methods available include a female condom and two other types of contraceptives–one given by injection, the other implanted under the skin–that stop fertility (the ability to become pregnant) for long periods of time.
Some of the Newest Methods
Norplant and Depo-Provera
These two new contraceptives both use hormones (chemicals found in the body) to prevent pregnancy. One method, known as Depo-Provera, is given by injection every three months and provides protection against pregnancy for 12 weeks.
Norplant, the other hormonal contraceptive, involves having a doctor implant six tiny rods just under the skin of the upper arm. Once in place, the rods slowly release their hormones, preventing pregnancy for five years. In general, the hormones in both methods prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of eggs (ovulation) and causing other changes in the reproductive system that make it difficult for sperm to travel to the egg.
A major advantage for users of either Norplant or Depo-Provera is that neither method requires taking something every day. At the same time, however, using these powerful hormones that last for a long time doesn’t make sense for someone who has sex infrequently. If a woman is unhappy with Norplant, she can have the rods removed; once Depo-Provera is injected, it takes 12 weeks for the hormone to leave the body.
Both contraceptives can cause changes in the menstrual cycle. These changes, such as very little or excess bleeding or occasional lack of menstruation, can be alarming. However, they usually do not indicate that there is a problem. There also is the risk that both contraceptives can cause side effects (such as nausea and slight weight gain), similar to those of the birth control pill.
Although Norplant is effective for five years, it can cost several hundred dollars. Depo-Provera may cost around $26 an injection. Both of these can be administered only in a clinic or a doctor’s office.
The chance of becoming pregnant while using either Norplant or Depo-Provera is extremely small–almost zero. But, neither protects against STDs.
The Female Condom
The female condom is a transparent, narrow plastic bag, about 7 inches long, with rings on both ends. The ring on the closed end fits up against the cervix (the opening to the uterus) and the other ring hangs outside the body. Although it may be slightly difficult to insert at first, the female condom is reported to be comfortable.
The main reason this contraceptive was invented was to give women a way to prevent pregnancy and protect against STDS, especially AIDS.
The benefits of the female condom are: * It is available at drugstores without a prescription. * It can be put in place several hours before intercourse and removed immediately afterward. * It offers protection against pregnancy and diseases.
The disadvantages are: * Because the device is new, it isn’t clear how much protection it gives against pregnancy or disease. * It may be awkward to use and doesn’t always stay in place. * It is more expensive than male condoms.
What About the Old Standbys?
Of course, choices of birth control still include those methods you may already. know. They include barrier methods–condoms, vaginal sponges, spermicides (foams, jellies, creams, and suppositories), diaphragms, and cervical caps. The accompanying chart offers a general idea of how they work and the risks and benefits of different methods. It would be helpful, however, to talk with a family health counselor at a local family planning clinic or with a doctor or nurse. They’re not there to judge but to inform and can explain in detail the differences among the various methods. They can help an individual choose and use the best and safest method.
What’s in the Future?
There are a few possibilities on the horizon for better contraceptives. One promising choice will be a once-a-month injectable hormone–similar to oral contraceptives (birth control pills). Another idea that is still being tested is a vaginal ring that is worn like a diaphragm but also releases hormones. And, there soon will be a new, improved intrauterine device (IUD) that releases hormones similar to those in the pill. While there is much interest in new types of male contraceptives, as of now there are no new alternatives available.
A World About Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Although it is 1993, most people still don’t talk about STDs such as gonorrhea, herpes, and AIDS. The fact is, the number of cases of AIDS and other STDs is increasing among teens, regardless of background, education, or race.
Even if both you and your partner are virgins or you have been in a long-term (many months or years), exclusive (not having intercourse with anyone else) relationship and both tested negative for HIV, you still should use a barrier contraceptive such as a condom and foam to prevent STDs. Most health counselors recommend that sexually active teens consider using a barrier method along with something like the pill or spermicide to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
Most STDs do not have obvious symptoms or symptoms that show up immediately. And, sad but true, your partner may not tell you, or may not know, that he or she has an STD or that a previous partner was infected. Most bacterial STDs can be treated with antibiotics; but any STD, if it is ignored or not diagnosed in time, can cause serious health problems. The number of heterosexual (not homosexual) teenagers with AIDS is on the rise, and it can be years before symptoms of this deadly disease show up.