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Teens: What you need to know about preventing pregnancy

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and today, we’re sharing the information you need to know to protect yourself and your partner from unintended pregnancy.

How can you get pregnant?

A person born with female reproductive organs can get pregnant during vaginal sex (when the penis enters the vagina) or if semen from the penis gets near the vagina or on the vulva and enters the vagina.

How to prevent teen pregnancy

The only 100% guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy is to practice abstinence (not having vaginal sex). If you’re sexually active, you have several options to reduce your risk of pregnancy.

Birth control methods that don’t require a prescription:

  • Condoms (use every time): External condoms are stretchy pouches worn on the penis during sex. Internal condoms are worn inside the vagina or anus during sex. Internal condoms can be worn ahead of time to give the wearer more autonomy. Condoms can help protect you from both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can find condoms at your local drugstore, grocery store, health department or family planning clinic. External condoms are 85% effective with typical use and internal condoms are 79% effective with typical use.
  • Withdrawal method (use every time): This means the penis is removed from the vagina before ejaculation occurs. This method is more effective when used with another birth control method, such as a condom or hormonal birth control. The downsides are that pre-ejaculate can contain sperm and it can be difficult to withdraw in time. This method is 78% percent effective with typical use. It doesn’t protect against STIs.
  • Spermicide (use every time): Spermicide is a cream, gel, film, foam or suppository that contains chemicals that prevent sperm from reaching an egg to fertilize. Spermicide must stay in place for six hours after sex and can cause genital irritation. It’s 71% effective when used alone and 97% effective when used with a condom.

Birth control methods that require a prescription:

  • Birth control pills (take daily): The pill is an oral medication taken every day to prevent pregnancy. The pill releases hormones that stop ovulation. It’s critical to take your pill at the same time each day. With typical use, birth control pills are 91% effective.  
  • Birth control patch (replace weekly): The patch sticks to your skin and releases hormones that prevent pregnancy into your bloodstream. With typical use, the patch is 91% effective.
  • Birth control shot (get every 12 weeks): The shot injects the pregnancy-preventing hormones into your bloodstream. It’s effective one week after the first injection and is 99% effective with perfect use.  
  • Birth control ring (replace monthly or yearly): The ring is inserted into the vagina and releases pregnancy-preventing hormones. It’s 91% effective with typical use.  
  • Intrauterine device (IUD) (replace every three to 12 years): IUDs are small, t-shaped devices that contain copper or progestin (a hormone). It’s inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider. IUDs are more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
  • Implant (replace every three to five years): A small, plastic-like rod inserted into the skin on the upper arm. The implant releases pregnancy-preventing hormones. It’s more than 99% effective.

Less common birth control methods include the sponge, diaphragm and cervical cap.

Keep in mind, only condoms protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Emergency contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy

If you have unprotected sex or your birth control method fails (such as the condom breaks or you forget to take your birth control pill on time each day), emergency contraception can reduce your risk of pregnancy. Also called the “morning-after pill,” emergency contraception must be taken within three to five days after unprotected sex. If a pregnancy has already occurred, emergency contraception will not end the pregnancy. Many options are available over the counter and don’t require a prescription.

If you’re sexually active or thinking about becoming sexually active

If you’re thinking about having sex or are currently sexually active, it can be helpful to talk to a trusted adult. While it can be intimidating to talk about sex with an adult, doing so can help you learn more about protecting yourself and your partner from unwanted pregnancy and STIs. A trusted adult can include a:

  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Aunt or uncle
  • Older cousin
  • Older sibling
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • School nurse
  • School counselor
  • Parent of a friend
  • Doctor or another healthcare provider

Need more info? Connect with an Expert.



Guttmacher Institute

Centerstone: Methods to prevent pregnancy and STIs

Centerstone: Teen pregnancy

Planned Parenthood: Condom

Planned Parenthood: Birth control shot

Planned Parenthood: Birth control patch

Planned Parenthood: Birth control ring

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