4 essential questions about teen birth control

4 Essential Questions About Teen Birth Control

Q: Is it true that more teenage girls are using birth control today than in the past?

A: Yes, it is. When it comes to the birth control pill, for example, a recent Reuters study says the number of teenage girls taking some version of it has jumped 50 percent since 2002. Today, 18 percent of teenage girls, or almost 1 in 5, are reported to be on the birth control pill. “It’s absolutely more socially acceptable now than it was years ago, for a mother to come into my office with her daughter to have a frank discussion about birth control,” says Virtua obstetrician and gynecologist
Helen Gorlitsky, MD.

Q: What age is the “right age” to start birth control?

A: That’s a good question, but a tricky one to answer. For Dr. Gorlitsky, 16 tends to be her magic number. “I like to wait until girls are that old because I feel it’s important for a young woman to be established in her cycle before potentially disrupting it,” she says. “Besides the benefit of preventing unwanted pregnancy, hormonal birth control has also been shown to benefit women by regulating periods, reducing ovulation, and possibly reducing the risk of some types of ovarian cancer.”

That said, the decision to start birth control is an immensely personal one, and something that must be discussed with care between parents, doctors, and the young woman in question. Some girls may be ready at a younger age, while others that are older may not yet have developed to the level of psychological or emotional maturity required to handle the medical regimen.

Q: Are certain methods of birth control more appropriate for teen girls?

A: Absolutely. “The method I most often prescribe for teen girls is the birth control pill,” says Dr. Gorlitsky. Depo-Provera, an injection that’s given four times a year, is her next recommendation, “especially if forgetfulness is an issue for the patient. If you forget to take your daily birth control pill, you can experience more frequent bleeding and can easily become pregnant. Moms are often nervous about their daughters being careful when it comes to the pill.”

Finally, the NuvaRing, a flexible vaginal ring that’s inserted and then replaced once each month, is an alternative that has the same medical effect as the birth control pill. “This is also a good option for girls who may be prone to forgetting a daily pill,” says Dr. Gorlistky.

Methods she does not recommend for teen girls include, primarily, the IUD (intrauterine device). Dr. Gorlitsky also puts a special emphasis on the importance of using condoms, whatever the hormonal birth control option selected, to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Q: Do any of the recommended methods pose any risks if used long-term?

A: There are some methods of birth control that do pose risks if used long-term, yes. “The first issue that comes to mind is with the long-term use of Depo-Provera,” says Dr. Gorlitsky. “Recent studies have shown that taking the birth control shot for longer periods can lead to the bones being leached of calcium, possibly irreversibly.” For that reason, Dr. Gorlitsky recommends that her patients plan to use Depo-Provera for no more than five years in their entire lifetime. This is be especially useful information for teen girls and their parents making a decision about birth control, as starting earlier and using Depo-Provera will likely necessitate a switch in methods when the girl reaches young adulthood.

“I have also read studies that indicate girls who are on hormonal birth control are more likely than those who are not to have cervical dysplasia, caused by HPV (human papillomavirus),” says Dr. Gorlitsky. Perhaps this is because girls on birth control are more likely to feel it is ‘okay’ to have sex with their boyfriends, or less likely to use condoms? “Whatever the case, my primary concern with any girl I counsel is that she has a safe mindset, that she’s educated, and that she knows how to take care of her body.”

Updated June 6, 2016

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