• How Pregnancy Happens: During unprotected vaginal sex between a male and a female, semen (bodily fluid released from the penis when a male is sexually aroused, stimulated, ejaculates, or “cums”) can enter the vagina. This may also happen without penetration if the male ejaculates near the vagina. Pregnancy can occur if a sperm – the male reproductive cell contained in the semen meets an egg, the female reproductive cell.
  • How People Get Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs): Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that can spread during oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse. Certain STDs, including chlamydia and HIV, are transmitted through blood, vaginal fluid, and semen. Other STDs, including genital warts and herpes, can spread when there is “skin-to-skin contact” between partners, even if there is no actual intercourse.

Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases can have lasting physical, emotional, and financial impacts on peoples’ lives. Fortunately, there are several different ways to reduce these risks.

Abstinence (not having sex) is the only 100% effective method to prevent pregnancy and STDs. But For people who decide to be intimate with their partners, here’s an overview of some of the most commonly-used birth control methods, so you can get an idea of what might work best for you, and so you’ll be ready to talk with your partner, healthcare provider, and/or pharmacist.

Barrier Methods

Reduce the risk of: Sexually transmitted diseases & pregnancy.

How they work: Barrier methods prevent the transfer of bodily fluids from one partner to another, which can stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prevent pregnancy. Barrier methods also reduce skin-to-skin contact, lessening the risk of spreading certain STDs.

Popular methods:

  • Condoms
  • Cervical cap
  • Female condoms
  • Sponge

Hormonal Methods

Reduce the risk of: Pregnancy. Hormonal birth control methods do not reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases because they do not prevent the transfer of bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. It is ok to use a hormonal birth control method with a barrier birth control method for maximum protection.

How they work: Hormonal birth control methods are used by females. They prevent ovulation, the release of the female egg, and they also make cervical mucus (a type of vaginal fluid) thicker and harder for sperm to swim through. In these ways, hormonal birth control methods offer strong (though not always perfect) protection against unplanned pregnancy.

Popular methods:

  • The Pill
  • The Patch
  • The Ring
  • Intrauterine device (IUD) *There are different IUDs, including one made of copper that actually doesn’t use hormones at all. Rather than preventing ovulation, it prevents a fertilized embryo (what is created when a sperm meets an egg) from implanting and growing inside the uterus.

How to get birth control:

Certain birth control methods, like condoms, are available over-the-counter in local pharmacies or for free at health clinics. For other methods, including all hormonal options, you need to see a healthcare provider. (If you’re worried about your parents finding out, see #2* below!)

Bonus tips: Birth control methods are most successful when they are used correctly and consistently – every single time. Before you engage in sexual intercourse, it’s a good idea to make sure you know exactly how each method should be used.

Finding What Birth Control Works Best for You 

  1. Learn about the options and get your questions ready. If you’re reading this, you’re already headed in the right direction! There’s a lot of scary misinformation on the web, and so be mindful when you’re Googling that you are clicking through to trusted, medically-backed, websites like this one.
  2. Talk to a knowledgeable adult and/or a healthcare provider. It may seem impossible, but if you have supportive parents who are willing to talk to you about birth control, you should have a conversation with them first. They want to keep you safe, and it’s always good to have the lines of communication open, even if the thought of talking to them about sex seems terrible! Parents can also help you set up a doctor’s appointment.*If you do not feel comfortable talking to your parents, you should try to connect with a healthcare professional, either at your doctor’s office, local health clinic, or hospital. Never let your fear of talking to adults about sexual health-related topics stop you from doing it. If you want to keep yourself and your partner safe, you need to make sure you have access to information and healthcare. On SexEtc.org, you can start learning about clinics near you and the privacy laws are in your state.
  1. Talk to your partner. Talking about and even thinking about birth control can feel super awkward, and it’s normal for couples to wish they could just skip it and just go right for the romance. But, birth control is an important shared responsibility, and if you are ready to take your relationship to the next level, you absolutely must discuss your plans for protection ahead of time. And you must be ready to follow through, using birth control correctly and consistently, even as your hookups get hot and heavy.

Getting More Must-Know Birth Control Info

When it comes to creating more positive sexual experiences with less regret, practicing safe sex is super important, to say the least! For more information on any of these topics, search around DrGreene.com or visit our website, Girlmentum.com.

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Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed. DrGreene.com contributor

Read more on: Teen Girls