May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. In 2011, the most recent year statistics are available, 329,797 young women between the ages of 15-19 became moms. I think everyone, teens included, would like to see that number continue to decrease.
While many parents believe their child won’t have sex at a young age, as a gynecologist who sees adolescents, I know better. It is incumbent upon parents to have open conversations with their kids about uncomfortable topics like sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco use. Giving our kids honest information about the potential consequences of sex at a young age, including an unintended pregnancy, and also discussing contraceptive options should they choose to have sex, is vital. Talking about sex and birth control won’t plant the idea in their heads and lead them to become sexually active — that idea is already there. Some kids act on it, others choose to wait, but all kids need to know how to prevent pregnancy and decrease their odds of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Nowadays, all contraceptive options are open to teens. Condoms are the only contraceptive option that can also decrease the risk of a STI and should be used 100 percent of the time, regardless of whether another contraceptive method is also employed. Birth control pills remain the most popular contraceptive option, but boy have they changed since the Dark Ages when I was a teen! Pills today have much lower doses of hormones and many are formulated to decrease the length of the menstrual period. They are better tolerated, with fewer side effects, than the higher dose pills of the past.
Long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are the most rapidly growing means of birth control. This category, as the name suggests, provide effective pregnancy protection for 3-10 years, without having to do or take something every day. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are LARCs. There are three IUDs available in the U.S.:
Paraguard, a copper wrapped IUD that is effective for 10 years, but which may cause heavy, crampy periods (NOT my first choice for teens).
Mirena, a synthetic progesterone containing IUD good for 5 years.
Skyla, a smaller version of the Mirena IUD that is effective for 3 years and which was specifically designed for younger women who have never had a child (this is my favorite IUD for this age group). Nexplanon is a small, matchstick sized rod containing synthetic progesterone, inserted into the upper arm, that is also effective for 3 years.
Ideally, teens who are even thinking of becoming sexually active should be seen to discuss pregnancy and STI prevention. Most of the time, an exam is not needed. Teens in California can be seen and can discuss contraception confidentially, although I encourage all my young patients to be open and honest with their parents.
Don’t become a statistic: If you are a sexually active teen who is not taking steps to prevent pregnancy, call your health care provider now for an appointment!
Dr. Kelly Shanahan is a board certified gynecologist and owner of Emerald Bay Center for Women’s Health. The mother of a teenage, she enjoys educating teens about their health and making smart choices. To make an appointment call 530-542-4961.