Talking to your teen about contraception


Talking to your teenager about contraception is awkward for many parents. You want to be cool about it, but you feel strangely ancient. You want to be relaxed and open, but you’re suddenly on high alert for any clue about their sex life… although you don’t really want to know the details either. It’s enough to put you off even before you start.

But if you feel uncomfortable about it, you can bet your teenager does too, whether they show it by being offhand, flippant, giggly or even more moody than usual. So it’s up to you to set the tone by being relaxed and open to discussion, rather than launching into a lecture or avoiding the issue altogether.

The value of parental advice

So why, you might ask, do I need to have conversations about contraception with my teenager at all? Well, it’s your call and as a parent, no doubt you’ll trust your instincts. But you may want to consider the following: 

  • In South Africa, teenage pregnancies are at a crisis level.
  • Many young people aged under 16 are sexually active - and this is the group least likely to use contraception.
  • There would be fewer teenage pregnancies if more parents talked to their children about sex and contraception.
  • Besides unwanted and unplanned pregnancies –  STIs and HIV infection are a real risk.

Getting the message across

Perhaps one of the most important and fundamental points to get across is that each person is individually responsible for contraception. Teenagers can be scarily mature in some respects, while in others they remain childish and self-centred.

“It was his job to wear the condom, it’s not my fault” is one of those arguments you just don’t want to be having with your pregnant teenage girl. Conversely, hearing your teenage son declare, “well, it’s not me who gets pregnant, so it’s not my problem,” is enough to strike a chill into any parent’s heart.

Discussing birth control

Help your teen understand that using birth control is a responsible and mature way to handle sexual relationships so that unwanted pregnancies don't occur. Let her know that you are sharing this information with her so she can protect herself.

Some methods work better than others

The most effective way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence. However, as many teenagers are sexually active anyway, it's a good idea for teens to be properly informed about birth control. It's also a good idea even for people who don't plan to have sex to be informed about birth control.

Couples who do have sex need to use birth control properly and every time to prevent pregnancy.

Types of contraception to discuss

A very important point is to explain to your teenager the difference between contraception that’s effective in preventing pregnancies and contraception that protects against sexually transmitted infections.

A hormonal contraceptive (e.g. a “pill”) - may be the safest method of protecting a teenage girl against pregnancy. Fortunately there are oral contraceptives that are suitable for young girls nowadays. 

Remember, these days girls are using contraceptives at a much younger age than their mothers may have done, so they may be exposed to the hormones in the contraceptive pill for a much longer period of time in their lives. This is an important factor to consider when choosing a contraceptive.

A secondary birth control method, such as a condom, should be used along with taking the pill or injections. A condom is the only contraceptive considered highly effective in reducing the risk of STIs such as chlamydia and HPV (which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer) as well as herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, hepatitis and HIV.

Being realistic about risks

While it may seem over-cautious, it’s worth remembering that the combined oral contraceptive pill is still considered the “safest/most effective” option in terms of preventing pregnancies. A condom is considered to be effective in preventing pregnancies when used correctly, but how many condom users are likely to achieve “perfect use”?

According to the Pearl Index, which reports the effectiveness of birth control methods, “typical use” of a condom has only an 85% success rate in preventing pregnancy in the first year of use. So, suddenly it doesn’t seem so silly suggesting that both partners take precautions after all…

Take-home message

Teens may have a know-it-all attitude about life, but they usually do not have the correct information they need to make informed choices when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancies.

If you're not sure about all the types of birth control available on the market, or sure which birth control method is best for your teenager, make an appointment for your daughter to discuss the various methods with a doctor. But, while it is helpful to involve a doctor in the discussion on birth control, don't expect the doctor to provide all the information. Talking about how to handle sexual relationships with a teenage daughter will still be up to the parent, and it is an important part of any discussion on birth control.

Many people have much to say on the subject, but it is important to remind parents that it is unlikely that you will be able to stop your daughter from having sex once she has made the decision. If one considers the possible consequences, it is better to be safe than sorry. By speaking directly with a teenage daughter about sex and birth control, a parent can help her make the right decision about her body and, ultimately, her future. (Press release from, July 2011)

Read more

Visit our Contraception Centre

Post a question to GynaeDoc

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