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Pregnancy Prevention for Young Men and Women


If you are thinking about having sex for the first time or you already are having sex, you should know about preventing pregnancy. Although most methods depend on the girl to do or take something, it is important for guys to understand what is involved so that they can support their girlfriends. Also, don't forget that it is only the condom that can prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Deciding to Have Sex

The only way to prevent pregnancy that is 100% effective is not to have sex. If you have vaginal sexual intercourse, there is always some risk of pregnancy.

Holding hands, hugging, touching, and kissing do not cause pregnancy. Having sexual intercourse can be a very loving and special experience between two people. However, you should think about several important issues before you decide to have sex. Besides pregnancy, you could get a sexually transmitted disease, and you also can get hurt emotionally if your partner decides they no longer have strong feelings for you.

Decide ahead of time what is right for you. Find an adult with whom you can discuss your feelings and thoughts. Although it is sometimes awkward to start the conversation, you can talk with your parents. You might also speak with your healthcare provider, school counselors, teachers, or adult relatives. You can usually discuss issues with these adults confidentially.

Common Birth Control Methods

There are two main types of birth control:

  • Hormone methods. Some common hormone methods include: birth control pills, shots, the ring, the patch, and implants. The hormones stop the egg from leaving the ovary and make the mucus in the vagina too thick for sperm to move in. They prevent pregnancy 99% of the time.
  • Barrier methods. Barrier methods block the sperm from getting to the egg. These methods include diaphragms and male and female condoms. If used correctly, condoms prevent pregnancy over 95% of the time. The condom is very effective at preventing STDs, but hormonal methods are better for preventing pregnancy.

Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills must be taken once every day. Many women like them because they allow them to know exactly when they are going to have their period. Usually periods are lighter, shorter, and have less cramping than before they started taking these pills. All medicines have side effects, so you need to talk with your healthcare provider about possible side effects. If you have a problem, usually your healthcare provider can prescribe a different one and that takes care of it.

Injections: Depo-Provera shots are injections of female hormones. Shots are given in a woman's arm or buttocks every 3 months. You don't have to think about taking a pill every day, and you are protected from pregnancy for 3 months until you get the next shot. Usually the shot area is not sore. Most women have irregular periods while they are using Depo-Provera.

Vaginal Ring: The vaginal hormonal ring, also called "NuvaRing" or "ring" for short, is about 2 inches across, and is as flexible as a rubber band. You insert the ring into your vagina like a tampon. Once in place, the ring stays in your vagina for 3 weeks at a time. The ring releases similar hormones as the birth control pill. After 3 weeks, you remove the ring. You will then have a period, and insert a new ring one week later. The advantages are that you need to remember to do only 2 things: Insert the ring every month, and then remove it 3 weeks later.

The Patch: Ortho-Evra, or “the Patch” contains hormones, though the patch has 60% more estrogen than the pill. A patch, about 2 X 2 inches square, releases hormones slowly through the skin. It is placed on the abdomen, buttocks, shoulder, or upper arm. It needs to be changed once a week. A new patch is put on weekly for 3 weeks in a row, and the old patch removed. You do not put on a patch in the 4th week, and will then have your period. The patch can be worn during showers/swimming, and it rarely falls off. Some people experience mild skin irritation. Because the patch has more estrogen than the pill, women at high risk for blood clots need to pay attention to this potential side effects.

Implantable Hormones: Implanon is the only implantable hormone available. It suppresses release of hormones from the pituitary gland to prevent ovulation and pregnancy. Implanon is a small rod, about 3 inches long, inserted by a healthcare provider into the upper arm. Once inserted, there is a steady release of hormones that lasts for up to 5 years. The advantage of this method is that once inserted (a minor surgical procedure), you don’t have to think about taking birth control for 3 years. Women may have irregular periods on occasion, more so than with other hormonal methods.

Condoms: There are two types of condoms, the male condom (by far the most common) and female condoms (available, but not used as regularly. Condoms help prevent pregnancy and if used correctly can prevent most sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are sold in drug stores, and may also be available at your healthcare provider’s office. Condoms are placed on the erect penis before the penis is inserted in the vagina.

  • To use a condom:
    1. Hold the condom at the tip to squeeze out the air.
    2. Roll the condom all the way down the erect (hard) penis. Do not try to put a condom on a soft penis.
    3. After intercourse, hold the condom at the base of the penis while the penis is still erect, and pull the condom and the penis out of the vagina at the same time.
  • If the woman also puts spermicidal jelly or foam (available in the drug store without a prescription) inside her vagina right before sex, it helps make the condom method even better at preventing pregnancy. The jelly can kill sperm, but it doesn't work if used without a condom.
  • Never use the same condom more than once. It is a good idea to have two condoms available in case one breaks.
  • Buy latex condoms. Never use condoms made from animal skins because they can leak.
  • If a condom breaks, as soon as you realize it take it off and put on another one. If you don't have another condom, stop having sexual intercourse until you can get another.
  • The man should pull out of his sexual partner while his penis is still hard. If his penis gets soft first, the sperm can leak out of the condom.
  • If you use a lubricant with condoms, make sure it is water based (like K-Y jelly). Do not use Vaseline or Crisco these can cause the condom to break.
  • Some condoms are lubricated with a chemical, Nonoxynol-9, which helps kill some of the germs that cause STDs. But it doesn't matter which kind you use as long as you use a condom every time you have sex.

There is a female condom, one that lines a woman's vagina, but it is more difficult to use. Talk with a healthcare provider or other adult who knows how to use it before you try it.

The "Morning-After Pill"

You may have heard about Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as the "morning-after pill." This type of birth control might be used if a condom breaks, or if no birth control was used before sex. EC contains progesterone, one of the common hormones used in birth control pills, but at a higher dose. EC works by slowing down the movement of the egg and sperm, so they don’t ever meet. EC does not destroy an embryo so it is not a medical abortion.

Emergency contraception can't prevent all pregnancies, but it can help. EC works best if used within the first 24 hours, but some can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sexual intercourse. In some states, EC is sold over the counter. In most states, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider. Call your healthcare provider’s office after you have had unprotected sex and ask for a prescription.

Other Information About Preventing Pregnancy

There are some other less reliable methods that you may have heard about. One of these is the withdrawal method, where the guy pulls his penis out of the vagina before he ejaculates. Sperm generally leaks out of an erect penis before a guy ejaculates, so even if he does “pull out”, sperm may get into the vagina and a girl can get pregnant. Another method, called the rhythm method, involves avoiding sex during certain times of the menstrual cycle when a woman is most likely to get pregnant. Neither of these are good ways to prevent pregnancy.


Written by J. Todd Jacobs, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-16
Last reviewed: 2010-10-04

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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