Let’s Talk About (Safe) Sex

Love is in the air — and so are STIs and unwanted teen pregnancy. Here is how to protect yourself this V-Day season from bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections and infants. Though most STIs are common, treatable, or curable, and a number of adolescents choose to have a child in their teens, it is important to stay informed on protective and preventive measures surrounding your own values. 



Behavioral contraception is not medical and does not require a procedure or any cost. Instead, it is based upon an individual’s actions. One example, sexual abstinence, means to refrain from engaging in any activity that could result in pregnancy or an STI. Although it is 100% effective, it is not a realistic option for many. The “pull-out” method, otherwise known as withdrawal, is when a person withdraws their penis from their partner’s body before ejaculation. Used without any other form of contraception, withdrawal results in one out of every five couples experiencing pregnancy; this effectiveness can be increased in reducing the risk of pregnancy when combined with other birth control methods. However, withdrawal does not protect against STI transmission. 



Barrier methods are some of the most commonly used forms of contraception, as they are simple to purchase (available at most drugstores, doctor’s offices, supermarkets, online, and more), do not have an age limit, and are easy to apply. Condoms are small plastic pouches which are put on penises during sex to prevent sperm from entering the vagina and creating a pregnancy. They also provide great protection from STIs. Condoms can be used from latex, plastic or lambskin. The latter does not protect against STIs. Used perfectly, condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, but due to human error their success rate is closer to 87%. Make sure to always check their expiration date. Internal condoms are plastic pouches which go inside the vagina, which also reduce the risk of pregnancy and STIs. The only FDA-approved brand is the FC2 Internal Condom, which has an effectiveness rate of 95% if used properly. Condoms should not be worn at the same time as an internal condom, and doubling up will not increase the amount of protection one receives. Internal condoms are more difficult to find than traditional condoms but are available online, at family planning/health clinics like Planned Parenthood and by prescription in drugstores. Finally, dental dams are a thin and flexible piece of latex which prevent STI transmission and the spread of other germs during oral sex. It is also possible to cut open a condom and lay it flat to create a dental dam. While the Sheer Glyde dam is FDA-approved, other dams made of latex are equally protective.



Hormonal contraception is another method of birth control, though it currently only exists for people with menstrual cycles. Different types operate by intercepting ovulation or the release of any eggs from an individual’s ovaries. The daily birth control pill is one of the most common and effective hormonal methods with its 99% success rate. The pill is commonly used for more than pregnancy prevention: It can also regulate a person’s menstrual cycle, dim their cramps, and make periods ultimately lighter and shorter. Since a prescription is required to obtain the pill, a short trip to the doctor’s, a health clinic, or a Planned Parenthood health center will allow one to obtain the pill. IUDs are also an extremely common form of contraception, and there are a variety of hormonal choices that can last for many years: Mirena (eight years), Kyleena (five years), Liletta (eight years), and Skyla (three years). These use the hormone progestin to change the way sperm cells move and prevent pregnancy from occuring, which also often improves periods. Although they last for years and are 99% effective, IUDs are not permanent and can be removed at any time. Be careful as the pill and IUDs do not protect against STIs, and there are some side effects which usually go away after a few months of use. Another option is the Nexplanon implant, which is a tiny, thin rod which is inserted into one’s arm and protects against pregnancy for up to five years. The implant is a more expensive choice but can be free with most health insurance plans or with assistance from Planned Parenthood. The birth control shot (sometimes known as Depa-Provera or DMPA) is another possibility for contraception, and it is an injection you get once every three months. To receive the full powers of the shot, one must remember to get a new injection every 12-13 weeks — about four times a year. Similarly, the birth control ring is a safe and convenient method of contraception which must be changed regularly. The Annovera ring lasts for one year and must be inserted into the vagina for three weeks and then removed for seven days on a repeated cycle. NuvaRings last for up to five weeks, must be changed about once a month, and can also be used to skip your period. By releasing hormones accordingly, the birth control patch can help avoid its user from becoming pregnant, along with other health benefits. The two main brands are the Xulane and Twirla patch. Patches must be changed weekly and placed correctly on the upper arm, stomach, back or butt. 



Along with external and internal condoms, other non-hormonal options exist to prevent pregnancy. None, however, offer STI protection (only barrier methods can prevent infection transmissions). The cervical cap, diaphragm, vaginal contraceptive film, and sponge are all examples of this. Each device is placed inside the vagina to block the cervix and releases spermicide to prevent fertilization. Additionally, the effectiveness of each depends largely on whether the method of birth control snugly fits its user. For example, due to the expansion of the cervix during childbirth, the soft silicone cervical cap’s 86% success rate downsizes to 71% in people who have given birth. The diaphragm works slightly better than the cap but can only be worn for 30 hours as opposed to the cap’s 72. Vaginal contraceptive film’s effectiveness is low at approximately 71% and can only be used for one sexual act or up to three hours after insertion. Out of these non-barrier and non-hormonal methods, the sponge is the most effective at 91% when used perfectly in people who have never given birth. 


Emergency Contraceptives

If taken up to three to five days after unprotected sex, emergency contraception is another form of valid birth control. Though “morning after” pills prevent implantation by delaying or stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg, their 75% success rate demonstrates they are typically less reliable than barrier and hormonal methods. Emergency contraceptives should thus primarily serve as a back-up. They can also be coupled with another method of contraception. Pills that are effective for up to three days after intercourse can be purchased at most Washington drug stores without a doctor’s prescription or age restrictions. However, while effectiveness decreases as time passes for all emergency contraception, Ella — the pill that is effective up to five days after unprotected sex and suits a wider range of body weights — can only be accessed with a prescription or at a health center like Planned Parenthood. A copper IUD can also be inserted to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is statistically more effective than the pill. 


Often, barrier methods are the most accessible for teens who find condoms at their schools, doctors’, and drugstores. Still, hormonal and non-hormonal birth control methods remain available at health centers like Planned Parenthood, with and/or without parental permission or high costs. The closest to Lakeside is a 5-minute drive away, located on 1200 N Northgate Way. But with a world of protective options, make the effort to research and choose one that may best fit into your unique relationship with safe sex.