Talking openly with your teen about sex and contraception might be something you've been dreading, but it's an essential conversation to have, for both of you.
Disclaimer: We acknowledge and appreciate that you may have personal and cultural views surrounding this topic. This article is designed to help those who wish to discuss this topic with their children.
Contraception can help protect from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): it can also help with menstrual cramps, heavy periods, and acne. But, how do you know if your teenager is ready for contraception, and how do you even begin to broach the subject?
You might feel hesitant to start to talk about the awkward subject of sex and birth control, but it can help to start early and talk often about related topics such as looking after your body, building confidence, coping with peer pressure, and knowing about appropriate boundaries. This forms a context for openness and support where age-appropriate discussions can happen more easily.
As children reach puberty, conversations about changing bodies will need to get a little more technical, focusing on hormones, sex, reducing the risk of pregnancy, and STDs.
Waiting for your teenager to ask you questions could be a potential risk, as they might turn to less reliable sources of information, such as picking up myths and half-truths from the media or school gossip. And if your teenager has started dating, or showing signs of being interested in sex, it really is time to start having specific sex-positive conversations.
Keep things short and sweet to begin with and encourage your teen to talk to you about anything related to the subject when they want to. Let them know that you are there to support them in an open, safe, and non-judgmental space.
Even if you feel uncomfortable, talking openly can help your teen feel more comfortable coming to you for information, and it can help them make healthy, informed decisions. It's a good idea to make yourself as clued up as possible on the subject, so take time to read up on contraception and sexual health to give you a solid foundation.
Remember, there doesn't have to be one big overwhelming talk. Instead, why not have small, gentle chats when opportune moments arise? By making it a normal conversation, you might feel you're less uncomfortable, and so will your teenager. The less uncomfortable they are, the more likely they'll be open with their questions.
When it comes to contraception, it can take time to find a method that your teenager is comfortable with, which is why talking about it early can be a good idea. Give them some options to start researching (alone or together) and allow them to ask any questions they might have to start building a foundation of knowledge.
It might be easy to hold onto the idea that your teen is still your little baby, but as part of growing older involves taking on some responsibility for sex and birth control themselves. What you can give them is a listening ear and some accurate, helpful information.
For teens, the most appropriate contraception would be:
Some of these methods of birth control can help other issues. Hormone-based contraception can reduce the risk of certain cancers, the pill can lighten heavy periods, reduce painful cramps and help hormone-related acne. The pill can also help control hormone levels, which may help symptoms of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome - but talk this through with a doctor.
To help protect against STDs, hormonal contraception needs to be paired with a barrier method such as condoms. When both methods are combined, your teen will be best protected against STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
If your teen would feel more comfortable talking to a health care professional, then offer to help them make an appointment with their GP or a local sexual health clinic - there are specific clinics welcoming teens and young adults. If they'd like you to, go along to the appointment with them, or offer to have a chat afterwards instead.
As a parent, it's important to be open, honest, and non-judgmental with your child. Even though sex can feel like an awkward topic, putting it into the context of positive self-care where you both feel comfortable talking and listening with each other will not only give them more confidence and knowledge, but it help put your own mind at rest.
Keep in mind that teenagers are navigating a tricky transition from adolescence to adulthood, and even though they need their space, they still need your guidance, care, and support for their wellbeing.
If you need any extra help or support, use our Speak to an Expert service.
NHS - Advice on sexual health
Fumble - Sex education resource
Children 1st - Advice and support for parents
Big Talk Education - A parent's guide to relationship and sex education
Let's Talk About It - Support for talking to your child about sex