I’ve started having sex, and always use condoms. My friend recently told me that I should really get on the Pill, too. Why? Aren’t condoms enough?
Great question. First, it’s awesome that you’re using condoms! As you may know, they’re the only method of birth control that also helps prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs, sometimes called STDs or sexually transmitted diseases). That’s why healthcare providers always recommend using condoms for penis in vagina sex—and oral sex and anal sex!
Second, you’re definitely not the only person wondering whether they should use two methods of birth control. So let’s break it down.
If you use them perfectly every time you have sex, condoms are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. However, most people don’t use condoms perfectly EVERY time. Condoms can break or slip off, especially if you don’t put them on right. Maybe your partner forgot to pinch the tip, or maybe you didn’t check the expiration date. It’s only human to make mistakes sometimes, but even just one accident can lead to a pregnancy.
Because of all this, in real life condoms are only about 85% effective at preventing pregnancy. That means that out of every 100 people using only condoms for birth control, 15 get pregnant! If you don’t want to get pregnant right now, that’s a pretty big risk to take.
So your friend is right in one sense—it is a good idea to use another, more reliable birth control method in addition to condoms.
But the birth control pill isn’t the only option out there. If you’re super busy—or a normal human being who is forgetful sometimes!—you may find it hard to remember to take a pill every day at the same time. That means the birth control pill may not be the right method for you.
The good news is that there are a LOT of birth control methods.
We talk more about your options and how to choose a contraception method here, so we won’t go into ALL the details about ALL the methods right now. We do want to talk a little about long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), though. LARCs are great because they last for 3-10 years! This means that you can forget about them for years at a time, and there’s no room for error, like there is with the pill and other methods. If you know you don’t want to get pregnant for at least several years, LARCs might be a great choice for you! Ask your doctor about them. We talk more about one type of LARC, intrauterine devices (IUDs—we know, there are a lot of acronyms!) here. Another LARC is called the implant, or Nexplanon. This is a tiny rod that’s inserted into your arm. It releases progestin and is effective for up to three years.
There are a lot of really effective birth control methods besides LARCs though. There’s the shot (Depo-Provera), the patch (Ortho-Evra), the ring (Nuvaring), and of course the pill. Each one has its own pluses and minuses, but they are all extremely effective at preventing pregnancy when used the right way.
This means that there are a lot of things to think about when choosing the right method for you. For example, if you get super nervous around needles, you probably don’t want to use Depo-Provera, which requires getting a shot in a doctor’s office every three months. And if you don’t feel totally comfortable getting up close and personal with your vagina and vulva, the Ring may not be your best bet. Your doctor can help you choose the method that’s best for you right now. It may take a few tries to find the method that works best for you, and that’s totally normal.
We also want to mention that even though birth control and condoms are really important, there’s a lot more that goes into being sexually healthy. You should also get regularly tested for STIs—you can ask your doctor how often they recommend. Make sure you and your partner are comfortable talking about sex and understand how to give and get consent. And even though we don’t talk about it that much, pleasure is also an important part of sexual health!
If you’re 10-22 years old and near NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free birth control and other sexual health services.