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Sex and Birth Control: Teens Can't Have One Without the Other

Talking to teens about birth control doesn't encourage us to have sex; it helps us make better, more educated decisions when we're ready.
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Birth control. It's not that we don't want to talk about it. Nearly half of teens wish they were getting more information about birth control, in addition to information about abstinence.

Why is it so hard for teens to talk about? In adult communities, discussions about birth control are more easily separated from discussions about sex. The idea of adults having sex is generally more acceptable than teenagers having sex (understandably). In teenage communities, the topics of birth control and sex are inextricably tied together. Meaning a conversation about birth control ultimately becomes a conversation about sex. And that's the problem.

It's not that teenagers don't want to talk about birth control, it's that we don't always want to talk about sex. And no matter how well-intentioned parents are, the bottom line is that for most teens, talking about our sex lives with our parents is uncomfortable enough to be avoided at all costs. But in this case the cost is high. Since sometimes just having a question makes parents assume their teenagers are already having sex, many teenagers are forced to look elsewhere for information about sex and birth control -- information we need to make one of the most important decisions we might make at this point in life. Given this, it's especially important that there are reliable, easily accessible sources of information about both waiting and birth control.

When I was a member of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy's Youth Leadership Team, we spent a lot of time helping the organization figure out compelling ways to educate teens about how to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. One of the big messages is to "stay teen," that is, not to get burdened with grown-up responsibilities during our formative teenage years. Unfortunately a lot of us aren't having that much fun anyway these days, but junior year work, SATs, and the pressures of the looming college application process are still easier than having a baby. We even made some slightly embarrassing PSAs to help make this point and encourage other teens not to grow up too fast (which I will only share in service of the good cause).

This is all important and great, but I think we need more voices that help people understand some of the less obvious and more subtle reasons for teens to postpone having sex. Too many conversations about pregnancy prevention and birth control happen after teens have already made a decision about what they want to do. What we need more of are real, thoughtful reasons for teenagers to wait. It's easy to find reasons online about why not to have sex in situations we could all deem irresponsible and generally bad (e.g. not knowing your partner well, after having been drinking or taking drugs, or being pressured), which unfortunately is the situation for a lot of teens having sex. But, it's much harder to find discussions about the benefits of waiting for teenagers in a healthy, happy, stable relationship. If compelling arguments were out there, that'd be the best birth control of all.

Once teens have made the "real decision," the next decision should be easy: if you're going to have sex, you're going to do it responsibly, and information about -- and access to -- contraception shouldn't be hard to get. But it can be. I'm lucky, at my school, an organization came to talk to us, teach us about contraception, and even offer it to us for free. (By the way, the time devoted to abstinence in this meeting was probably under 30 seconds -- we spent 30 minutes putting condoms on bananas). Information is available online but not every site is comprehensive, accurate or helpful. Planned Parenthood's site is terrific, as is, the National Campaign's birth control resource site. Every teen who has decided to have sex, as well as the ones who aren't ready yet, should be able to ask questions, learn about their options and know where to access contraception.

I think it's important to speak up and ask questions about birth control, even if you're not ready to use it yet. Talking to teens about birth control doesn't encourage us to have sex; it helps us make better, more educated decisions when we're ready. That's why I'm joining thousands of others in saying #ThxBirthControl today.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is asking people nationwide to talk about what birth control makes possible for individuals and society. This effort, named "Thanks, Birth Control," can be done in many ways including sending a tweet using the hashtag #ThxBirthControl or posting something on Facebook.