Let's talk about sex. That squeamish subject that you just can't bring yourself to talk about with your mom or dad, or counselor, or teacher, or any adult in your life, really. Because maybe you're just curious, and maybe you think you're not ready yet, but you'd like to know more. It's never too early to start learning how to practice safe sex for when the right moment, and the right person, comes along.
So here are some of your most pressing sex questions, answered:
Where can I get condoms?
Condoms are the least invasive and most readily available form of contraception. You can even get them for free at Planned Parenthood and many other health centers. Or, you can purchase them pretty much anywhere—drugstores, supermarkets, even convenience stores. Some stores may keep them in a locked case, so you'll have to ask an employee to open it for you. However, this doesn't mean you need a prescription, and there's no age restriction—anybody can buy condoms.
How do I put on a condom?
We'll let our friends at Planned Parenthood take that one...
What about other forms of birth control?
There are many types of birth control on the market today. You may have heard of IUDs—these are hormonal or copper intrauterine devices, which are inserted into your cervix and retain effectiveness for 3-12 years. There's also a hormonal implant you can get in your arm, the vaginal ring which needs to be replaced every month, or the pill, taken once daily. All of these forms of contraception have varying rates of effectiveness, price, effort required, and longevity. Talk to your doctor or head into a Planned Parenthood to discuss your options and find the right fit for you and your partner.
How can I prevent STDs?
Condoms are the only form of contraception that prevents the spread of sexually transmitted diseases or sexually transmitted infections. That being said, they are not 100 percent effective. Avoid having sex with anyone who has genital sores, rash, or discharge. If, and only if, you are using another form of birth control, you can have safe, unprotected (sans condom) sex with your partner if both of you are only engaging in sexual acts with each other, and if it has been six months since you both tested negative for STDs.
What should we do if the condom breaks?
Even when being vigilant about contraception, there are times when it may fail, such as a broken condom. For those situations, there's Plan B, also known as the morning after pill. This single pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, though it can retain its effectiveness by up to 89 percent when taken within 72 hours. In fact, you can take it up to five days after unprotected sex, though it loses effectiveness over time. It should not be taken as your primary form of birth control. Think of it as a backup in case of emergency.
Where can I get Plan B?
Luckily, you don't need a prescription for the morning-after pill. You can get it over the counter at any pharmacy, though you will have to pay out of pocket. Plan B is actually the name of a popular brand of Levonorgestrel, the hormone contained in the pill that works to prevent the fertilization of an egg. This brand will run you about $40-$50. Other brands, like Take Action and My Way, are a bit cheaper, costing about $15-$45. You may also be able to get the morning-after pill for free or low cost from Planned Parenthood or your local health department.
How long does it take to get pregnant after sex?
The female body stores sperm for about 48 hours after sex. Despite that, doctors say you could potentially get pregnant up to four days after intercourse. Generally speaking, if you are ovulating, conception probably takes place within 48 hours.
How do I know if I'm pregnant?
The easiest way is to take an over-the-counter pregnancy test. The first sign for most women is a missed or late period. Other symptoms include cramping, sore breasts, nausea, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and frequent urination. You can take a pregnancy test as early as two weeks after unprotected sex, though these results may be unreliable. It's best to wait until one week after your missed period for a definite read.
This article is for informational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your birth control method or think you may be pregnant, please speak with your doctor.
ACR Health is committed to providing comprehensive, evidence-based sexual health education for teenagers. For more information, call 800-475-2430 or visit www.acrhealth.org/youth/CAPP.