Teen Health

Understanding birth control, STDs and your changing body.

Preventing Pregnancy

You have many options available, but it’s important to remember that only the condom can be used to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Send Horizons a message or give us a call to discuss which method is best for you.

Male condoms can be used only once and are 98% effective when used correctly. Condoms come lubricated (which can make sexual intercourse more comfortable and pleasurable) and non-lubricated (which can also be used for oral sex). Always keep condoms in a cool, dry place. If you keep them in a hot place (like a billfold, wallet, or glove compartment), the latex breaks down, causing the condom to tear or break. Latex or polyurethane condoms are the only method other than abstinence that can help protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (lambskin condoms do not).

Oral contraceptives, “the pill,” are 95 to 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. The pill contains the hormones estrogen and progestin and is available in different hormone dosages. A pill is taken daily by mouth to block the release of eggs from the ovaries. Oral contraceptives lighten the flow of your period and can reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ovarian cancer, benign ovarian cysts, endometrial cancer, and iron deficiency anemia. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. The pill may add to your risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, blood clots, and blockage of the arteries, especially if you smoke. If you are over age 35 and smoke, or have a history of blood clots or breast, liver, or endometrial cancer, your doctor may advise you not to take the pill. Some antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of the pill in some women. Talk to your doctor or nurse about a back-up method of birth control if she or he prescribes antibiotics.

The shot, Depo Provera, is 97% effective in preventing pregnancy and requires women to get injections, or shots, of the hormone progestin in the buttocks or arm every 3 months. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. Women should not use Depo-Provera for more than 2 years in a row because it can cause a temporary loss of bone density that increases the longer this method is used. The bone does start to grow after this method is stopped, but it may increase the risk of fracture and osteoporosis if used for a long time. You will need to visit your doctor for the shots and to make sure you are not having any problems.

Mini-pills are 92 to 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. The mini-pill needs to be taken at the same time each day. A back-up method of birth control is needed if you take the pill more than three hours late. Unlike the pill, the mini-pill only has one hormone progestin instead of both estrogen and progestin. Taken daily, the mini-pill thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. It also prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (womb). The mini-pill also can decrease the flow of your period and protect against PID and ovarian and endometrial cancer. Mothers who breastfeed can use it because it will not affect their milk supply. The mini-pill is a good option for women who can’t take estrogen, are over 35, or have a risk of blood clots. The mini-pill does not protect against STDs or HIV. Some antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of the pill in some women. Talk to your doctor or nurse about a back-up method of birth control if she or he prescribes antibiotics. You will need to visit you doctor for a prescription and to make sure you are not having problems.

The patch is 98 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, but appears to be less effective in women who weigh more than 198 pounds. This is a skin patch worn on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body. It releases the hormones progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. You put on a new patch once a week for three weeks, and then do not wear a patch during the fourth week in order to have a menstrual period. It does not protect against STDs or HIV. You will need to visit your doctor for a prescription and to make sure you are not having problems.

The ring is 98 to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The NuvaRing is a hormonal vaginal contraceptive ring that releases the hormones progestin and estrogen. You squeeze the ring between your thumb and index finger and insert it into your vagina. You wear the ring for three weeks, take it out for the week that you have your period, and then put in a new ring. You will need to visit your doctor for a prescription and to make sure you are not having problems. This birth control method is not recommended while breastfeeding because the hormone estrogen may decrease breast milk production.

Remember – preventing pregnancy does NOT mean you’re preventing sexually transmitted diseases!

Sex & STDs

People between ages 15-24 account for 50% of all new STDs. STDs or STIs (sexually transmitted diseases/infections) are diseases spread through sexual contact, which includes oral, anal and vaginal sex. Anyone (any gender, age, race) who is sexually active is at risk for transmitting a disease. The CDC has a comprehensive guide to STDs here, and womenshealth.gov offers a great guide on how to practice safer sex, and what to say if your partner doesn’t want to have safe sex!

STIs affect women and men of all ages and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Teenagers and young adults get STIs easier than older people. Also, young women who have sex with women are still at risk for STIs.

There are ways to reduce your risk of infection: wearing condoms properly, getting vaccinated for HPV, reducing your number of sexual partners, relationship monogamy, being tested regularly.

Some STIs have no symptoms, but can still cause serious health problems. This is why it is so important to get tested. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have been sexually active in any way.

It is important to keep in mind that once you get treated you can get the STI back again if you continue to have sex, particularly if you have unprotected sex. Some STIs will never go away.

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

― Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate

OMG … PUBERTY???

Your body changes as you become a woman. Watch this short video, or click to learn more.

Your Period

What it is

The blood that leaves your body during your period is the blood and tissue that build up as the lining of your uterus each month. Your period flow can be light, heavy, or somewhere in between. Your periods may also vary in color. Sometimes menstrual blood will be light red and sometimes, dark red. It may also be heavy the first day or so of your period, and then get lighter. Periods usually last between three and five days, but it is normal to have periods that are either shorter or longer. It is also normal if your periods are not the same number of days each month.

When it Happens

Menstrual cycles are around 23 to 35 days, and each woman is different.

At first, your periods may not be regular; you may have two in one month, or have a month without a period at all. Periods will become more regular in time.

Keeping track on a calendar will help you to better know when to expect your next period.

What to do

Use the tabs below to explore the three products you can use. It is OK to be shy about buying these items at the store, but getting your period is a normal part of life. Need help getting started? Ask your mom, guardian, or an older sister which sanitary products she uses. It can also help to buy sanitary products with your mother/guardian or other trusted adult to make this experience easier. Keep in mind, they have been doing this for years!

– Pads stick to the inside of your underwear and soak up the blood that leaves the vagina.
– Some pads are thinner for days when your period is light, and some are thicker for when you are bleeding more. You can also use these thicker pads at night when you sleep.
– During the day, it is best to check your pad to see if it needs changing every couple of hours. It will need to be changed before it is soaked with blood.
– If you are concerned about any smell, changing pads often and keeping up good hygiene will help control this. You do not need to use deodorant pads.
– You probably don’t want to wear pads when you swim. They will soak up water and be bulky.
– Tampons are put inside of your vagina to soak up blood before it leaves your body. Instructions come with tampon products to show you how to put them in.
– Some tampons have a plastic or cardboard covering that makes it easier for you to put the tampon in. This is called the “applicator.” Do not leave the applicator inside your vagina.
– All tampons have a string at the end to help you take it out when it needs to be changed (at least every 4 to 8 hours).
– Tampons will not get lost in your vagina or “slip up.”
– You can wear tampons when you swim. Water does not enter your vagina.

It is VERY important that you use the tampon with the lowest level of absorbency for your needs. On the heavy days, you may need a “super” tampon and as your flow gets lighter, you may only need a “regular” tampon. Or, you may only need a “regular” tampon on your heavy days, and then can switch to a “junior” tampon for your lighter days. You will be able to tell what level of absorbency you need by how often you need to change your tampon.

Using tampons that are too absorbent or not changing them often enough can put you at risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). You can avoid TSS by not using tampons at all, changing them often, or by switching back and forth between tampons and pads. While the symptoms of TSS can be caused by many other illnesses, tell an adult and call a doctor if you are using tampons and have the following:

high fever that comes on all of a sudden
muscle pains
dizziness or fainting
a rash that looks like sunburn
bloodshot eyes
strange vaginal discharge (fluid)
feeling of confusion
Doctors treat TSS with antibiotics, and will examine your kidneys and liver to make sure they are working okay. Doctors will also treat your rash to help you heal. It is important to get medical help right away if you have any of the above symptoms

A menstrual cup is a small cup that is put inside the vagina to collect blood.
Some cups are for one-time use, while others can be used over and over.
Only wear a menstrual cup for a few hours at a time.

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

― Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate

What to Expect at the Doctor

It’s normal for your doctor to ask questions about your general health and any problems you may be having. The questions may be about:

General Health

What allergies you have or medicines you take, and questions about your health.

Your Period

If you’ve gotten your period, how long it lasts and how old you were when it started.

Sex

Whether you’ve ever had sex, and if you’ve ever been forced to have sex.

Your Body

Any unusual vaginal discharge (fluid), odor or itching, and the development of your breasts.

It is important to be honest so that they have all the right information about your health and body. Ask about your doctor’s confidentiality (privacy) policy before you begin.

Questions?

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