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Sexual Health Basics You Need to Know

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By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: March 15, 2013 Revised: April 30, 2013

Graduation. For many, this word brings to mind an image of teens on the verge of adulthood— whether that means heading off to college or getting a job. Once teens graduate from high school, some people assume that they possess a kind of maturity regarding sexuality and sexual health. But many teens receive little to no sex ed in high school. The sexual health fairy doesn’t magically impart knowledge to teens when they turn 18, so many are sent off to college or out into the world ill-prepared and in the dark about sex.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, by age 19 about 70 percent of teens have had sex. But 41 percent of teens ages 18 to 19 say that they know little to nothing about condom use, and 75 percent say that they know little to nothing about hormonal birth control pills, according to a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Older teens are not as informed about safer sex as many assume and therefore aren’t ready to practice safer sex! What can we do about this? Well for starters, we can educate ourselves.

Get Informed

Sexuality education should involve, among other things, learning about sexual health, healthy relationships, communication and sexual orientation. Yet many teens graduate without even the most basic knowledge about how to put on a condom, use birth control and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Below we cover some sexual health basics that no teen should be in the dark about:

Birth Control & Safer Sex

If you’re at risk for an unplanned pregnancy, there are three methods used for birth control—barrier, behavioral and hormonal methods. You’re also at risk for STDs if you’re having oral, anal or vaginal sex, but condoms and dental dams can help prevent most STDs.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods prevent pregnancy by putting a physical barrier between the sperm and egg.

Condoms

Condoms—including female condoms (also known as receptive or internal condoms)—are both effective at preventing pregnancy and providing protection against STDs.

“Male” condoms are the more widely used of the two, but many teens don’t know all the steps involved in properly using one.

The Steps for Putting on a Condom

  1. First, check the expiration date and make sure the condom isn’t out of date.
  2. Carefully open the package and take out the condom.
  3. Make sure the condom tip is pointing up, so that it can easily roll down the penis.
  4. Next, make sure to pinch the tip of the condom to squeeze the air out.
  5. Place the condom on the erect penis and roll it down all the way.
  6. Then comes orgasm for the partners.
  7. Once the partner wearing the condom has ejaculated, be careful to hold on to the base of the condom, and then pull out.
  8. Carefully remove the condom, making sure none of the semen drips out by tying a knot at the end of the condom.
  9. Finally, throw the condom away in the trash. Never reuse a condom.

People are less familiar with the “female” or receptive condom. Here’s how it works: It is inserted into the vagina and held in place by a ring that covers the cervix. On the other end is another ring that stays outside of the vagina, partly covering the labia. Female condoms can be a bit trickier to insert, but can be inserted up to eight hours prior to sexual activity.

In perfect use, both types of condom prevent sperm from entering the vagina, which is very effective at preventing pregnancy. Whether used during vaginal, oral or anal sex, they are also both effective at preventing STDs.

Learn more about the many other barrier methods of birth control, including diaphragms, cervical caps and the Sponge, as well as dental dams, which can be used during oral sex to prevent the spread of STDs.

Behavioral Methods

Behavioral methods of birth control require certain behaviors to prevent pregnancy. They  include abstinence and the withdrawal method—more commonly known as pulling out. Abstinence, which means no sexual activity whatsoever, is the most effective method for both birth control and STD prevention. The other behavioral method is pulling out. While this practice is a better form of birth control than none at all, it isn’t very reliable and does not protect against STDs.

Hormonal Methods

Hormonal birth control methods offer protection against pregnancy, but not STDs. These methods include the Pill, the Shot, the Patch, the Ring, Implanon and the IUD.

The most widely used hormonal birth control method is the Pill. This is literally a pill that’s taken orally at the same time every day. It works by releasing synthetic hormones similar to hormones the body produces naturally—estrogen and progesterone—which stops ovulation. It also thickens the cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and is 99 percent effective.

  • Depo-Provera, or “the Shot,” injects hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy for three months. The shot is effective 24 hours after getting it and requires no daily attention.
  • Ortho-Evra, or “the Patch,” resembles a Band-Aid and is typically placed on a female’s shoulder, lower back or hip bone to prevent pregnancy. It does this by slowly releasing synthetic hormones through the skin, which in turn stops ovulation. The Patch only requires a change once a week.
  • NuvaRing, or “the Ring,” is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina once a month for three weeks. The Ring also releases synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation.
  • Implanon is a 1.5-inch-long flexible rod inserted into the body through a small incision in the upper arm. It has to be inserted by a health care provider. Implanon releases a synthetic hormone called progestin in order to prevent ovulation and thicken the cervical muscles. It requires no attention for up to three years.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are inserted by a health care provider into the uterus. There are two types of IUD, and they each work differently to prevent pregnancy. One type of IUD, Mirena, uses hormones and stops ovulation. Another type of IUD, ParaGard, doesn’t use hormones, but is made of copper, which prevents sperm from reaching an egg. In the past, IUDs weren’t recommended for teens, but health care professionals now recommend their use for teen girls.

Teens in the Dark Without Sex Ed

The sexual health fairy doesn’t magically impart knowledge to teens when they turn 18

Young adults shouldn’t be graduating from high school completely in the dark about sexuality. We rely on the adults in our lives—parents, guardians, teachers and other trusted adults—to teach us about sexuality. But many times, parents are embarrassed about having the dreaded “sex talk” with their kid. Many parents or guardians assume that school will teach teens about sexuality. But too many public and private schools don’t teach sexuality education or spend very little time on the subject if they do. And in some states, if schools do teach sexuality education, they use abstinence-until-marriage programs, which don’t educate teens about birth control and totally ignore lesbian or gay teens who may not have the option to get married.

There are adults who think that teaching us about sexuality will encourage us to become sexually active. This is not true. A study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of the teens who participated in comprehensive sexuality education either delayed or reduced sexual activity, tended to have a lower number of sexual partners or showed an increased use of condoms and birth control.

Humans are sexual beings. The desire and urge to have sex is natural. The only thing that abstinence-only programs accomplish is teaching students, as Coach Carr puts it in Mean Girls, “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.” Abstinence-only programs can shame teens into believing that their sexuality is wrong and must be hidden. Worst of all, if adults don’t talk responsibly about sex, teens feel as though there’s nowhere to turn to if they have questions about sex.

If we all received a great education about sexuality, we would have the tools to make responsible decisions. Hopefully, after reading this article, you are more educated about the different types of birth control and how to properly use a condom—and a little less in the dark!

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