How to Talk to Your Kids About Birth Control

mom talking to daughter

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The joys of parenthood are abundant. However, as you well know, the job sometimes gets a little tricky. Meaningful and informative discussions about intercourse and birth control are arguably some of the most difficult conversations for some parents.

Instead of shying away from the topic, though, consider it an opportunity to set your child up for a solid educational foundation on their own anatomy, sex, and reproductive health. It is also an opportunity to create an open line of communication between parent and child and foster deeper trust. If you and your kids can talk about sex together, you can basically talk about anything.

When to Discuss Birth Control with Your Kids

When you start having conversations about birth control ultimately depends on your child. However, there are some rough guidelines you can follow.

“The first questions about where babies come from usually start around age four or five, and the first answers that parents give are usually fairly rudimentary,” says Dr. David Hill, medical doctor and spokesperson with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"A good rule of thumb is to answer each question honestly as it comes up with appropriate terms, but not to elaborate beyond what has been asked. Instead, wait for the next question, and it will come eventually, sometimes months later. If you get to the tween years—age 11 or 12—and the topic hasn’t come up, it is probably a good time to check in with your child and see what his or her understanding of sex and reproduction are,” Dr, Hill says.

As for having conversations about birth control, just before your child enters middle school (or early in their middle school years) is generally a good time.

Amy Kaplan, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with virtual health care platform PlushCare, says that this is around the time conversation surrounding dating and sex specifically start to occur with peers and within school health programs. (Note that human sexuality curriculum is usually presented around 5th grade, though this varies from state to state and not all states have mandatory programming.)

“As a parent, I think it is important to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to these topics [and to] start having conversations about sex and birth control before you think your child may begin dating or becoming sexually active,” Kaplan says.

The truth is that your kids will be very curious about this topic even if they don’t admit their curiosity to you. And if they’re not speaking with you about it, they will inevitably get that information from somewhere else, be it friends or the internet.

Having birth control conversations with your kids early, fostering trust around the topic, and opening a transparent line of communication ensures your child gets their sex education from you directly. You can use these birth control conversations as an opportunity to also talk about your personal opinions and family values surrounding the subject, Kaplan says. This might better equip them with how to respond or deal with various scenarios they'll face as they get older.

Amy Kaplan, LCSW

As a parent, I think it is important to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to these topics [and to] start having conversations about sex and birth control before you think your child may begin dating or becoming sexually active.

— Amy Kaplan, LCSW

Obviously, questions about sex and reproduction will come up with all children regardless of sex. While it may seem unnecessary to some, having specific discussions about birth control with boys is also vital.

“It is important that boys are told early and often that they are equally responsible for sexual health, condoms, safe sex, and birth control as their sexual partner,” says Kaplan. “In my experience, boys who get this information from their parents or another trusted adult are far less likely to contract an STD or have a partner with an unwanted pregnancy.”

Advice for Having the Birth Control Conversation

Being forthright and honest during birth control conversations with your children is rule number one. That means not pushing their direct questions aside or creating flowery responses that skirt around the issue (like talking about the "birds and the bees"). This is true regardless of your child's age.

“This is a mature subject matter, so it is best to treat your child maturely when discussing it and to be straightforward with real terms and straightforward language. Kids see right through euphemisms and need to know what things are actually called," Kaplan stresses.

When broaching the topic yourself, it’s entirely possible you’ll be met with some “ewws,” strange looks, or feigned disinterest. These are normal reactions, Kaplan says, so do not let this discourage you.

“Have the conversation and, if your child seems grossed out or not interested, acknowledge that. Let them know it is OK to feel how they are feeling, but also tell them you think it is important information. Even if a child seems like they are not listening, they usually are,” she advises. “Sometimes a child might feel overwhelmed and you can tell that they are ‘done.’ In those cases, put the conversation on hold and continue it another time soon after.”

Ultimately, every child and every family is different. As a parent, you know your child best, so tap into their needs and feelings regarding birth control and sex conversations. For example, some kids do well with sit-downs at the dinner table where they can focus. For other kids, that sort of environment may provoke anxiety.

“Some of the best conversations I have heard between parents and kids happen in the car or during a walk. The important thing is that you have the conversation—not when or where you have it,” Kaplan says.

The Main Forms of Birth Control

When discussing birth control with your child, it is helpful to have a general understanding of what the primary forms are, how they work, and which ones might be best for your child. There are also scenarios where a teen may use birth control for a secondary issue, such as severe cramping, acne, or irregular periods. Familiarize yourself with the information below.

Barrier Methods

Barrier methods of birth control include condoms and diaphragms. Ensuring your child knows how to use barrier contraception will improve their efficacy. For example, only one condom should be worn at a time to prevent breaking (this may be counter-intuitive to them), expiration dates matter, and applying them so there is a reservoir at the tip are all necessary. Also, using a condom or diaphragm before foreplay is integral in preventing accidental pregnancy.

“Regardless of what other method is used, condoms are critical for any male sexual partner to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs and STDs) and as a backup against the possible failure of the primary method. Generally, condoms alone are given to failure in real-world use," Dr. Hill says.

Hormonal Birth Control

As the name implies, hormonal birth control works by manipulating hormones in the body to either suppress or alter ovulation. There are many forms, including pills, injections, implants, and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

“Of the hormonal methods, many young women have a difficult time complying with pills, so most doctors now recommend a form of long-term reversible contraceptives, such as implantable hormones (Implanon, Nexplanon) or injectable hormones (Depo-Provera),” says Dr. Hill. “These methods are highly reliable, safe, and reversible. Likewise, IUDs are safe, effective, and reversible, making them a good choice for younger patients.”

(Note that the Paragard IUD is non-hormonal and uses copper to prevent pregnancy. Other versions of the IUD, including Mirena and Liletta, are hormonal.)

Using Birth Control for Secondary Purposes

In addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal contraception often plays a key role in treating conditions such as severe cramping and otherwise painful periods (dysmenorrhea), heavy menstrual bleeding or other abnormal uterine bleeding, acne, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It can also help regulate irregular periods.

“Some women who have migraines or crippling abdominal pain and vomiting related to migraines—known as cyclic vomiting syndrome—associated with their periods also benefit from hormonal contraception,” says Hill.

In that sense, hormonal birth control methods can be used for more than just preventing pregnancy. They are effective, viable options for young women who experience the range of conditions outlined above. If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms, have a conversation with their doctor about what options might be best.

A Word From Verywell

Having conversations with your child about sexual reproduction, intercourse, male and female anatomy, and pregnancy prevention can be awkward. This is especially true because no matter your child’s age, they always feel like they’re your baby. Lean into that awkwardness—embrace it, push through it, and have these important conversations with your children. The more they hear accurate information from you, and the more educated they are on the matter, the better they’ll be able to make responsible, safe decisions as they get older.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.