Talking to Your Teens About Sex and Birth Control

Written on November 12, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

“We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception,” says actress and Emmy Award-winning talk show host Ricki Lake. Today the mom of two boys (16 and 12) is asking you to give a shout-out to birth control by having an age-appropriate talk with your kids as part of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s  “Thanks, birth control” movement. Here’s why.

Contraception. There. I said it. That wasn’t so bad, was it? As you probably know, my life has been an open book. There’s almost nothing I haven’t talked about on television. I’ve shared every personal milestone over the last two decades with my wonderful viewers, which has enriched my life in profound ways. That’s because I believe that talking helps you bond, open up, lose your fears. Think about it: Years ago, nobody would have dared to say “breast cancer” in public. Now look how many lives are being changed because we have collectively decided that talking about it openly can save lives and make people feel less alone.

So why doesn’t anyone talk about contraception? It’s something 99% of adult women in the U.S. have used. What else can you say that about? My friends at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy asked me to help them launch a national conversation about birth control and what it makes possible–for women, men, families and society. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of chatter out there already about contraception—there’s plenty. But all of it is so negative, so political and so polarizing. So regular people, or people who don’t have a stake in the political battles over contraception, just stay quiet. And when we don’t speak up, we are sending the message to young women in particular that contraception is a taboo subject.

Why is that so dangerous? Because 9 out of 10 single young adults ages 18-29 say they don’t want a pregnancy right now, but 40% of them aren’t using contraception consistently. Which is why single 20-somethings have twice the number of unplanned pregnancies as teens do, and 7 in 10 pregnancies in that age group are unplanned. Consequences for their babies are about the same as for babies born to teen moms. I’ve been working with the National Campaign for nearly two decades to help reduce teen pregnancy, and I’m proud to say that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is down more than 44% over the past 21 years. One reason for this decline is that we are all talking openly about the importance of preventing teen pregnancy, and teens have gotten the message. Unplanned pregnancy among single young adults hasn’t budged. The fact is that 9 out of 10 women and men ages 18-29 are sexually active, and a shocking 40% of them think that even if you’re using contraception, when it’s “your time” to get pregnant, you probably will. This is exactly why talking openly about contraception—and how to use it correctly—can change lives. If you can’t talk about birth control, how do you know if you’re using it right? Or if there might be a better method out there for you?

We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception. The UN declares access to birth control to be a “universal human right.” The CDC calls the advent of modern contraception one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. When women have a say in planning and spacing their pregnancies, everyone benefits. I am grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve had to be a mom and to have a career, all at the same time. That’s because I got to decide when I was ready to start a family—a tremendous freedom that I don’t take for granted. So that’s why I’m asking you to join me and thousands of others to take a moment today to give a shout-out for birth control and all that it makes possible. Share a fact. Dispel a myth. Share one of these cool postcards or videos from the National Campaign. Putting off that talk with your daughter (or son!) about contraception. Today’s the day to have it. Speak up and talk about what birth control makes possible for you, your career, your family. Just saying the words out loud will help make the topic less toxic. Take to social media, use #ThxBirthControl and tell me why you’re saying “Thanks, birth control” with me today. I’m listening!

Ricki Lake is a media advisor to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.