Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/10/2020
From helping you avoid becoming pregnant to controlling acne breakouts, the birth control pill has a wide range of benefits.
If you’re in your teens or twenties, it’s normal to start using birth control. Whether you’re sexually active and want to keep yourself protected or just want to manage acne breakouts or other menstruation symptoms, it’s usually safe to start using birth control as a teenager.
Below, we’ve explained everything you need to know about birth control, from when you can safely start taking the pill to alternative hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options.
Every time you have vaginal sex, you risk becoming pregnant. It’s possible for you to become pregnant even if your partner pulls out before ejaculating. There’s also some risk of becoming pregnant if you use condoms or other non-hormonal forms of birth control.
Because of this, if you’re sexually active, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about either using the pill or another form of reliable, effective contraception.
Most of the time, it’s safe to start using the pill as a teenager. In fact, medical data shows the birth control pill is most commonly used by teenagers, however their compliance rates are poor. Over five million women in the U.S. ages 15 to 49 are on some form of birth control pill, according to the CDC.
If you’re interested in starting birth control, the best approach is to talk to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to tell you more about the safety and effectiveness of the pill, as well as other birth control methods for you to consider.
The birth control pill is considered safe and effective, especially when it’s used according to the instructions.
Taken daily with “perfect” usage, the pill is 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Used in “real life” conditions, with the occasional missed or late dose, the pill has a total effectiveness rate of about 91 percent, depending on the specific type of pill you use.
While the biggest benefit of the birth control pill is preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control also has several other benefits:
If you’re prone to hormonal acne, the pill can help to reduce acne breakouts and improve your skin. Our guide to birth control and acne goes into more detail on how using the pill can help you get acne under control.
The pill can regulate your menstrual cycle, giving you a more predictable period. If you’re prone to irregular periods, using the pill can make it easier to predict and track your cycle and avoid an unexpected start to your period.
Over the long term, the pill can lessen or prevent cramps, discomfort and other PMS symptoms.
Some versions of the birth control pill can help you either skip your period or reduce your period to one every three months.
Like most prescription medications, the birth control pill has some potential side effects. Most of these side effects are minor and/or uncommon, with serious side effects from birth control rare.
The most common side effects of birth control are nausea, breast tenderness, spotting in between periods, headaches and mood changes.
These side effects are most common in the first few months after you start using the pill. Many of them resolve on their own over time, meaning you’ll usually stop noticing them as your body acclimates to the hormones in the pill.
The pill also has several less common side effects, which you can read about in our full guide to birth control side effects.
If you notice side effects after starting birth control, your healthcare provider might recommend switching to a progestin-only pill. This type of pill contains a small dose of a progestin hormone instead of the combination of estrogen and progestins used in conventional, combined birth control pills.
It’s also important to know that if you’re a smoker, your risk of experiencing blood clots and other cardiovascular issues — specifically deep vein thromboembolisms — is significantly higher. While this isn’t common in teens or women in their 20s, if you’re over the age of 35, you should speak to your healthcare provider before considering hormonal birth control.
While the pill is the most popular form of hormonal birth control, especially for young women, it’s not the only way that you can protect yourself from becoming pregnant. Other types of hormonal birth control include:
The implant, which releases hormones into your body to prevent pregnancy. Since the implant works continuously once it’s in your body, it’s a good alternative to the pill if you don’t like the idea of taking a tablet every day.
The injection (Depo-Provera®), which works by blocking pregnancy through a progestin hormone. Like the implant, the injection is long lasting and makes a good alternative to the pill if you’re worried about accidentally missing a dose.
The IUD, which uses progestin hormones to prevent sperm from coming into contact with an egg, lowering your pregnancy risk. Some IUDs use copper instead of progestin hormones to prevent pregnancy while limiting side effects.
The ring and patch, which both use hormones to block pregnancy. Our guide to your birth control options compares these forms of birth control for ease of use, side effects and overall effectiveness.