By Mia Barrett, M.Ed | November 11, 2020
Project Coordinator, ETR
Talking about birth control options is the bread and butter for many sex educators—handing out charts that list each method, pointing out failure rates, busting myths. Whether you are new to the field or have been at this for a while, your "Birth Control 101” lesson might need a fresh spark. Here are three strategies to help young people get the most out of your class and birth control education:
Birth control is a topic anyone having sex should know about! People of all genders can play a role in preventing an unintended pregnancy. Cisgender boys play a role. Trans youth have a part to play too. The nonbinary students in your class also need to learn about birth control. You can include these folks in the discussion by removing gendered language when talking about body parts or birth control.
Compared to cisgender heterosexual youth, LGBTQ youth are less likely to use birth control and more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy. Since young people are more likely to pay attention to content they feel is relevant to them, be sure to include vignettes or examples that specifically include LGBTQ youth. Additionally, many forms of birth control require a visit to a health care provider and this may serve as a barrier for some LGBTQ youth. Activities that help young people feel more comfortable talking to a provider about birth control can increase their willingness to access services.
The person with a uterus is not the only person who needs to think about birth control. According to a recent study, “Male partners can be gatekeepers or be highly influential when it comes to their partner’s or their own use of contraception.” Take some time to discuss or roleplay ways that partners can encourage and support use of contraception. You can help everyone clarify their own values and goals around birth control while also helping them navigate challenging and potentially awkward conversations with their partners about contraception.
In addition to talking about various birth control methods, use a prompt that resonates with everyone in the classroom, like, “What can someone do to avoid pregnancy?” This allows the contraception conversation to broaden and include actions such as withdrawal, abstinence, and communicating with partners about contraceptive practices and tools.
Avoid expressing your own bias around which type of contraception you think is best or worst. For example, IUDs are often presented as the most effective and therefore the “best” birth control. However, an IUD may not be the best option for someone who does not feel comfortable having a medical provider insert a device into their body, for example.
Also, avoid shaming language around methods with lower typical usage rates. Someone who has chosen a method that is presented as less effective may feel shamed for their decision. For example, the pill is sometimes presented as a poor method for young people because it requires remembering a pill every day. However, a young person who has been taking the pill may interpret this statement as a lack of trust or confidence in their ability to adhere to their birth control routine.
Shaming language also sometimes appears in well-intended messaging around consequences. Framing pregnancy as a consequence of sex rather than simply an outcome can leave parenting or pregnant teens feeling like their child or pregnancy is shameful. Messaging about the challenges faced by young parents can be reframed from demoralizing statements about poverty and low high school education rates to statements that encourage young people to consider what they are willing and capable of doing to support a child.
Your “Birth Control 101” lesson is a fabulous opportunity for young people to learn about their options. By using inclusive language, enlisting the support of the partners of people using contraception, and avoiding language that creates shame, you can help ensure that each young person leaves your lesson feeling seen and knowing they have the power to make the best decisions for their health and happiness.
Looking for additional resources? Be sure to explore ETR’s birth control and pregnancy prevention products and services.
Mia Barrett (she/her/hers) is a Project Coordinator at ETR as well as a sexuality educator for young adults and health care professionals. She received her Master’s in Education in Human Sexuality at Widener University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.