What Age Should You Start Taking Birth Control? 13 Women Share When & Why They Started
Although the first oral contraceptive wasn't approved by the FDA until 1960, people have been using birth control since 3,000 B.C. While back then things like fish bladders and linen sheaths were used in the hopes of staving off unwanted pregnancies, the fact remains that people with uteruses were making choices for their bodies long before it became a political conversation. Now that our options for birth control are somewhat improved, it's up to every person with a uterus to figure out a method that works for them — a process that can start long before someone starts having PIV sex.
According to July 2018 research by the Guttmacher Institute, there are roughly 61 million U.S. women who use contraception, between the ages of 15 and 44. Of those 61 million women, 43 million of them (70%) use it to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and the Center for Disease Control reports that the most common form of contraception, at 28%, is the Pill.
“The one thing I tell patients is that birth control isn't a one size fits all approach," naturopathic doctor Dr. Elizabeth Goldspink, ND, tells Bustle. "One of the most liberating things about birth control is not just the access that many women have but the many different kinds and options to choose from. From the Pill and Mirena IUD, to the Patch and Depo-Provera, you should be patient and take the time to try and explore the birth control method that works well with your body and lifestyle. For instance, if synthetic hormones aren't your thing, ParaGard is the perfect alternative as it's a non-hormonal IUD that contains zero hormones and protects you from pregnancy.”
But taking birth control to avoid an unwanted pregnancy isn't the only reason why women take it and because of this, some women have started birth control not long after getting their first period. Here, 13 women share what age they started taking birth control and why they decided to do so.
1. Ana, 37
"I started at 19 and took it until about 25. I felt good, because I just took them to not get pregnant and it had no effect on my period, as it never has been too painful anyway."
2. Erin, 25
"I started on birth control at 15 years old. It was the best thing to happen to me, despite dealing with pushback from my Christian school when I brought it on a retreat. I was missing school for nearly a week every month because of my horrible periods, and when I started on birth control that stopped. Taking birth control allowed me to fully pursue my education, excel in sports and live a life without a week of excruciating pain every month."
3. Natalie, 35
"I think I was 15 or 16 and took it for my period irregularity. I had been anorexic and lost my period for like a year and a half so I had to take the Pill to get it again. But everyone thought it was for sex and it was not. My mom got it for me through her insurance and had to justify to them that it was for period regularity and then later [just to them, it was] to help my complexion."
4. Emma, 31
"I was 15 when I first started taking the Pill. My parents always made it really clear to me that as soon as I wanted to start having vaginal intercourse, they'd get me on birth control. When I decided I wanted to do that, I told my dad before I told my boyfriend! My mom brought me to a local women's clinic, where the hippie health care provider tried to convince me to use the rhythm method instead. As soon as she said 'cervical mucus,' I was like, 'yeah no, hard pass,' and she wrote me a prescription. I felt excited and grown-up and proud to be taking care of myself as I took this big step into adulthood."
5. Tanya, 51
"I started taking the pill at 15. My mom took me to her gynecologist to see if it would help my mood swings right before my period. I would be whacked out of my mind with rage. The hormones balanced me and I could have sex, as having kids wasn’t anything I wanted for my future. It was a win-win."
6. Claudia, 44
"I started using birth control when I was 21 because I was having severe period pain. I didn't have a boyfriend at the time and wasn't sexually active so the decision to start birth control was completely medical. I remember being scared about gaining weight and having blood clots. As I wasn't having sex I didn't see the upside to it. A few years later I met my ex-fiancé and my feelings toward birth control changed. It was all of a sudden an amazing little thing. It meant carefree sex with the man I loved and peace of mind."
7. Sam, 26
"I started birth control around 15 or 16. It made me very, very nauseated. I tried a lot of different kinds and went off it years ago. I don't remember the exact year when I went off — I just know I haven't taken it in years. I don't think it's for me. But, if I were in a relationship where I was having sex multiple times a week, I would definitely consider trying it again."
8. Sarah, 36
“I’ve been on the Pill since I was 17. I’m gay so it was never about not getting pregnant, but keeping my hormones at an even keel. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to adjust my pills simply because my hormones have changed over the years. I wish I didn’t have to take them, but until my hormones want to behave or I go through menopause, I’m stuck with them. It’s a love/hate relationship for me.”
9. Anonymous, 25
"I started taking the birth control pill the summer before college. I was already sexually active at that point (and used condoms for protection/birth control). I don't have a particularly open relationship with my mom when it comes to this subject. That summer she told me to let her know when I was ready to have sex with my boyfriend and then I could go on the Pill and I told her I was ready then, so we booked an appointment with an OB/GYN and I went on the Pill.
"Luckily it didn't have major effects on me when it came to my mood and weight. It was a bit of an adjustment learning to take a pill at the same time every day (I still mess up sometimes!). It definitely helped regulate my period and lessen the negative effects of it (i.e. cramps, heavy bleeding, etc.), so that was nice. I have been on it since. I may switch to an IUD at some point, but for now it's working out."
10. Kiley, 30
"I started birth control at a young age as I've had hormonal imbalance issues since I started my period at nine years old. The thing that not a lot of OB/GYN providers tell you, is how drastically synthetic hormones can mess with your body. Initially, after starting the Pill, my period stopped (after six months long of constant bleeding).
"However, instead of my doctor at the time suggesting that I only start the Pill and stay on for a short time, just to help my body adjust/adapt to being a woman and eventually sorting itself out, I was on it continuously from the age of nine until I eventually studied the effects and problems that come with hormones at 28 (almost 20 years later). When I was younger I could tolerate the hormones, but as I aged and my body was trying to balance natural hormonal changes against synthetic, it threw me into a spiral of issues. I became ‘intolerant’ to synthetic hormones. It caused me to have high blood pressure… then I started having heart palpitations, skipping heartbeats, and eventually random episodes of syncope (the scariest was when passed out in the kitchen with a sharp knife in my hand). I went through procedures like a D&C to ‘clean out’ my uterus because my doctor at the time thought I had endometriosis or fibroids or both... NOPE!
"I eventually found the doctor that follows me now. She suggested a copper IUD. I've never felt better. All issues are resolved, no more episodes of syncope, no more random bleeding — nothing! Just me, in my natural hormonal state, loving life!
"Synthetic hormones aren't for everyone. And anyone who has concerns, I urge you to voice them and be your own advocate and fight for what you want or don't want! Doctors don't always know best. We know our bodies better than anyone else does. And to anyone who may have the issues that I have had with the Pill in the past, look into a copper IUD."
11. Autumn, 30
"It was wonderful when I started the Pill at 21. Way less blood, way less pain, no more two to three-week periods. Less bloating, less PMS, and less wanting to kill everyone in my path."
12. Erica, 27
"I went on the Pill at 13. At that time, I had already had my period for two years and my cramps were getting worse. To have to miss a couple days of school every month at such a young age wasn’t just difficult academically, but embarrassing because I thought people knew why I was out once a month. Being on birth control saved me and I could be productive again. Once I got my first serious boyfriend I switched over to an IUD because it was more convenient than having to always remember to take the Pill."
13. Alicia, 21
"I started using birth control at the age of 16. I had a long-term boyfriend and decided it was the right time. So I went on the Pill. The first one I got was awful, I put on weight, had changing moods, and poor libido. Then I changed to a new one that I stayed on for more than two years.
"When I got the anorexia, I had to stop and noticed I had no period when I was hospitalized. I decided I wanted to stop hormones and actually got the IUD before I got my period back, because I didn't want any risk. Now my period is more painful and abundant than when I was on the Pill, but I don't feel like a cow being stuffed with hormones. I feel more in control of my own body and the bad effects are just natural rather than hormonal so it doesn't bother me."
Birth control may not be for everyone and may have some negative effects, but it is a convenient way to avoid unwanted pregnancies. It's also, for some women, just the thing to put an end to cramps and mood swings. It's all about finding what method is right for you and your body.