It’s a common problem: a high school student feels ready to have sex, but their parents don't agree with them. While there are some good reasons people choose to wait to have sex, it’s unrealistic to expect all teenagers to practice abstinence. According to the CDC, more than half of American teenagers have had sex by the time they turn 18. It's common and normal for high school students to have sex, though it's also normal for students to wait until they're a little older, too — the average age for the first time having sex is 17, which means that plenty of people are waiting until after they graduate.
While it's normal for teens to have sex, not all parents are happy about it. If your parents believe you need to wait until adulthood, or if they practice a religion that condemns premarital sex, you may be understandably reluctant to ask them for advice on the subject. But the fact is, teens are going to have sex, whether their parents want them to or not — so let’s talk about how to access birth control without your parents knowing.
Non-prescription birth control, such as condoms or Plan B
First, let’s talk about birth control methods you can buy without a prescription. There are no age restrictions on accessing over-the-counter birth control methods, including condoms and emergency contraception, such as Plan B. “People of any age, including teenagers, can buy condoms from a drugstore, pharmacy, grocery store, or online,” Lucinda Holt, Director of Communications for Rutgers University’s sex education resources Answer and Sex, Etc. and an expert for the YouTube sex ed series AMAZE, tells Refinery29.
“If anything, it’s just a question of young people feeling comfortable enough to walk into a drugstore and purchase them,” she adds. “On occasion, they may be behind a counter, which would require a young person to ask for them.” If price is a barrier, you can often get condoms for free or for reduced rates at student health clinics, LGBTQ+ centers, and Title X clinics. (Title X clinics are health clinics that receive some federal funding to provide certain family planning and sexual health services, including prescribing hormonal birth control, testing for STIs, screening for cervical cancer, and providing free or reduced cost condoms.)
Most pharmacies will carry condoms, but other kinds of non-prescription birth control, such as dental dams or internal condoms, may be harder to find. You may need to do a little research or order them online. However, there are no age restrictions, so minors can buy them. If you're looking for emergency contraception, call 1-888-NOT-2-LATE (668-2528) for help.
Prescription birth control, such as the pill or the IUD
Things get a little more complicated when it comes to birth control you need a prescription for, including hormonal birth control methods such as the pill, the patch, and the shot, as well as certain non-hormonal birth control methods such as the copper IUD. Different states have different laws when it comes to minors accessing prescription birth control, and some states require minors to obtain a parent’s permission in order to get a prescription. “You need to be familiar with your state’s laws,” Holt says.
Sex, Etc. has a resource called “Sex in the States” that makes it easy to look up the relevant laws in your state. For example, in New York, minors can get a prescription for birth control without their parents’ permission, but in Michigan, minors need their parents’ permission, unless that minor is already married. Even if you live in a state that requires parental permission for a birth control prescription, you can still make an appointment at a Title X clinic to confidentially discuss your options.
Using your parents’ health insurance
If you plan on using your parents’ health insurance to get a birth control prescription, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to make sure they won’t find out. “The issue would be if the health insurance company sends an explanation of benefits after the fact, and their parents then see detailed information about their visit that might disclose what’s gone on,” Holt explains. You can call your insurance company before you make an appointment to find out what happens after a visit, because different companies have different policies.
If you can’t use your parents’ health insurance
If you’re not able to use your parents’ health insurance without them finding out, you can still access prescription birth control by going to a Title X clinic, such as Planned Parenthood. Services are confidential, and they're usually offered on a sliding scale. Teens may qualify for a no-pay rate. “If a young person doesn’t want to use their parent’s insurance, a Title X clinic is probably the best way to get confidential healthcare and access a prescription for hormonal birth control,” Holt says. Here’s an online directory of Title X clinics so you can find one near you.
Why you need to use birth control
Even if getting birth control seems like a lot of work, it’s important to do it. “You need to be able to do what you need to do to safely have sex,” Holt says. “You not only want to prevent pregnancy, you also want to reduce your risk of STIs.” Even if you have a same-sex partner or are having a kind of sex that doesn't result in pregnancy (such as oral sex, anal sex, or non-penetrative sex), you’re still going to want to use birth control to reduce the risk of STIs.
“To have sex safely requires a young person to take some initiative, but I’m really clear that young people can be mature and handle this,” Holt says. “They just need to be given the information they need.”