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My teen is having sex. Should she get a morning-after pill prescription?

The question: I recently found out that my 16-year-old daughter has been sexually active. We've given her "the talk" and spoken to her about protection. But now we've read that teens should have access to morning-after pills. Should we ask a doctor for a prescription?

The answer: Congratulations on being able to talk with your daughter about sex. Although these discussions can seem awkward, they are critically important. Teens crave the dialogue (although on the surface they may appear not to be interested). Believe it or not, adolescents want to get information about sex from their parents.

I also think a doctor's visit is definitely in order, and the sooner the better.

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About 25 per cent of 16-year-olds are sexually active, according to Statistics Canada. A significant number of these sexual encounters are unplanned and involve inadequate (or more likely, non-existent) birth control. For teenage girls to have access to the morning-after pill following such encounters is vital in avoiding unwanted pregnancy.

Hopefully your daughter will never need to use the morning-after pill, also known as emergency contraception. However if she does, the fact that she discussed it in advance with her physician and has a prescription will be very helpful.

Time is of the essence in these situations as emergency contraception must be used within five days of intercourse and the earlier the better. Although I strongly support discussing emergency contraception with a physician, it is important for women to realize that pharmacies can dispense the morning-after pill without a prescription.

Many people mistakenly believe that the morning-after pill induces an abortion. In fact, the pills prevent ovulation and conception from occurring in the first place. You may be relieved to know that research has shown that having access to emergency contraception does not promote or encourage sexual activity, nor is it associated with less use of contraception or condoms.

Perhaps the most important reason for scheduling a doctor's visit is for your daughter and her physician to discuss prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Don't expect to be included in this discussion, this appointment is for your daughter, not for you. Even if your daughter wants you to be present, her physician will probably excuse you from the room at some point during the visit.

Hopefully her physician will discuss the merits of abstinence as the preferred method of birth control. If there is a chance that your daughter will continue to be sexually active, expect her physician to help her decide which contraceptive method is most appropriate for her. Your daughter may be relieved to know that an internal pelvic exam is not usually needed prior to starting birth control.

Contraception options popular with teens include the birth control pill, the patch, and the birth control injection given every three months. A new version of the birth control pill gives women the option of having a menstrual period every three months instead of monthly. I like to remind women that even though they are using birth control themselves, it is recommended that their male partners use a condom with every sexual encounter. This not only decreases the chance of unintended pregnancy, but also prevents transmission of STDs.

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Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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