The Low-Down on Birth Control: Parental Knowledge, Affording the Pill Without Insurance

When I was in college in San Diego, a friend of mine wanted to get birth control. She knew what kind (thank you, high school sex ed class) and the brand (thank you, internet). Only one problem: our university insurance didn’t cover reproductive health services. So she got creative. Every few months she would take the trolley to Tijuana to fill up on tacos and birth control pills. Not exactly hardcore “drug smuggling.” Thankfully, someone finally told her about Planned Parenthood and, while she would continue to visit Mexico for the culture and cuisine, she no longer needed to stuff her pockets with pills.

Like most women, my friend had some of what she needed to take control of her sexual health (in this case, information), but there were still barriers to getting the care she needed. So today I’m going to answer your questions about some of the barriers that people face in accessing health care. As always, if you have questions, you can always send them to me at [email protected].

I’m 17 and sexually active, but my parents don’t know. I’d like to keep it that way, but also be safe and get checked. Is there a place where I can get checked without parental permission or advisory?

It’s great that you want to take care of yourself and stay safe. Confidentiality is a huge concern for many people, of all ages, seeking sexual health services—most of us want to keep our sex lives private. For example, some adults are uncomfortable with their insurance company knowing what sexual health services they’re seeking.

For teens, I think that—whenever possible—it’s important to have a trusted adult in your life who you can talk to about sexual health. Ideally this would be a parent, but maybe it’s an older sister or an aunt. Speaking as a wise, old, 20-something, I am going to risk the eye rolls of teens everywhere and say that most moms will not disown you. In fact, having someone with that perspective can be really helpful.

But, getting back to your actual question, the laws for parental involvement vary from state to state. In some states, like California, teens can confidentially access STD testing and birth control. Others require that one or both parents be notified first. If you’re not sure of the laws in your state, call your local Planned Parenthood health center for more information.

I don’t have health insurance, which means that it’s hard for me to get birth control. I certainly don’t want to get pregnant, but besides condoms, I’m not sure what my options are. Are there any programs that can help?

Whether it’s a large co-pay for those who are insured, or sums that rival car payments for those who are not, who knew that having a vagina was so expensive?

Depending on the state that you live in, there are programs that can help lower the cost of reproductive health services. Again, the best way to learn about the programs that are available in your neck of the woods is to call your local Planned Parenthood health center—they’ll walk you through it. There are also new laws that recently went into effect to make birth control and other women’s health care more affordable for those with insurance.