(Photo: Corbis Images)
The Pill is so 2010. These days, the IUD is the contraceptive method du jour.
Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement urging OB-GYNs to increase access to IUDs and implants. And those in the know are already on board: Research published last year found that 40 percent of female family planning providers (OB-GYNs, midwives, and nurses) who use contraception opt for an intrauterine device, like the IUD, compared to only 12 percent who pop the Pill.
Hey, it makes sense considering the unintended pregnancy rate for this method is practically zilch. According to research, women who used the Pill, patch, or ring were 20 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than IUD users.
But despite all its awesome qualities (effectiveness, minimal side effects, the option of going hormone-free, ease of use) myths about the IUD abound. Some people swear it causes infections and can lead to infertility; others are under the impression that it’s only for women who have already had kids. Word on the street is that getting one inserted is the worst pain imaginable — and that your partner will be able to feel the string during sex. Yikes!
“Worldwide, IUDs are the most popular form of contraception, with 25 percent usage, but in the U.S., only 2 to 3 percent of women use them,” says Jason James, MD, chairman of the OB-GYN department at the Baptist Hospital of Miami. “This is mainly because of an IUD that was popular in the early 1970s, called the Dalkon Shield, that resulted in infections and chronic pain. As a result, IUDs in general got a bad reputation and many patients fear complications to this day.”
It’s time to finally clear up those pesky rumors and give IUDs the respect they deserve. “The truth is that IUDs are very safe and effective, and should be one of the first line options for women looking for long term birth control,” James says. Here are all the answers to your IUD questions — including debunking of some of those pesky rumors that continue to persist.
The way people talk, you’d think inserting an IUD was the equivalent of getting a frontal lobotomy. B.S. Think more along the lines of a bad — but fleeting — period cramp. “There is a strong crampy feeling that lasts a few seconds,” says Nicole Williams, MD, gynecological surgeon and founder of the Gynecology Institute of Chicago. “Taking ibuprofen 30 minutes beforehand will minimize the pain. Your doctor may also recommend Cytotec, which softens the cervix to make it easier to place the IUD.” Removing the device feels similar.
They may look similar and fit in your body the same way, but the two IUD types operate very differently. “Hormonal IUDs contain a small amount of progesterone, which thins the lining of the uterus and thickens the mucus of the cervix to decrease sperm entry,” Williams explains. “Copper IUDs contain no hormones and work by causing local inflammation in the uterus, which is inhospitable to sperm.”
Sounds absolutely terrifying — but is it something we should really freak out about? “There is a slight risk of the device going through the uterus during insertion,” Williams says. “If this happens, the uterus will normally heal itself; otherwise, you may need a surgery to remove it.” The chances of this happening are super-slim (about 0.001 percent), although some women are more prone than others. According to a study, breastfeeding, amenorrhoea, and being less than six months postpartum (when the uterus is still quite soft) all up your chances. Symptoms are generally mild (they include abnormal bleeding and abdominal pain), and one-third of women have no signs at all.
“The plastic filament is shorter and thinner than a tampon string and stays inside the vagina,” Williams says. “It is used to make sure the device is in place and to facilitate removal.” It’s possible that your S.O. may feel the string for up to a month post-placement. After that, the thread winds around the cervix and is barely detectable, if at all.