Ask the Sexpert: Why IUDs Are More Relevant Than Ever

Erin DiGuglielmo

It is extremely important that people have the best information about their reproductive health and birth control options in order to make informed choices, so let’s explore this question. In short, IUDs stand for “Intrauterine devices.” These small, T-shaped, pieces of flexible plastic can be inserted into the uterus to act as a highly effective, safe and long lasting (up to 12 years) birth control option.

How to know if an IUD is the right choice for you:

Now, here are some more details about what exactly an IUD is and what it does. IUDs are actually the most common form of birth control in the world, with about 160 million users. About 66 percent of these users are from China. IUDs are not as common in the U.S., which has been largely impacted by safety concerns stemming from the marketing and sale of dangerous IUDs in the 1970s. These IUDs (the Dalkon Shield) caused injury, infertility and even death in many users during this time. These dangerous models created many myths associated with IUDs that permeate conversations today.

However, current models of IUDs used today have gone through major safety improvements and are not shown to cause injury, infertility or death. Recently, with these safety improvements, the IUD is becoming increasingly desired in the U.S. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even “encourages” healthcare providers to discuss the option of the IUD with patients. At the present moment, it is estimated that about 4.4 million individuals from the United States use an IUD or a contraceptive implant as their form of birth control.

As I stated before, IUDs are small pieces of flexible plastic that sit in your uterus and are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs currently available: the copper IUD and the hormonal IUD. The copper IUD (brand: ParaGard) does not use any hormones. This type of IUD contains a small amount of copper, which is toxic to sperm. Therefore, the sperm cannot reach the egg for fertilization. The ParaGard can last up to 12 years and is also a highly effective method of emergency contraception (if inserted up to five days after unprotected sex). A potential disadvantage of the copper IUD is that it may make your menstrual period heavier and crampier.

The hormonal IUD (brands: Liletta, Mirena, Skyla, Kyleena) releases the hormone progestin in order to prevent pregnancy. Progestin thickens the mucus in the cervix, which leads to the blocking and trapping of sperm, so the sperm cannot reach the egg. The hormonal IUD can last from three to six years (depending on brand) and can even make your menstrual period lighter and less crampy.  

IUDs are about 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, largely due to the fact that there is no chance of user-error, which is possible with the use of birth control pills, condoms and the pull-out method. However, IUDs do not prevent STIs, therefore it is important to also use some form of barrier method to prevent transmission.

IUDs must be inserted by a doctor, nurse or other trained healthcare provider. The cost of an IUD could range from $0 to $1000 depending on insurance coverage and IUD brand. Given the longevity and efficacy of IUDs, this method has become a cost-effective option. The insertion process typically only lasts about five minutes, but there can be some pain or discomfort during this process. Following insertion, users may experience cramps and/or backaches for about three to six months.Typically, IUDs are extremely safe for users, but some conditions could intensify any side-effects, such as an STI or pelvic infection. Therefore, it is important to talk to your health care provider to determine if an IUD is the right choice for you. An IUD can be removed at any time, and the removal process is very quick and simple. You may feel some discomfort during the removal, but it should clear right after. Immediately after the IUD is removed, you will be able to become pregnant.

Why are people talking about running out to get an IUD?

The Trump administration has consistently expressed an agenda to target and restrict women’s health care and reproductive justice, which could include limiting coverage and access to birth control options. Therefore, after the election results, many people turned to long-lasting birth control methods – such as IUDs – as an answer to the unpredictable future of funding for and legality of reproductive health care.

Because of this uncertainty, many people fear that they will lose access to reproductive health services, including access to birth control options. As a response, some people are choosing to get IUDs (while private insurance plans are still mandated to cover prescription contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act) in order to maintain a birth control option that can outlast the current administration. Due to the lack of clarity about the future of reproductive health services, it has become imperative that we advocate for our own reproductive health care options, access to services and education on our choices, while also advocating for reproductive health for the most vulnerable populations, including trans people, queer people and women

of color.

With all this said, it is necessary to note that a certain birth control option (in this case, IUDs) is not the right choice for everyone. We should not let fear guide our choices about what is best for our bodies and our health. Rather, we should educate ourselves and others about available, effective and accessible options so people can make informed decisions about what is best for their bodies and selves.

If this birth control option is interesting to you, talk to your health care provider to see if the IUD is a good choice for you. Thanks again for your question and your interest in being actively involved in your own health care!

With love,

The Sexpert