There comes a time in every young woman’s life where she needs to make some decisions about it. For some, birth control is convenient for menstruation management—whether they are sexually active or not. Still, for many, birth control is a necessary evil. Putting things on, sticking things places, trying to remember to take something every day at the exact same time—and all that effort for birth control methods that can still fail. That’s why the IUD is taking the world of birth control by storm.
The IUD, or intrauterine device, is a “small, T-shaped device inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy”; according to plannedparenthood.org, the IUD is “safe, effective, and long-lasting.” It’s also cost effective in the long run (despite the hefty initial cost). The IUD is quickly gaining a reputation as one the most effective forms of pregnancy prevention. The device’s success is largely due to how it requires almost no effort; after a woman has the IUD implanted, she’s good to go. No more work. One doctor’s appointment, and she now has birth control that is more than 99% effective for 3, 5, or 10+ years.
Though there are many forms of birth control, the IUD’s main contender remains the birth control pill. While the birth control pill has long allowed women to control their reproductive health, it’s not always effective. The pill totes an effectiveness rate upwards of 99%, but the catch many people miss is that the pill is only 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken perfectly. This mean taking your pill every single day, at the exact same time. Some doctors say you need to take it within a half hour of the target time each day to be effective; some say it needs to be taken within minutes. If you miss a pill or take it too late, you’re at risk of pregnancy for days to follow—and you may get cramps, to add insult to injury. Taking into account human error, the pill’s effectiveness rate is closer to 90% (not too shabby, but not great for a gal’s peace of mind). So although the pill is a lovely method for many women out there, it’s often incompatible with the hectic lifestyle of a college student.
So here’s the nitty gritty: There’s two types of IUD, one uses copper and the other uses hormones. Copper IUD’s, like ParaGuard, are good for women who are looking to move away from using artificial hormones and want extra-long-term protection in the 10-year range. Fun fact: ParaGuard is also an effective emergency-contraceptive if implanted within 5 days of unprotected sex.
For women not shy about hormones and wanting lighter periods, hormonal IUD’s like Mirena or Skyla are good options. Mirena lasts 5 years; Skyla is a bit smaller and prevents pregnancy for 3 years. These hormonal devices are known to cause a lightening or complete absence of menstruation, which may be a deterrent for some women, but very attractive for others.
Like anything, an IUD has its pros and cons, as listed in Common Health’s article
“10 Reasons to Get an IUD, and 5 Downsides,” but it is hard to make a major medical decision based only on medical facts. Sometimes you just need to hear from average, everyday ladies who have experienced things for themselves. So in the interest of giving a true representation of the IUD, I spoke with a few collegiettes who actually use it.
Sophie: “It’s the easiest birth control ever!”
Like many girls, Sophie first began taking the birth control pill for menstruation management. “I used to be on the Lo Sesonique for almost 5 years…because I had really bad, long lasting periods,” she shares. With this in mind, Sophie was drawn to the IUD because of purported lightened periods. “I chose the Mirena because I can have it for 5 years with basically no period and just occasional cramping or spotting that happens almost never.” Some women’s periods become shorter and lighter on Mirena, lucky ones like Sophie get almost no period at all. Sophie considered a copper IUD like her mother uses, but opted for Mirena because of the diminished menstruation factor. This has made the hormonal IUD increasingly popular among younger women; “a lot of my friends have the Mirena and love it,” Sophie says.
When asked how the implantation process felt, Sophie couldn’t deny it was painful. “My uterus kept fighting my doctor,” she explains candidly, but she insists the unpleasantness of it was well worth the benefits. “I can’t forget to take it,” she points out, and it is “absolutely worth not having any periods and hardly any cramps!!”
Dakota: “It’s somewhat glamorized.”
Dakota is happy with her decision to get the Mirena, but memories of getting it put in are still fresh in her mind even several months later. “I would definitely recommend going through with 5 minutes of pain,” she insists, for “years of day and night coverage.” Like many others, Dakota had made the switch from birth control pill to IUD: “I found myself constantly forgetting to take my pill when I would be busy or stressed.” Sound familiar pill-takers?
But women should be prepared for an uncomfortable process. Dakota’s health care provider was frank with her from the beginning. “From the get go,” she shares, “my doctor told me ‘okay, it hurts being put in’ which if a doctor tells you straight up it hurts, yeah, it’s gonna hurt.” Dakota can recall the insertion in graphic detail. “The worst part was when they opened my cervix,” she concurs, “when it’s put in, you feel kinda like they’re yanking your organs inside.” But she adds that the insertion process only lasted a few minutes, and when the doctor was done, the cramping was gone.
Dakota feels that because of the IUD’s effectiveness and popularity, that it is “somewhat glamorized.” For the first few months of having a hormonal IUD she experienced side effects that may sound familiar to users of the pill, like heavy periods and breakouts on her face. Not what girls typically think of when they think of IUD’s. “I should have known your body has to get used to it,” Dakota reflects. But after those initial months of acclimation, she delightfully declares “you’re face with be clear, no bloating, no cramping, and most important, no remembering and worrying.”
Jamie: “It takes away that worry.”
Jamie is a fellow pill-to-IUD convert. “I don’t like oral contraception,” she states curtly, “and honestly, I wasn’t being consistent with my birth control pill.” Like many college students, she found her lifestyle was incongruous with the strict schedule of the pill; she could never find a perfect time to take it that worked for her every day. Jamie, unlike Dakota and Sophie, opted for the decade-lasting copper IUD. “I wanted to get the maximum amount of birth control I could possibly get,” she explains. She was also just a bit weirded out by the notion of not getting a period, like many women on hormonal IUD’s don’t. Jamie experienced pretty bad cramps and consistent menstrual-like bleeding or about two weeks. But since her body has adjusted, “[her] periods are pretty much exactly like they were before.” As to the unavoidable sexual side of having an IUD, Jamie hasn’t personally seen any evidence of a downside: “I have tons of girlfriends with IUD’s, and none of them have ever had a guy complain that they could feel it during sex.”
When asked about insertion, she says she was “pretty prepared” for the discomfort due to the several appointments she made with her doctor to discuss the IUD. “I wouldn’t say it was the most painful experience of my life,” she assures, “but let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have to do it again for another 10 years.”
When asked about what she would like to tell other girls about the IUD, she brings up misconceptions about the IUD and its history. “I think there’s this stereotype that [the IUD] makes you infertile,” she elaborates, “but my doctor told me that that was just a wives’ tale,” even back in the seventies when the IUD used to only be recommended for women who had had children before. But IUD’s are much safer now than they were back in the seventies, and better-understood. But concerning the myth of IUD causing infertility: “That was never true,” she asserts.
To IUD, or not to IUD?
That seems to be the question these days. While young women should be aware of the pitfalls of painful insertion and the possible side effects of hormonal acclimation (and keep in mind, as always, that it does not protect against STI’s), the IUD has many undeniable benefits. Ultimately, a woman’s choice of birth control should take into account her own individual needs and lifestyle. The IUD seems pretty ideal for busy collegiettes, and succeeds where the birth control pill (and condoms!) falls short. Are you sexually active? Do you often forget to take (or use) your birth control? Do you take it at different times each day? Do you find yourself stressed and worried about how effective your birth control is? Do you have heavy, painful, or irregular menstruation? Would you like to use a bit less hormones in your contraception regiment, or none at all?
Maybe it’s time to have a chat with your OB/GYN.