The Not-So-Mysterious History of the IUD & The Myths You Shouldn't Believe

The IUD is truly a modern marvel. Trust me! I’ve had mine for over three years and I absolutely love it. For years, I struggled to find the form of birth control that was right for me. I struggled to feel secure while taking the pill, experienced hair loss, and broke out endlessly with cystic acne. It was time for a change. In my senior year of high school, I met with my gynecologist and she recommended I try the IUD, which is short for intrauterine device. At that same appointment, my doctor inserted my Kyleena IUD and I haven’t looked back since. It was truly the best option for me.

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Although many forms of intrauterine devices have been used since the 1800s, the modern IUD that we all know and love was first invented by Dr. Jack Lippes back in 1962. The product was deemed the “Lippes loop.” The device went through some trial and error. It was the first of its modern kind and many women reported heightened cramping and bleeding. This prompted the creation of variations of the device.

In the following years, many doctors attempted to create a more effective IUD, but the devices were flawed in ways that often prompted deadly consequences. For example, in 1971, an IUD called the Dalkon Shield was marketed to women who hadn’t yet had children. However, it proved to have many negative side effects such as sepsis. The failures of the device prompted outrage and resulted in over 250,000 lawsuits, ultimately causing a dip in the use of IUDs throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

Related: Why Birth Control Requests Are Skyrocketing, Even Though We’re All Social Distancing

In 1988, the track record of the IUD improved significantly when the copper IUD or the ParaGard was approved by the FDA for use. The device is a non-hormonal form of birth control that prevents pregnancy by causing an inflammatory reaction that kills sperm and eggs in the process. The ParaGard is suitable for use for up to 10 years and is incredibly effective, with a failure rate of less than 1 percent. Additionally, a more modern, hormonal version of the IUD was first released in 2001 when the Mirena was approved for use in the United States. The Mirena can remain in place for up to six years and is over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

However, people haven’t always been so happy with the IUD. Historically, and in the present day, many myths surround this form of birth control. But are any of them true? Let’s break down a few of these myths.

Myth #1: IUDs cause infertility

Historically, IUDs have been associated with infertility. In the 1970s, many women who had used the Dalkon Shield device reported side effects like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and then eventual inability to conceive. Many initially believed that the IUD was the root cause of this infertility. However, studies later concluded that inserting the IUD in patients who have asexually transmitted disease (STD) often resulted in this infertility. Today, doctors test patients for STDs before inserting IUDs, eliminating much of the risk.  

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Myth #2: IUDs will fall out 

A common concern of would-be users is that the IUD will fall out of the uterus or that it’ll move out of place. During use, some women may experience cramping which can cause them to worry that their IUD may have shifted within the uterus or been expelled. Expulsion typically occurs during the first three months after the device is inserted and is more likely to occur during menstruation.

IUD expulsion is often denoted by a distinct pain that is difficult to ignore, thus it is incredibly unlikely that users would be unaware of this occurrence. Plus, statistics back it up: it’s incredibly rare for an IUD to fall out, with a reported rate between .05 percent and 8 percent.

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Myth #3: Getting an IUD is very painful 

Now, I won’t lie to you: when I had my IUD inserted, I did experience some discomfort during the procedure. A common misconception is that the pain experienced during IUD placement is comparable to that of childbirth. Fortunately, the procedure is quick, and most women only experience mild discomfort and cramping during insertion. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, the entire procedure is seamless, only taking about two minutes. However, in some cases, women may experience severe pain which may be mitigated through taking pain killers prior to the procedure or by local anesthesia. I’ll admit, the thought of having an IUD inserted can be pretty intimidating, but in my experience, it was well worth any minor discomfort I experienced.

Overall, I, along with many other women, have found that the seamless nature of this form of birth control is superior to any other form. In fact, IUDs have recently become more common in the United States, with usage rates in the overall population of the U.S. increasing from 2 percent in 2002 to 14 percent in 2017. For more information regarding the IUD, check out Planned Parenthood’s great guide.

Deciding on which form of contraception to use can be a difficult task so it's important to meet with a medical professional to decide which method may work best for you.