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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

Understanding IUDs: Is It the Right Birth Control For You?

As collegiettes™, we’re always looking to stay on top of our game when it comes to contraception.  It’s hard enough managing school, work, a social life, and several failed attempts at enough sleep each night — we don’t need to add daycare and diapers into the equation too. Safe sex should always be a priority, and while we’ve all sat through seemingly endless hours of health class learning about condoms and the Pill, there are other methods of contraception that can be used, including the less-often talked about (but effective and safe) IUD.   

So, what exactly are IUDs?  
IUDs are a highly effective and safe form of birth control.  Research prove IUDs that only two out of 100 women are likely to get pregnant when using an IUD, as opposed to birth control pills where studies show that nine out of 100 women are vulnerable to pregnancy. Inserted into the uterus by a medical provider, an IUD is a “T-shaped” device that prevents pregnancy and lasts for up to 10 years, explained Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Associate at the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to advance women’s rights to reproductive freedom.   

In the U.S. there are currently two kinds of IUDs on the market, Mirena and Paragard (a hormone-free IUD)Mirena is a hormonal IUD, meaning that it releases a form of progestin, helping to prevent pregnancy. Paragard is a hormone-free copper IUD. It does not release any hormones into the body. Hormonal IUDs last up to five years, while copper ones can be kept for 10.  Both are exceptionally effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy.  You will still get a period with an IUD, though the frequency and heaviness of your period will depend on which kind of IUD you have.  Keep in mind that IUDs only prevent against pregnancy, NOT against STDs so you should still always be using a condom. 

Why get an IUD?  
Every collegiette™ is different and what works for one, may not be right for you.  So what are the pros of getting an IUD?  Unlike a daily birth control pill, once the IUD is inserted and in place, there is nothing else to do, something that seems to fit in perfectly with a busy collegiette’s™ schedule.   

“In addition to providing an effective means of contraception, research suggests several other health benefits including protecting against endometrial cancer, reducing excessive bleeding associated with uterine fibroids, and providing a non-hormonal or low-hormonal option for women,” McGuire said.  

Nothing to Sweat About: The Procedure  
Like any medication, IUDs come with certain health risks and side effects.  However, these are mostly associated with the insertion process and would manifest during the first few months with an IUD.  The placement itself only takes a few minutes and can be done on location at your doctor’s office.  For women who have already experienced childbirth, the insertion process is easier and has been observed to be less painful.   Following the insertion, your doctor will want to check in 4-6 weeks later to make sure the IUD is in its right place.   

Collegiette™ Nicole* got an IUD before she started her freshman year of college. “Because I have never given birth before, my cervix wasn’t stretched so it hurt when I first got my IUD.  For the next 48 hours I was on pain medication to ease the soreness.  After that, I was fine and have been ever since.  I had cramps during the first few months, but my doctor had warned me of cramping prior to getting my IUD,” she said.   

McGuire noted that common side effects in the first few months include cramps, low backache, some bleeding, and possible heavier, longer periods with the non-hormonal, copper IUD.   

IUD Myths — Busted 
It’s been rumored that IUDs are not for young women or those who have not yet had children.  But, like many myths, that’s simply untrue.  IUDs don’t discriminate, and are for any collegiette™ interested.  IUDs can be inserted at any time and at any age (as long as you are not pregnant). Another myth is that IUDs are the most expensive form of birth control.  However, in the long run, an IUD is significantly cheaper than birth control pills.  According to Ms. Inez McGuire, the initial costs between the medical exam, IUD insertion, and follow-up visit can range from $500-$1000. Nonetheless, you’re paying for protection that lasts from 5-10 years.  At the moment, 39 percent of conventional health insurance plans, 58 percent of HMO plans, 44 percent of PPO plans, and 60 percent of POS plans cover IUDs.  Insertion andremoval is covered by Medicaid in 47 states and Washington, D.C., helping you pay the upfront charges in a majority of the nation. While the costs may seem steep at first, an IUD ends up being less expensive than consistently buying birth control pills through the years.  

Is an IUD right for you?  
Most women tend to gravitate towards an IUD because it’s an easy, quick method for lasting pregnancy prevention.  IUDs are extremely effective and require little to no effort (and require no 5 p.m. alarm reminding you to take a pill).  In addition, IUDs can be reversed at any time. Although some IUDs can last up to 10 years, it’s up to you if you want it removed earlier. Women who have been diagnosed with gonorrhea or Chlamydia within the past 12 months should steer clear of getting an IUD.  But still unsure if an IUD is for you?  Planned Parenthood has a survey that can help steer you in the right direction.  

Although she was uncomfortable with the pain that first came with her IUD, Nicole said it was one of the best decisions she could have made, especially as a college student running around everyday with a jam-packed schedule.  

“I didn’t want to take something with hormones or be committed to a pill.  My IUD was a one-time deal and now I never have to worry about forgetting to take my birth control,” she said. “ I’ve never had any problems with it, and I couldn’t be happier.  It’s definitely the right thing for me.”  

But remember collegiettes™, like any birth control pill, IUDs do not protect against STDs, so you should always wear a condom so that you are fully protected! ? 

*Name changed  
Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Associate, Programs & Policy, Reproductive Health Technologies Project
Nicole, college student

Jamie is a recent graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in Political Communication and Journalism.  While in school, she interned at several magazines and online publications, wrote for Her Campus, and contributed to her university's newspaper, The Hatchet. Her work has been syndicated in The Huffington Post, USA Today College, and Reader's Digest. Jamie loves boy bands, anything with a little wit and sarcasm, and of course, diet coke. She is currently pursuing a career in magazine journalism in NYC. You can follow her on Twitter, @jamieblynn