Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About IUDs


“Stigmas against IUDs from the 70s/80s are dumb and women deserve to be better informed on them…I’m lookin’ at you doctors and health education teachers.” — EB

When I got my IUD last December, I knew exactly two people who had one. And I knew nothing about them or how they worked. Since then, I’ve watched the vast majority of my close friends talk to their doctors and eventually make the switch from traditional birth control (can I say oral contraceptives? I don’t like that word. The pill. We had been on the pill) to the IUD.

I went into it kind of blind. In a personal crusade to rid myself of chemicals as much as possible, combined with a chronic inability to refill my prescriptions on time, I declared that I wanted get one and my mom and sister ended up making my appointment for me. Truthfully, I had no idea how it worked. I didn’t even know how the pill worked. I was just interested in a more hand-off approach to birth control.

I had some inclination that the IUD would hurt. A friend of mine had got one months before me, and had a pretty unpleasant and uncomfortable experience.  I’d describe myself as sensitive, so I was prepared for discomfort. Essentially, the IUD needs to be placed at the end of the cervix, something that is very small. It’s what dilates when you give birth and have contractions. So if that’s the pain women feel when it’s opening on it’s own, imagine someone forcing a turkey baster through. Not fun.

I had no knowledge of side effects beyond the insertion. Graphic: I bled for three months after. Three. Months. Can you imagine having your period for three months straight? It was something else. BUT after that, I did not bleed again. Smooth sailing.

I just feel like there wasn’t any info out there that made sense, only what I heard from my friends. Even things about the female anatomy and how birth control in general works were fuzzy, and there weren’t really any articles that spelled it out in a digestible way for me.

I learned exactly how the uterus connects to the cervix that day during my insertion as I felt the little Mirena T go up through each part of my lady bits. Because no one really tells you how things are laid out.

So I asked my friends, all the people I love and trust most, about their experiences with the IUD. And they didn’t know much more than I. And all women should know more about, and be in control of their reproductive health.

**And no matter what their friends say, all females should ask their doctor what’s best for them, too!**

So what is an IUD?

An “intrauterine device” is a tiny little T-shaped birth control method that lives at the bottom of the uterus that prevents pregnancy. It is 99.9% effective. In fact, my doctor told me that the only thing more effective would be a hysterectomy.

There’s 2 kinds of IUD – a hormonal one and a copper one.

The ParaGard IUD (copper) doesn’t have hormones. It’s wrapped in a tiny bit of copper, and it protects you from pregnancy for up to 12 years. 12 years?! I will literally see three different presidents in that time period. What a time to be alive.

The Liletta, Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena IUDs use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. Progestin is very similar to the hormone progesterone that our bodies make naturally. Mirena works for up to 6 years. Kyleena works for up to 5 years. Skyla and Liletta work for up to 3 years. (Source)

I think everyone I know has the Mirena – except one, who has the copper ParaGard. Mirena is good for 5 years. In my case, until the end of the Trump administration. Thank God, because this sis cannot afford another IUD out of pocket.

How does it even work?

Good question. I had no idea how it worked the whole time I was on the pill, and even after I got the IUD I really had no idea how it worked. So I’ll leave this to the experts at Planned Parenthood:

  • Both copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy by changing the way sperm move so they can’t get to an egg. If sperm can’t make it to an egg, pregnancy can’t happen.
  • The ParaGard IUD uses copper to prevent pregnancy. Sperm don’t like copper, so the ParaGard IUD makes it almost impossible for sperm to get to that egg.
  • The hormones in Liletta, Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena IUDs prevent pregnancy in two ways:
    • 1) They thicken the mucus that lives on the cervix, which blocks and traps the sperm
    • 2) The hormones also sometimes stop eggs from leaving your ovaries (called ovulation), which means there’s no egg for a sperm to fertilize. No egg, no pregnancy.
  • You can also use a copper IUD as emergency contraception, (which I literally just learned while doing this research) if you get one within 5 days of having sex. Which is pretty cool if you’re looking for that.

Why should I get an IUD?

There’s several reasons. For one, it’s 99.9% effective. You can’t mess it up. Once it’s in, you don’t have to think of it for 3-12 years. And if in that time, you decide you’re ready to have kids, take it out and you’re all set.

It also keeps hormones localized. Instead of the hormones running through your bloodstream, it sits in that one spot. So if you’re nervous and conscious about that kind of stuff, the IUD is a great option.

A decent number of women stop getting their period on the IUD. I did. One less thing to worry about, ya know?

How do I get one?

For sure talk to your doctor – call your OBGYN or head to a Planned Parenthood and get their opinion before making any choices. It’s important to talk through your medical history, any questions you have, and discuss any risks.

Then make your appointment! As of now, Obama made it free on most insurance plans. Call your provider and get the scoop.

What can I expect when I get it inserted?

Lots of doctors advise lots of things before insertion. Most advise that you make an appointment when you’re menstruating. But from what I’ve heard, they can make due if you’re not. **Talk to your doctor**

A few people I know were given Misoprostol, which is taken vaginally (?!?!!), and is supposed to help with opening the cervix. I was not given this, two of my friends were, one took it. So I guess its necessity is up in the air. If your doctor recommends you take it, talk it through if you have concerns.

Another thing doctors advise is to not have sex a week before and a few days after. What they actually said was, “nothing in the vagina,” meaning no sex and no tampons. Mine said to wait a week, but Lauren’s gyro handed her a tampon on her way out.

I found out when researching this that it depends on when in your cycle your IUD was inserted and what kind you got. A copper IUD is effective immediately. A hormonal IUD is effective immediately, if it’s inserted in the first 7 days of your period. If not, it will take another 7 days.

What to expect from the actual insertion? Discomfort. Imagine bad cramps. And then imagine they’re ten times worse. It only took about 5 minutes, but it was uncomfortable to say the least. It’s basically like you’re at your annual exam, and the doctor goes in there with a comically large pipette. The challenge is navigating the uterus and cervix and getting it to sit right, especially because everyone is constructed in different sizes and at different angles.

Many of my friends had trouble with this too. It’s definitely not fun.

A common, immediate side effect is passing out – which I have done before. I voiced these concerns to my doctor, and she actually gave me a juice box before I left. I did not pass out, but the cramping did leave me a little light-headed.

Another odd thing to note is that that your gyno could check to make sure your IUD is sitting a-okay with an ultrasound. And it’s not like you think. The ultrasound is internal.

My friend Lauren was quoted in an article all about the procedure, along with several other women; in her words, “In retrospect, 10 minutes of discomfort seems insubstantial to five years of effective birth control.” Amen sis.

What about after?

The part I did not anticipate was what came for months after. I had residual bleeding from January until March. Every. Single. Day. I cannot express how exhausted I was for about four months, which I wasn’t anticipating. I called my gynecologist every month until it stopped, just to make sure it was a normal and not alarming side effect. (Highly recommend calling your doctor if you’re even mildly concerned).

Another side effect I had that definitely wasn’t common was that my anxiety went wild. Since I had been on the Pill since Sophomore year of college, and on Paxil since Junior year, my Paxil-taking body only knew how to exist on the Pill. Then, afterward I started feeling on edge. Super on edge. So, again, I called my doctor and talked through it and got it worked out.

A friend of mine who hadn’t previously experienced anxiety had a similar experience. She got her IUD and suddenly started feeling very anxious all the time, an especially odd side-effect because she’s an incredibly laid-back human. She talked with a healthcare professional and determined the best course of action.

A few of my friends have had another VERY ODD experience involving the wires attached to the IUD: they poke their significant other during sex. One specific friend of mine actually drew blood, which is how we know her boyfriend wasn’t just being sensitive.

This is super common – don’t worry. Over time, the wires flatten to the mucus-lining of the vagina, and they also soften. Another friend of mine went to her gyno and had them snipped, which is another alternative (but I have also heard might make removal difficult).

I’ve also heard from women who were on the pill for a long time developing ovarian cysts after getting the IUD. When you’re on the pill, you don’t ovulate. When you have an IUD you do. So it’s possible that when you do start ovulating again, especially after a long period of not doing so, your body can panic and cysts form. They’re painful (cramping) but harmless most of the time. But as always, if you’re experiencing unusual pain or other sensations, ALWAYS call your gyno. Even if she just tells you it’s fine. Just call her.

One other odd side effect I’ve heard of is a change in hair – my coworker’s hair turned extra oily after she got her (copper) IUD. She had been dealing with it for a while when she asked her hairdresser who said they see super oily hair in pregnant women. Then it clicked – the major change in hormones from going off of the Pill. I myself have noticed a change in the texture of my hair since last December. Could be something else, but I’m thinking maybe it is something. Definitely putting it on the list of things to ask my gyno at my annual check-up.

The rest of the most common side-effects are what you’d expect going off of the pill: cramps (if you even get your period anymore) or acne flare-ups. My skin went berserk after I got my IUD, and to this day I am still trying to tame it. But I’ll take breakouts over hormones coursing through my body and the chance of unplanned pregnancy any day.

– – –

All in all, I would highly recommend and IUD if you talk to your doctor and decide it’s healthy for you. I have nothing but great things to say and it’s truly awesome to not have to worry about taking a pill or refilling a prescription (MY KRYPTONITE). I have actually recommended to several friends (all featured in this article) at this point and all of them seem happy with their choices as well.

I just want more women to know their options, especially with the change in administrations and potential change in healthcare. I feel like in the 70’s and 80’s IUDs got a bad wrap for being unsafe, but now they are so safe, if not more safe than the pill.

What’s more, now that I’m impregnable until 2020, I don’t have to worry a single day of the Trump administration about the cost of my birth control, or the cost of an unplanned pregnancy. I can use my time doing far more important things, like fighting the patriarchy.

DISCLAIMER: I’m obviously not a doctor at all, and neither are any of my friends. We have all shared our positive experiences, but what is most important is talking to your doctor. Along with you, they know drugs and your body best. 

Also want to thank all the lovely ladies who shared their experiences with me, and who continue to teach me about life every day. 

(image source)

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