Birth control doubles as the female equivalent of locker room talk. We share stories with lurid detail about which prescription causes the worst cramps or which procedure hurt worse. Unfortunately, most of the American public education system wrongly thinks abstinence doubles as the only form of birth control. So, we’re here to clear up some of those rumors. This will help you figure out whether this form of birth control works for you. Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are arguably the most daunting form of female birth control and the least understood. But an IUD can provide you with years of worry-free birth control while giving you the freedom to responsibly explore your sexuality.
IUDs are, as the name suggests, inserted into your uterus. You’ll find two types, copper and hormonal, and they both come with their own pros and cons.
The copper IUD is non-hormonal. It works by producing an inflammatory reaction in the uterus that kills any sperm it comes into contact with. It can last for anywhere from 10 to 12 years. The copper IUD can also work as emergency contraception if inserted within five days of having unsafe sex.
Hormonal IUDs work a little differently. There are three types available in the U.S.: Mirena, Skyla and Liletta. They all use a hormone called progestin, AKA the same hormone found in birth control pills.
Liz Kent, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, started with the birth control shot her sophomore year before eventually switching to a copper IUD. “I wanted something I wouldn’t have to worry about on a daily basis,” she said. “The IUD seemed like the perfect option–I can live without ever worrying about it.”
Both types of IUDs can affect your cramps by either eliminating them entirely or making them worse. Copper IUDs have also a reputation of increasing flows. They’re also a little pricey for the average American woman. Planned Parenthood puts the range at anywhere from $0 to $1000 dollars. Overall, IUDS partly cost so much because they include medical exams and follow-ups in addition to the procedure.
Despite these costs, both types of IUDs are incredibly effective. They can end up costing you less in the long run because of their increased longevity. Planned Parenthood provides an informative guide on their website with many questions women may ask about IUDs and the procedure. But unfortunately, Planned Parenthood noticeably glazes over how painful the procedure really feels.
Emily Patrick, a nurse at the OB/GYN clinic where Kent had her procedure, described IUDs as a popular alternative for women wary of the pills and the potential side effects associated with them. “A lot of these treatments are used if birth control pills bother you,” Patrick said. “Mirena is the most popular IUD that has also been medically approved to treat endometriosis and heavy flow. Paraguard is a 10 year long non-hormonal treatment.”
After visiting her campus heath provider and researching her options, Kent thought she was prepared for the switch. But the procedure was a little more painful than she expected. “They told me it would not be super painful but it was – it ended up rupturing a cyst on my ovary from the insertion into my cervix,” she said.
Paige Lloyd, a senior also at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described it as the most intense pain she’d ever suffered. “I actually had to go the ER once because my body was trying to birth it and I was having cervical contractions,” she said.
Despite their experiences, both women would recommend the IUD to anyone wondering which type of birth control to get. “I would just tell girls who are doing it that it’s super great and convenient, but absolutely make sure they give you pain medicine before getting it put in,” Lloyd said.
Kent, whose copper IUD increased both her period flow and cramping, contemplates getting a hormonal IUD to replace her current one. However, she still recommends IUDs as a form of effective birth control. “I am not going to get pregnant for 12 years, I don’t have to think about it, I can celebrate my sexuality and know I’ll be safe, so really it’s ok that its extra crampy at times,” Kent said.
Getting an IUD, or any other form of birth control, is an incredibly personal decision made between you and your doctor. They can stay in for over a decade, or they can be taken out at any time. Either way, you’ll be seeing your doctor pretty often. Both the procedure and follow-up appointments will require quite a bit of appointment scheduling. Keep in mind that neither of these forms prevents against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. However, they can stop you from getting pregnant. Different providers offer different forms, so don’t hesitate to ask your doctor tons of questions before you decide to make any decisions together. And if you still aren’t on board with the whole intrauterine part of intrauterine devices, at least now you know a little bit more about how they work.