Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is the IUD Making a Come-back?

After reviewing the most popular posts on this blog through the wonderful Google Analytics, I was surprised to find that any post in which I talk about my IUD gets a lot of hits. It's not surprising, I guess. Once people find out I have an IUD, they often have a lot of questions, which I think is great! So, I thought I'd share with you an article I wrote a while back about my experience with my IUD and the best overlooked side effect: better sex! Enjoy ;)


I came home from my annual GYN exam several years ago with some unexpected news: I was being taken off the pill. I cried all the way home. What was I suppose to do? I’m allergic to latex, and the mini-pill my doctor suggested I start using immediately is only partially effective as my pill was. I knew I didn’t want kids – at least not now. I had been on the pill for 8 years, and as thoughts of vinyl condoms and spermicides swirled in my head, I wondered what I was going to do. I thought I was doomed. My sex life would be over. Little did I know that an option I had previously overlooked would in several months time set me free, and my sex life would be better than ever. It’s all thanks to the copper IUD.

At that annual exam my doctor asked me to think over several options, a copper IUD being one of them. Alarms immediately went off in my head – didn’t IUDs kill women? Sure, I say I don’t want kids now, but what if I change my mind? I can’t have kids after having an IUD, right? Wrong.

There are numerous misconceptions about IUD use in the United Stated. IUDs got a bad name back in the 70s when the Dalkon Shield, an IUD that is no longer used, got pulled for being found to be the result of death in some of its users. Since then, all sorts of other rumors have infiltrated what women in the US have thought were the facts about IUDs (e.g., IUDs make you sterile and you have to be married and have had children to get an IUD).

My partner, J, was already home when I got back from the doctor. I brought up IUD use, and he cringed. He told me sex wasn’t worth dying for and we’d figure something out (according to him, a blowjob a day would be a perfect substitute for inconsistent vaginal sex). It was then that I remembered I have a friend who has an IUD. I decided to send her an e-mail and do a little research of my own on the internet.

From the Planned Parenthood site to Aphrodite Womens Health, I was able to find both the facts and opinions from users around the world.

IUD stands for intrauterine device, because IUDs are placed in the uterus and certain kinds can be left there and remain effective in preventing pregnancy for up to 10 years. Shaped like a capital “T” with a short string passing through the cervix for easy removal, there are two types of IUDs, copper (ParaGard) and low-dose hormone releasing (Mirena). Copper IUDs work because of the small amount of copper that surrounds the arms and bottom of the base of the IUD. Copper is thought to interfere with sperm motility, acting as a spermicide so the sperm die before they can reach an egg. If in the off chance a sperm reaches the egg, the copper also causes a slight inflammatory response making it extremely difficult for the egg to implant itself on the uterine lining. Low-dose hormone-releasing IUDs like Mirena thicken cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to pass through the cervix, and may even prevent ovulation. Both types of IUDs affect the uterine lining, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant itself. Scientist don’t exactly know why this happens.

IUDs are 98-99% effective in preventing pregnancy (versus 97% for the pill). The Dalkon Shield is no longer used, and IUDs don’t kill women. You don’t have to be married to get an IUD (although you must be monogamous), you don’t have to be a mother, and an IUD is a reversible method of birth control – you can get pregnant very soon after it is removed, much like the pill.

IUDs are actually the most popular form of reversible birth control in the world. Women in other countries who never experienced the stigma attached to the Dalkon Shield have been happily using IUDs for years. Unlike condoms or the sponge, IUD use allows you to have a spontaneous sex life. Once an IUD is inserted, it can remain in place for up to 10 years for ParaGard and 5 years for Mirena. Additionally, copper IUDs like ParaGard allow women the freedom from the side effects from hormones.

Like any other birth control method, there are some disadvantages to IUDs. If you contract an STD while your IUD is in place, you have a much greater chance of getting PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), since the infection caused by the STD can more easily enter the uterus because of the IUD string. PID can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes and sterility. Upon insertion, there is a small risk of perforation of the uterus (where the uterine wall is torn by the device), and additionally, IUDs can lead to longer-lasting, heavier periods. This may cause anemia in some women, so it’s important to get a blood test to check for anemia after your 1st period with an IUD. The good news is that nearly all these risks can be avoided by taking the proper precautions.

So, why has your GYN never brought up IUD use to you before? The Dalkon Shield, for one, but additionally because IUDs are currently only marketed to mothers in the US, since there is the risk of sterility for women who contract STDs. Doctors figure that married women are at much less risk for STDs than unmarried women. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t request one.

Who makes a good candidate for an IUD? Any woman can request that she be fitted for an IUD. If you haven’t yet had a child, your doctor will need to measure your uterus to make sure that it is large enough to hold the device. Your doctor will most certainly also discuss the importance of a monogamous relationship to avoid contraction of a STD. Some doctors also require your uterus to be in the proper location (some uteruses are angled differently than others). Although an IUD can be placed in a uterus that is angled differently than normal, some doctors may not feel comfortable performing the insertion due to the increased risk of perforation. IUDs are also a great option for overweight or obese women, since low-dose birth control pills may be overly absorbed in fat cells, resulting in a decreased efficacy and greater risk of pregnancy for some women.

After all my research, and after I understood how IUDs worked, I decided to go with the ParaGard copper IUD (hormones from the pill had been interfering with my blood pressure, which is why I was removed from the pill in the 1st place). It was important to me that my birth-control method allow me to be spontaneous. I talked to two of my friends who had copper IUDs, one is a mother of two and the other is single and in a stable relationship like I am. They echoed some of the fears I had read about on on-line message boards – does insertion hurt, are your periods more painful, can you feel it? They were wonderful in candidly sharing their own experiences with their IUDs, and although they were honest, they were both very excited and felt good about their choices.

Insertion does hurt. People describe the actual insertion as a pinch. It’s slightly more painful than a pinch, but the immediate pain is over when the IUD is in place – within minutes. I remember walking out of my doctor’s office and calling my boyfriend. I told him it went well, and I was surprised that it wasn’t worse. I drove to my grocery-store pharmacy to fill my prescription for antibiotics (to minimize risk of infection from insertion), and while I was waiting for the prescription to be filled the pain hit me. My hands were white-knuckled on the shopping cart, and I thought I was going to pass out. The local anesthesia they had put in my cervix wore off. That’s the only bad memory I have of the insertion, and the pain would have been manageable if I had went straight home.

When I went for my 1-month check up, my doctor asked me how I liked my IUD so far. I told her my friends warned me that my period may be heavier and longer, and it was, but it wasn’t anything surprising. It lasted 5 days instead of 3, and I only had cramps on the 1st day (I never had cramps while on the pill).

“I bet you wonder why more people don’t get an IUD then,” my doctor replied. She echoed my happiness with the device and lamented the dreaded Dalkon Shield. “If it wasn’t for that thing, IUDs would probably be as popular here as they are in Europe.”

It’s been 2 years since I got the IUD, and for the most part, I couldn’t be happier. I did wind up with one surprise after getting an IUD. My body is so much more alive. I hadn’t even realized how much the hormones in the pill had numbed my senses. Sex is exponentially more enjoyable now that the hormones have left my body. I’m almost glad that I had to be removed from the pill, because I truly like my IUD better.


Anonymous said...

I fear it. Not for any particular reason, I'm just a wuss. Then again, if it will save me a couple hundred bucks on birth control every year, it's worth it. And if my sex drive gets better, that would be awesome too. I'm sick of pretending I've got a headache!!! (KIDDING!)

Aly_Sylum said...

I love my IUD. At our last afterparty I was talking to my teammates about it and I even did a little "love my IUD" dance. I have the Paraguard because the pill and the evil, evil Depo shot screwed my hormones up so badly. Depo made me a bitch and killed my sex drive, so you don't want to have sex and nobody wants to have sex with you...what's the point? Did I mention that I love my IUD?

~Aly Sylum

Megan said...

I am in the same boat as Anna. they scare but only because thinking of a foreign object in my body just hanging out doesn't sit well with me (let's hope I never need pins or a hip replacement!). I also don't take the pill so I don't have any homrmonal side effects well, at least, not any that are chemically manufactured. Great blog though - very informative.
= )

Julia said...

It's not surprising that in our society, doctors, articles, and information about the side effects of BCPs generally ignore the reduced sex drive (women aren't supposed to be horny!). I was on the pill for years, and never knew that my libido was being repressed until I finally went off them. Even in the ultra-low-dose nuvaring, I found my libido being a bit "numbed." If ever I find myself in a stable, monogamous relationship, I'll be the first in line for the IUD.

Helen said...

Whoa, dude. It's Burnin Helen fr4om Provvveeedence. I just got an IUD a few weeks ago and was searching google and was like "it really is a small world after all" how wonderfully random!
I got the Mirena. No bleeding but crampy certain points of the day.. and now I have this HUGE sex drive, which I was researching because like everyone says it diminishes with an IUD..
I was always dead set against them, but aside from the cramping, it was NBD. )I had a biopsy the week before which traumatized me painfully, so this thing was a piece of cake( anyhoo, just dropping by to say.. random... weird.. awesome! Give Dolly, Joy, Mibbs and Lady Q huuuuuuuuuuge fucking hugs and kisses from me!

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