Originally published on September 13, 2012, on bedsider.org
After years in unofficial exile, the IUD is finally making a much-deserved comeback in the U.S. The device got a bad reputation mostly due to health problems women experienced using the creepy-looking Dalkon Shield, a poorly designed model of the IUD that’s been off the market for decades. Fortunately, medical providers and researchers, with the help of the media, are making major progress in spreading the word that new models of the IUD are safe, low-maintenance, super-effective, and can be used by most women.
In spite of all the good news about IUDs, there are still lots of myths and misunderstandings about it rattling around the internet and even among health care providers. Here are five of the most common myths I’ve heard—and the reality behind each.
Myth 1: The IUD is dangerous—it can cause infections and infertility.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted study after study with thousands of women around the world, and all the evidence disproves this myth. The data are totally conclusive: overall, women using an IUD have no increased risk of pelvic infection or infertility compared with women who used other types of birth control (with the exception of condoms, which protect from sexually transmitted infections, a.k.a. STIs). If a health care provider tries to tell you that it’s not safe for you to use an IUD, get a second opinion.
On a side note, the WHO studies did discover a factor that is related to infertility: Chlamydia, a common and often silent STI. So get tested before starting a new relationship, and make sure your partner gets tested, too! It’s as simple as peeing in a cup or getting a quick swab. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship—no matter what kind of birth control you use—you should always use a condom to prevent STIs.
Myth 2: The IUD is a big commitment—it’s best for women who are older, married, or already have kids.
One of the best things about the IUD is how long it can last—up to 7 years for the hormonal (Mirena) and 12 years for the copper (ParaGard) IUD. But there’s no minimum requirement for how long it has to stay in—you can have an IUD removed at any time on request. A simple trip to the clinic, a gentle pull on the strings, and voilà! The IUD is out.
If you have an IUD removed, remember that the contraceptive effect wears off immediately. If you’re sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant, start another method pronto. Depending on what method you switch to, you may even want to start using it before having the IUD removed. Some out-of-date providers won’t insert IUDs for teens or women who haven’t had kids—fortunately, many are catching up with the times. Many of the concerns about IUDs for young women are related to Myth 1. Providers may worry that younger women have higher rates of STIs, which, if untreated, can lead to infertility—but as I noted above, research has shown these fears to be totally baseless when it comes to the IUD models on the U.S. market today.