Love your LARC? Tell us about it…
Whether you’re an IUD evangelist, an implant enthusiast, or just curious about long-acting birth control, now is your chance to talk about it! It’s LARC Awareness Week (LARC stands for long acting reversible contraceptive) and we’re teaming up with California Family Health Council tomorrow to co-host a tweetchat about low-maintenance LARC methods like the IUD and the implant. Spread the word and join us on Twitter (4pm EST) with your stories and questions. We’re tweeting at #LoveMyLARC!
Once a Copper T is in place, copper ions separate from the coiled copper wire and begin to alter the biochemistry around the uterus. ‘Alter’ sounds like a strong and permanent word, but it really isn’t. The copper ions leach into uterine fluids and the cervical mucus — when these fluids come in contact with sperm, the copper ions sound the death knell for the squiggly beasts.
Does the copper IUD make periods more painful? (Maybe…but it’s worth it.)
1. The insertion
I’m lying on my back, there’s a speculum shoved inside me, and I’m staring at a ridiculous poster of a palm tree that’s tacked to the ceiling. I grip my best friend’s hand tightly—I’m about to get my first IUD inserted. (Side note—my boyfriend was supposed to go with me, but instead he dumped me the previous day. Fortunately, my best friend is way better company anyway—and highly effective birth control is pretty much always a good idea, even when you don’t have a boyfriend.)
I’ve always had painful menstrual cramps and I knew the copper IUD would make them worse—but at age 19, I had already been around the block with birth control. The hormones in the ring and the pill made me depressed (research shows hormonal methods don’t cause depression on a broad scale—but everyone is different and they sure caused it in me). I tried the good old-fashioned diaphragm, but that was really uncomfortable as well as decidedly unsexy (I spent 20 minutes in the bathroom trying to get the slippery thing in while my partner called out “do you need any help?”) And I had a whopping total of six condoms break or fall off (and yes, I know how to put on a condom correctly), so I knew I couldn’t count on condoms alone.
By process of elimination, I found myself looking at the palm tree poster while my doctor said “There’s a tiny chance that this might perforate your uterus and we’ll have to take you to the ER.” (Side note—IUD perforations are super rare, and when they do happen a skilled doctor should be able to stop the insertion and the uterus will heal within a week.)
I’m not gonna lie, the insertion hurt like a bitch. It was probably the most painful thing that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Then again, I’ve never broken a bone, had surgery, given birth, or generally experienced anything all that painful.
The intense pain faded after about 5 seconds and was promptly replaced with cramps. For two days I felt waves of sharp pain attacking my uterus. The constant pain faded after that, but I experienced some cramping on and off for the next month.
2. The periods
I’m gonna be super honest here. For the first year with the ParaGard, my periods were really painful. I basically made best friends with ibuprofen—if I took the medical dose, I could function as a normal human, but if I didn’t I felt like someone was repeatedly stabbing my abdomen.
I was also bleeding a lot—like a lot. I use the DivaCup, which holds an ounce of blood. Divacup.com says that “the average woman only flows approximately 1 to 1.4 ounces per cycle” but I was filling it up about two times a day for the first three days of my period.
3. The take-away
But don’t let the blood and pain deter you. My case is far from universal—many of my copper-IUD-toting friends have much easier periods than I do (and the hormonal IUDs actually make your periods lighter). And even with my side effects, it’s still completely worth it to me. My painful periods faded after about a year (I only took four ibuprofen for my whole cycle last month!), and although they’re still heavy, I’m taking an iron supplement and giving thanks for my DivaCup.
I would get the IUD again in a heartbeat, and I’m currently in the process of convincing four of my friends to try it—because a little bit of blood and pain is a small price to pay for over 99% certainty that I won’t have a baby. Every time I get my period and feel those cramps coming, I remind myself that getting an abortion or giving birth would be a whole lot more painful.
Most of all, I loved the moment when I checked out of the doctors office and they gave me an appointment card reminder—for 2020. I laughed because 1. There was no way I was going to keep that card for ten years (how many wallets and purses will I go through in that time?) and 2. I don’t have to worry about birth control until 2020. And who knows—maybe there will be male birth control by then.
Image via Great Beyond.
Hannah Strom is an intern at Bedsider. She enjoys writing about sex ed, pop culture, and feminism.
Method Monday: IUDs!
Okay, we confess. We talk about this method a lot. But considering how many points the IUD has in its favor (Super-effective! Reversible! Long-lasting! Low-maintenance! …!!!!!), and how much misinformation is still out there about it, we just feel there’s still plenty to be said. Like what? So glad you asked…
- The IUD is the longest-lasting non-permanent birth control method available in the U.S.—and by long-lasting, we’re talking anywhere from 7 to 12* years, depending on which kind you get. That’s how long the IUD can protect you from pregnancy, but if you decide you want to get pregnant after 3 years (or 1 year, or two months…), you can have the IUD removed anytime and should return to your normal fertility level pretty much immediately.
- There are two kinds of IUD—one called Mirena, which works because of a low dose of the hormone progestin, and one called ParaGard that contains no hormones whatsoever and works thanks to a small amount of copper.
- The ParaGard IUD is the only super-effective non-hormonal birth control option—it lasts for up to 12 years and it’s eco-friendly!
- IUD insertion can hurt a little (or a lot, depending on the person), but most IUD users—even those on the “a lot” side of the spectrum—say it’s well worth the pain.
- The ParaGard IUD can be used for emergency contraception (EC) within 5 days of unprotected sex—in fact, it’s by far the most effective EC option available! Unfortunately, it seems like not a lot of people know that…
- Until recently, IUDs had a bad rap in the U.S., which is probably why they’re not as commonly used here as they are in other countries. Two groups in the U.S. who are more likely to use an IUD? Gynecologists (lady docs are 3 times more likely than the average U.S. woman to have an IUD) and participants in the Contraceptive CHOICE project in St. Louis, who were counseled on different birth control methods and then given their pick of the methods for free. Fortunately more and more U.S. women are getting the message that the new models are safe and super-effective and are deciding to give it a shot.
- There are lots of persistent rumors about who can use the IUD and who can’t—and most of them aren’t true. Even some health care providers aren’t up to date when it comes to IUDs, so if your provider discourages you from considering it, check out Nurse Lola’s great (read: hilarious) suggestions for how to deal.
- Another rumor about the IUD is that it’s super expensive—but it may be more affordable than you think. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many insured folks should now (or soon) be able to get any FDA-approved birth control method without co-pays or deductibles. If you don’t have insurance, there may be other programs in your state to help you get the birth control you want without breaking the bank. And even if you have to pay for the IUD, it might still be worth it cost-wise if you’re planning to have it for a while.
And now, your moment of awkward, IUD-related zen.
*NOTE: Mirena’s manufacturers say it lasts up to 5 years, but in Europe it’s approved for up to 7. ParaGard’s manufacturers claim it can be used for up to 10 years, but studies have shown it’s effective for up to 12. For more on why manufacturers’ labels might not always reflect the latest research, check out our article “What’s in a birth control label?”
So much love for this Hairpin article on IUDs (a.k.a. “sperm scarecrows”)
We found this fabulous post from Lola over at The Hairpin a little late to the game (it was published on March 12th), but in case you missed it like we did, we’ve pasted our favorite of favorite part here. Read the excerpt and then check out the article in its entirety—yes, we love it for its Bedsider shout-out and construction paper infographic, but it’s so much more than that…
Depending on what graph comparing IUD use by country you’re looking at, our rate of 5.5% is either “very low” or “dead last,” even though the usage rate almost doubled between 2002 and 2008. This is to say: if you want an IUD, you might still have to safari into medical self-advocacy. A common species you’ll find there is a well-meaning clinician who thinks they’re preventing you from harm: you can tell them by their suggestion that you first try another “less drastic” method, like the pill. They’re most likely just under-informed, so you can go so far as to furnish research like ACOG’s recommendation that IUDs be offered to most women as first-line contraception. Or share this thought experiment!
“You’re sick and there’s two treatments: a device that sets up in minutes and works for years and a pill that’s only as effective as the device if you take at same time every day forever, which is actually so difficult that31% of users fail at in the first 6 months. Wouldn’t you be like, ‘Fucking give me the easy thing!’ (put on sunglasses) So why is preventing pregnancy so different that you wouldn’t treat with the most effective, least likely to fail treatment first?” (drive away in red convertible)
Every provider has a different risk tolerance. It’s possible that the reason they don’t want to insert a Mirena is because they’ve never done it for someone without kids before. If someone says they won’t insert an IUD for you, they should able to tell you where they’re coming from and give you suggestions about other options to consider. But also be on the lookout for clinicians who make their recommendations against scientific evidence to rationalize their own moral beliefs. You’ll know this species when any questioning about why the IUD can’t happen for you is dismissed with a moral judgment, like “you have too much sex” or “because you’re not married.” Say thank you, disarm them with one of those hoods you put on birds to make them sleep, and switch to someone else in their practice. Or another practice entirely!
Who Uses Birth Control, Anyway?
A lot of people do (no news to us). Some of them started using the hashtag #iusebirthcontrol on Friday as part of a response to news that religious groups are pushing for broader exemptions to the new health reform provision that would make birth control coverage without co-pays mandatory for most health insurance plans.
Being the birth control nerds we are, we’re excited at this unexpected glimpse of the contraceptive preferences of real women and wanted to highlight a few favorites we’ve seen over the past few days. Enjoy, and share your favorite #Iusebirthcontrol tweets in the comments!
Some things are worth fighting for. @salamandrina73: @IAmDrTiller I was on the Pill for 14 years, and I fought my insurance like hell to get my Paragard IUD this year. #iusebirthcontrol
Let’s hear it for doubling up! (And technology.) @MissTVotes: @IAmDrTiller #iusebirthcontrol Nuvaring+condoms! <3 I only have to remember it 2x/month & there’s even a desktop app for it!
Birth control can have perks besides pregnancy prevention. @elizabr0: @PPact #iusebirthcontrol because my periods are irregular, painful, and tend to last more than a week. Virgin or not, I NEEDED BC.
@crankenwedge: @PPact #iusebirthcontrol to reduce acne that causes scarring. #bcrefusal
@pdxfashionista: #iusebirthcontrol I use the pill continuously for severe dysmenorrhea. Been on it for 11 years. Otherwise I’d be anemic and debilitated.
@APBBlue: @IAmDrTiller I stopped the Pill because of migraines. ParaGard for 4 years now. I freaking LOVE IT. #iusebirthcontrol
Some people don’t want kids. Period. @alaskalainen: #iusebirthcontrol because my husband & I enjoy life as a family of 2 - and because 7 billion is a LOT of people
And some just want to be ready. @SquatLikeALady: #iusebirthcontrol because I am married, work FT, am a FT student & want to wait to have kids until I can stay home with them for a few yrs!
@pazenlavida: #iusebirthcontrol B/c overachievers like me want to make sure their pregnancies are better than yours. We gotta plan that ish & be ready.
Knowing yourself is a beautiful thing. @Girarf: @PPact #iusebirthcontrol b/c I’m emotionally and financially ready to have an IUD, not a baby!
@sondi_hardy: @PPact #iusebirthcontrol because i am a proactive, sexually active, responsible young woman. thank you for helping me stay healthy!
And did we mention that planning rocks? @marissaRgarcia: #iusebirthcontrol 42 reasons I love sex & I want control over the consequences of my decisions. I don’t leave anything 2 chance.