IUDs, or intrauterine devices, aren’t new to the birth control scene. But now, more than ever, young women are turning to the little plastic devices to prevent pregnancy.
IUDs are small pieces of T-shaped plastic that can stop the fertilization process before it even starts. It’s the most effective and most consistent birth control method, with 99.1 per cent effectiveness and zero daily maintenance, though it offers no protection against STIs.
There are two types of IUDs: hormonal and copper.
Hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy through slowly releasing progesterone, paralyzing sperm in the uterine cavity and thinning the lining of the uterus to prevent an egg from implanting. It also causes lighter periods, or even none at all.
Copper IUDs work the opposite way: they make the uterus lining thicker, so a fertilized egg is unable to implant. Copper IUDs can make for a heavier flow.
Until just recently, IUDs were marketed towards older women who had already given birth, and many younger women avoided them, assuming insertion would be too difficult.
This changed when the Jaydess (also known as the Skyla) IUD came along in 2013.
The Jaydess, before it became obsolete, was a three-year hormonal IUD, smaller than the traditional copper IUDs. As Dr. Sonya Malone — lead physician at Student Health Services — explains, it was the first IUD marketed towards young women.
“All of a sudden, an ad went up in our waiting room and we got multiple requests for IUDs, and I really think that the interest began from marketing,” she explains. "I think through various strategies, the drug companies have sold these devices to [young] women.”
And then the Kyleena IUD hit the market three years after — just as small as the Jaydess and effective for five years, replacing the old model.
Student Health Services has always offered IUD insertion procedures, and since they primarily treat young women who haven’t given birth, this difficult demographic has become their area of expertise.
“I really think that we shouldn’t be underestimating the capabilities of our practitioners and what we can do with medications and with timing of insertion,” Dr. Malone said. “We can’t deny younger women the opportunity to have reliable contraception.”
Even with experienced doctors, the insertion process can still be painful, ranging between cramping and pinching sensations.
"I think you have to accept a certain degree of unpredictability with a progesterone IUD,” explains Dr. Malone.
While many women experience no side effects at all, potential symptoms like spotting and hormone changes can be disruptive. If that's the case, the removal process is significantly easier and less painful then putting it in.
"I often tell my patients, you know if you were stranded on a desert island, you could take this out yourself even — it’s certainly that straightforward," Dr. Malone says, adding, "although I certainly don’t recommend that.”