If the idea of having something inserted into your body and leaving it there for years freaks you out, you can rest easy: A new study published in the May issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that the intrauterine device—a quarter-size, T-shaped contraption that sits inside the uterus—is a safe birth control method for women of any age, including teenagers. Among the study findings: less than once percent of users developed complications, and discontinuation rates were the same across all age groups (a tip-off that younger women experienced no greater side effects or dissatisfaction than older users did).
It’s welcome news, especially since IUDs are more than 99 percent effective at blocking pregnancy for up to 10 hassle-free years. Hopefully the study will put to rest longstanding rumors that IUDs are potentially harmful. Thinking of going to the gyno for your own IUD? Here’s what you need to know:
Complications are rare
Serious side effects from IUDs, such as ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease, occurred in less than one percent of the women in the new study, according to researchers. All birth control methods carry some health risks, of course. But as long as you don’t already have an STD or another infection when your gyno inserts the IUD—and you always use condoms if you’re not monogamous to reduce the odds of contracting one—there’s little to worry about, says Alyssa Dweck, an OBGYN in Mt. Kisco, NY, and coauthor of V Is for Vagina.
Inserting one shouldn’t be uncomfortable
An IUD works by sitting in your uterus and emitting either the hormone progestin or a small amount of copper, a natural spermicide. Getting either type in place requires a five-minute gyno visit, during which your doctor will fit it through your cervix and into the uterus. “Many women don’t feel a thing during insertion, while others experience a twinge or two of pain, like what you feel during a Pap test,” says Dweck. Taking an OTC painkiller beforehand and making the appointment during the last days of your period, when your cervix is naturally more open, will reduce discomfort.
It’s not just for moms
Doctors used to advise child-free women to chose another contraceptive method; the thinking was that since their uteruses hadn’t been stretched out during pregnancy, they were more prone to side effects like cramping and even having the IUD pop out and into the vagina. But these risks were always very small, says Dweck, and they’re practically nonexistent thanks to a new hormonal IUD called Skyla. Approved earlier this year, Skyla is smaller than other IUDs and is specifically designed to fit the less flexible uterus of a woman who hasn’t given birth.
You can remove it whenever you want
IUDs are a long-lasting form of birth control you don’t have to think about or fuss with, and that’s part of the appeal. The copper-emitting type, called Paraguard, can safely remain in the uterus for as long as 10 years. A second kind that administers a small dose of the hormone progestin, known as Mirena, can stay in for up to five years, while Skyla lasts for three. “Still, if you decide for any reason that you don’t want it in anymore, your gyno can remove it in a quick office visit, and your fertility will return with no problems,” says Dweck.
One type might make your period easier
Women who use the Mirena IUD tend to report easier, lighter, less crampy periods. On the other hand, some Paraguard users say that their flow is heavier, longer, and more painful. (Skyla hasn’t been on the market long enough to know for sure how it affects menstruation.) The benefits for your period may be why the new study found that hormonal IUDs were associated with fewer complications and lower discontinuation rates than copper IUDs.
They don’t cost as much as you think
True, the up-front fees of an IUD can run you $ 500 to $ 1,000, says Dweck (you’re paying for the device itself, as well as the doctor’s visit to insert it and then a follow-up visit six weeks later to make sure it’s in place). But many insurance plans cover part or all of the cost. And the initial hit to your pocketbook might end up being better in the long run than what you’ll pay shelling out each month for your pill prescription.