The intrauterine device (IUD) is a convenient way to prevent pregnancy: The small implant is highly effective, reversible, and low-maintenance. Women who get one don’t have to worry about taking pills, getting shots, or replacing rings and patches all the time.
Right now, many women are anxious to start using a reliable, long-lasting form of birth control, especially since many elected officials want to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the law that keeps IUDs and other forms of contraception affordable.
Thinking about getting an IUD soon? Four of our reporters and editors explain what it was like to get one.
Megan Willett (senior editor): “It felt like the worst cramps of my life for a few seconds, but the next day I was fine.”
To many of my friends, I’m an IUD evangelist. Ever since I got one two years ago I am constantly telling people about the benefits (super effective, lasts for years, and no more periods) and telling them to get one.
But their follow-up question is typically about the insertion — what’s it like? Admittedly, it’s a bit freaky to think about placing a T-shaped plastic or metal device inside your body and letting it hang out in there until it’s ready to be removed.
I tried to get an IUD for almost 10 years before I finally got one when I was 25. I started trying when I was 16 years old and found out about it in health class, but my then-gynocologist informed me that I wasn’t eligible to get one — doctors only gave them to women who have been pregnant before, she said. Later, a different gynocologist told me that I wasn’t a good candidate because I wasn’t married and was ‘at risk for having multiple sexual partners.’
These are false misconceptions about the IUD, though if you do have multiple sexual partners, you should also use condoms since the IUD does not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases, just pregnancy.
Finally I found a suitable, feminist, and amazing gynocologist in NYC. She had an IUD herself. So did all the doctors at the female-run practice.
After getting my prescription for the five-year Mirena, my doctor set up an appointment for the insertion procedure. In addition to ordering the intrauterine device, she also prescribed a tiny pill that would dilate my cervix, making it slightly easier to insert the IUD. It felt like having mild cramps leading up to my appointment for an hour or so.
When I got there, my doctor had me lie down on the table, just like in a regular gynocology exam. She checked how dilated I was with some sort of stick-like instrument — which I’m not going to lie, felt like intense cramps — and then said I was ready for insertion. During this point of the procedure, I decided not to look down, so I don’t remember what all the instruments looked like or what she was doing. I remember she asked me where I wanted to travel just as she placed the IUD inside me — which felt like the worst cramp you’ve ever had, tenfold — and I remember not being able to answer her, only groan.
But the intense pain only lasted a few seconds. My doctor told me how to check for the strings, to take some Advil, and to rest with a heating pad for the remainder of the day. She said not to get up quickly and take my time leaving; something I’d advise any woman who gets an IUD since as soon as I sat up, I felt a rush of blood and left the office feeling woozy and dizzy.
I tried to go back to work afterwards, but it felt like I was on the worst day of my period and the cramps were too distracting. My boss let me leave and I went home to sit on the couch with a heating pad and wait until it was time to fall asleep.
The next morning, I felt fine. Better than fine: I couldn’t feel the IUD at all. After a week had passed and I was able to have sex again, my partner told me he couldn’t feel it either.
Today I have no side effects and have enjoyed free birth control for the past two years (barring the original copay from the insertion appointment and my follow up exam). If you’re a good fit for getting the IUD, I would highly recommend it.
Jennifer Polland (deputy editor): “My body is still adjusting […] but I may get the IUD removed.”
I only got my IUD a few months ago, but I’m not fully sold on it yet.
After giving birth a year ago to my second daughter, I was looking for a new form of birth control. Everyone preached to me how amazing IUDs were, so I decided to give one a try. I loved the idea of not having to think about taking a daily pill (or having the stress of missing one!) and I also loved the idea of not getting a long or heavy period.
I chose Skyla, a three-year IUD that has hormones in it. I may still want to have another child, and I liked the idea that you could just take it out when you’re ready and your cycle will go right back to normal — no adjustment period for the hormones, like there is with birth control pills.
The insertion process was fine. It just felt like one brief, strong cramp, and then it dissipated — it was NOTHING compared to labour.
Although my body is still adjusting, the one major downside I’ve found with the IUD is that I’ve had much longer (though not heavier) periods. It may just be that my body is still adjusting to the IUD — my doctor told me it takes a few months for things to stabilise — but a big part of the reason I chose an IUD was because of the shorter periods. If my periods continue to last for a long time, I may get the IUD removed.
Caroline Praderio (reporter): “I’ve been in hassle-free birth control heaven.”
I decided to switch from the pill to an IUD when I learned that they’re not equally good at preventing pregnancy.
The pill has a failure rate of 9% — in other words, in a typical year of use, there will be 9 unintended pregnancies for every 100 women who take the pill. Hormonal IUDs like mine have a failure rate of 0.2%.
As soon as I learned that, I was sold.
At my request, my then-gynecologist prescribed the 3-year hormonal IUD Skyla because I wanted to keep getting my period. Most Skyla users continue to get short, light periods, while Mirena users’ periods can go away completely. Skyla was perfect because it gave me great protection and the familiar comfort of experiencing my period for one or two days every month.
The insertion wasn’t nearly as painful as I expected. If 10 represents the worst pain I’ve ever experienced (the moment when I had an ovarian cyst rupture, for the record), I’d rate IUD placement somewhere between three and four.
My gynecologist started by inserting a speculum, then slowly pushing a thin metal stick called a uterine sound into my vagina and through my cervix, in order to measure the size and angle of my uterus. He pulled it out, then grabbed the Skyla and the long, thin plastic apparatus used to insert it. He slid it in and I experienced what felt like a momentary but intense period cramp. Finally, he pulled out both the applicator and the speculum, leaving my new IUD in place.
Truthfully, it felt weird more than it felt painful. You don’t often get the chance to experience metal and plastic objects moving through your cervix.
I was out of the office a few minutes later and experienced mild cramps throughout the rest of day. For the first few months, my periods were irregular, but that’s a normal side effect. And ever since I made it through those early months, I’ve been in hassle-free birth control heaven.
Not having to take a pill every day or worry about filling monthly prescriptions is immensely liberating. I can’t feel the IUD, and my partner can’t feel it during sex, either. The only minor downside is that I occasionally get bad cramps (like, take-ibuprofen-all-day-long kind of cramps), but I got those when I was on the pill, too. For me, the IUD’s low failure rate and low maintenance more than make up for a few days of treatable pain.
My Skyla’s three-year run ends in January, and I’ve already set up the appointment to replace it. Next, I’m going to choose a brand-new IUD on the market called Kyleena: It last for five years but users still get to experience short monthly periods. I encourage all women of reproductive age to try Kyleena, Skyla, or any other IUD brand. For me, the switch was an absolute no-brainer.
Lauren Browning (associate social media editor): “Although I was nervous to never get a period, the IUD was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health.”
When I got my IUD over four years ago the only way I could describe the feeling was that I felt like my butt was going to explode. I realise that sounds crazy, but being the first of my friends to get one I am constantly asked what it felt like and that is the best way I can describe the sensation I felt. Despite that, I love my IUD.
Four and a half years ago I was heading into my junior year of college and I wasn’t happy with my birth control at the time. The oral contraceptive I was taking changed my body dramatically, and with each menstrual cycle came a monster migraine. My sister, who’s a OB/GYN, (which is super convenient by the way) recommended that I look into getting an IUD, something that she has herself and often recommends to her patients who are good candidates for it.
At the time I didn’t have a gynecologist, so when I was home over summer break I talked to my internist and decided it was worth a shot. Not only is it the most effective form of birth control, but by cutting out my period I was hoping to reduce my migraines as well. My doctor ordered the Mirena intrauterine device and we booked an appointment.
At my insertion appointment I lied down on the table just like I would for any other vaginal exam. My doctor had not prescribed me the pill that helps you dilate and I had not taken any Advil — apparently I was supposed to but no one told me! And then the procedure began. Like I said before, I felt like my butt was going to explode. It wasn’t so much pain as it was a pressure to a part of my body I had never before been aware of. My knees started to cave inward, but my doctor urged me that it would just be another minute. And then it was done.
My doctor had me stick around for 20 minutes in case I felt lightheaded or woozy. The pressure subsided after about five minutes, and four years later I still feel great.
Although I was nervous to never get a period, the IUD was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health. Within the first two weeks of getting it, I lost eight pounds (which made me realise how many hormones the pill was pumping into my body), and in the past four years I’ve said goodbye to PMS, cramps, my monthly cycle migraine, worrying about missing a pill, and my period all together. My prescription will be up next August, but I can confidently say that I will get a new IUD.
Julie Zeveloff (executive editor): “I really don’t miss the phone alarm that went off at 6:30 p.m. every evening for seven years, reminding me to taking my pill.”
Everyone has their own opinions and needs when it comes to birth control. I opted for an IUD three years ago after years of taking the pill and dealing with myriad side effects.
For me, it was the right decision. I’d recently moved in with my boyfriend and didn’t plan to get pregnant for several years. I was tired of the ups and downs that accompanied hormonal birth control. My gynecologist recommended Paragard, a non-hormonal IUD that lasts for up to 10 years.
I didn’t know many people who’d had an IUD inserted, and made the mistaking of googling it before my procedure. Don’t do that. You’ll fall down a terrible message board rabbit hole and freak yourself out.
The insertion took about a minute and a half, and felt just like my doctor said it would — like a few seconds of really unpleasant period cramps, followed by several hours of soreness. I took two Advil and forgot about the whole thing by evening.
For me, the only side effect from my IUD has been heavier and longer periods. That sucks. But it’s far better than the increased anxiety I experienced on hormonal birth control. And I really don’t miss the phone alarm that went off at 6:30 p.m. every evening for seven years, reminding me to taking my pill.
Think you like the sound of an IUD? Check out our guide here.
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