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The new IUD: Not your mother's Dalkon Shield



Dr. Andrea Ruman, a primary care provider at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, holds two hormone-releasing IUD's: The Mirena, left, and the Skyla. Both work by slowly releasing a hormone that thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm.
Dr. Andrea Ruman, a primary care provider at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, holds two hormone-releasing IUD's: The Mirena, left, and the Skyla. Both work by slowly releasing a hormone that thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Dr. Andrea Ruman, a primary care provider at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, holds two hormone-releasing IUD's: The Mirena, left, and the Skyla. Both work by slowly releasing a hormone that thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm.
Copper is toxic to sperm, according to WebMD. The copper IUD - called the ParaGard - makes the uterus and fallopian tubes produce fluid that kills sperm, according to WebMD.
+mara/Flickr
Dr. Andrea Ruman, a primary care provider at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, holds two hormone-releasing IUD's: The Mirena, left, and the Skyla. Both work by slowly releasing a hormone that thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm.
Dr. Andrea Ruman, who specializes in internal medicine at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, says more university students are interested in IUD's.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Dr. Andrea Ruman, a primary care provider at UCLA's Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, holds two hormone-releasing IUD's: The Mirena, left, and the Skyla. Both work by slowly releasing a hormone that thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm.
The Skyla, left, and the Mirena, right, are more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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In 1974, a type of intrauterine device – the Dalkon Shield – was pulled off the market, amid reports that it caused serious pelvic infections, sterility, and even death. The Copper-7, another IUD that came under fire, was pulled in 1986.

But what's come on the market in recent years is not your mother's IUD: The new brands are completely different, and, experts say, extremely effective and safe.

In fact, IUD's have been endorsed as one of the best forms of birth control for teens and young women by two key groups: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Planned Parenthood also supports that recommendation.

Meet the new IUD's

Today's devices look like tiny, plastic toothpicks. They're T-shaped, and have strings on the bottom.

The hormonal IUD's - the Mirena, and its little sister, the Skyla – work by slowly releasing a form of the hormone progestin, which thickens cervical mucus and blocks sperm. The copper IUD – called the Paragard – produces a toxic environment for incoming sperm.

IUDs are more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, Dr. Andrea Ruman tells the students who visit her at UCLA's student health center. In fact, the copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception, up to five days after sex.

Ruman also tells students that the insertion of the device can be moderately painful. And there can be cramping or spotting in the days – or sometimes months – after.

But that wasn't a problem for 34-year-old Rebecca Owens of Newport Beach. She's on her third IUD and she loves it, despite some initial discomfort.

"It's kind of one of those things where I figure, if you trade a couple of days of discomfort or pain, for five years of, you know, 'I don’t have to worry about having children' – it just really eases my mind a lot," she says.

Word gets out

Word of the new and improved IUD is getting out – through doctors, the media, and online, where self-proclaimed "IUD evangelists" share their experiences using the hashtag #TeamIUD.

"It's like a hidden jewel that people don't know about, and as they find out about it, they think 'wow, this is a great fit for my life,'" says Sheri Bonner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood for Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley.

But there are still barriers to women finding out about IUD's: Experts say some doctors don't think they're appropriate for younger women – and many don't know how to insert them.

Usage is increasing, but slowly: The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank, analyzed the most recent federal data (from 2009), and found a jump in the number of 15 to 19-year-old girls using IUD's - but the number was still less than 5 percent. 

An informal lunchtime survey of young women at Santa Monica College found many have never heard of the device.

Student Gabriela Salazar was among the few who had heard of the IUD. But she says with a laugh, "I heard it hurts, so I'm kind of staying away from that."

But as she learned more about the device, she became more open to the idea.

"I think I would be interested in doing something like that," she says, adding that it seems more foolproof than the pill.

That's the reaction public health experts are hoping for, as more young women learn about the new IUD's. 

Are you or someone you know using an IUD? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at impatient@scpr.org.