IUD – Copper Coil Birth Control
IntraUterine Contraceptive Device
The following is an extract from “Sexplained Two – For Changing Times” by Helen J Knox
It is used here under licence, with permission. All rights reserved. © Helen Knox/Knox Publishing
It is available in both print and epub 3, interactive fixed layout format via iBooks and Kobo.
What is the IUD or copper coil?
IUD means Intra-Uterine Device.
Some people refer to it as the IUD instead.
It is a small device, which is inserted into the womb to prevent pregnancy.
Several different types are available. They’re usually made of plastic, contain a small amount of copper and have a small thread, which you can feel at your cervix.
(This helps you to check that it’s in place correctly).
How does it work?
The copper reduces the number of sperm reaching your fallopian tubes.
It alters the conditions inside your womb and reduces the chance of fertilisation or of a fertilised egg implanting in your womb.
When do I use it?
It must be inserted by a specially trained healthcare practitioner, under aseptic (sterile) conditions.
Usually, it’s inserted during the first 10 days of a menstrual cycle.
It can be inserted later, as a form of emergency contraception.
It can be inserted at any time as long as the inserter can be sure you are not pregnant.
How do I check that it is still there?
After insertion, you or your partner should check that it’s still in place after each period.
You do this by inserting a clean finger into your vagina and feeling for the thread at your cervix.
Your cervix is about a full finger’s depth into your vagina – it is around hard muscle which feels like the end of your nose – ie. it has a dimple in the centre.
If you don’t feel the thread, assume it has fallen out. You must then use another method of contraception until you can get it checked by your doctor or nurse.
If you feel something like a matchstick at your cervix, your IUD has slipped and you should not rely on it for contraception until you see your doctor or nurse, who may remove and/or change the device.
How reliable is it?
Very reliable indeed.
Almost 100% of pregnancies are prevented for users of the IUD.
It’s so good that today, it’s often offered to prevent pregnancy instead of a sterilisation.
Who’s suitable to use the IUD?
Women in a stable relationship who don’t want to use other forms of contraception for several years are the most suitable.
Who’s NOT suitable to use it?
Each woman’s situation is assessed individually but it is NOT recommended if you have or have had:
1. a sexually acquired infection or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) at the time. After treatment, it may be appropriate to use it as a method;
2. heavy, irregular or painful vaginal bleeding without a known cause;
3. you or your partner have sex with other people and do not use condoms;
4. an allergy to copper.
It’s not usually the first method of choice for young women who haven’t had children or women who have had an ectopic pregnancy – but if they are keen to use it and are in a stable relationship, where the risk of sexual infection is minimal, it can be used.
Women are assessed individually.
My friend says that the IUD causes infection. Is this true?
No, it is not true.
The IUD is a sterile device.
If you have an existing infection at your cervix at the time of insertion, that can be pushed into your uterus and cause pelvic infection (PID/pelvic inflammatory disease).
For how many years can I use it?
You can use an IUD for between 5-10 years depending on the device inserted and then have another.
If you want to become pregnant, you can ask for it to be removed earlier.
Will I be tested for anything before I have an IUD fitted?
Many practitioners test for an infection called chlamydia before inserting an IUD.
Some others suggest you’re fully screened for infection, at a Sexual Health Clinic, beforehand.
This is a wise precaution, which can help to prevent pelvic infection that could put your fertility at risk.
Are there any benefits from using it, apart from pregnancy prevention?
No, there aren’t.
Do diarrhoea, vomiting or antibiotics affect it?
No, they do not affect the IUD.
Must I stop using it and give my body a break?
No, not unless you acquire a sexual infection.
Will it control my periods?
No, it won’t.
Will it make my periods heavier or lighter?
Modern IUDs are smaller than their predecessors (used in the past) but periods may be longer and heavier.
Do recreational drugs affect its reliability?
No. Not as far as is known.
Drugs can, however, be bad for your long-term physical and mental health and can increase your risk of contracting sexually acquired infections.
If you dehydrate you are more likely to get thrombosis (blood clots).
Will the IUD make me put on weight?
No, it won’t affect your weight.
Will it protect me from pregnancy AND infection?
No, it won’t protect you from infection.
It will only protect you from pregnancy.
The only way to protect yourself against both is to use a condom.
Is it reversible?
Yes, completely, upon removal.
When does it start to work?
It starts to work straight after it has been inserted.
Some people advise the use of extra protection during the first 7-days.
Do I have to have sex to use it?
No, but there’s no other reason for having one except for contraception.
Are there any disadvantages to using it?
Yes. If you catch a sexually acquired infection it can pass more easily into your womb than when other methods of contraception are used.
Complications rarely occur but there is a small risk that if pregnancy occurs with an IUD in place that it may be an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.
However, there is still less risk of this happening than if you are not using a method of contraception.
Do I need to have a check-up after it’s fitted?
Yes, you should have a check-up after six weeks, and then only if you have problems.
Can I use tampons with an IUD?
Yes, you can use tampons but wait and use sanitary towels (pads) until after your first period in case the IUD comes out with your first period.
If you use tampons after your first period always check the thread(s) afterwards to make sure the IUD hasn’t come out during menstruation.
What should I be aware of if my girlfriend’s using an IUD?
Her outward appearance doesn’t change when she’s using the IUD, so it’s up to you to help her check that it’s still in place before you have sex.
You can do this during foreplay by gently checking that you can feel the threads of the IUD at her cervix.
Diarrhoea, vomiting, antibiotics or other drugs won’t put either of you at increased risk of pregnancy.
Remember: your girlfriend’s not protected from sexually acquired infections when using the IUD on its own.
So, if you’re unfaithful to her, you could put her at risk if you don’t use a condom.
The only way to protect yourself fully from unplanned pregnancy AND infection is to use a condom during sex, at all times.
Can I use it safely if I smoke?
Yes. But for other reasons, it is not wise to smoke!