There’s a lot to recommend going the IUD route for birth control. For starters, once an intrauterine device is implanted, you don’t have to bother with birth control for up to a DECADE — you’re protected ALL the time. Sounds nice, right? But truth time: Does getting an IUD hurt? I’m not gonna lie: Some people’s descriptions of getting an IUD aren’t pretty. Although some women have very little pain associated with the procedure, others have a hard time with it. But even women who do experience significant pain when they get their IUDs often say that having an IUD is well worth it. Only you can decide if an IUD is right for you, but these first-hand accounts might help you to feel more informed:
If you scour the Internet for accounts of women’s IUD insertions, you’ll find a lot of horror stories, because that is the nature of the Internet — people tend to be more likely to talk about negative experiences than positive ones. But when Bustle’s Senior Features Editor, Rachel Krantz, got her IUD inserted last year, it wasn’t as painful as she’d been led to believe. “It seemed like at least half of the five minute procedure was spent sterilizing my insides with a wash that [my doctor] then sort of scraped around,” she recalled. “…It was an uncomfortable feeling, kind of like a pap smear with water, but not exactly painful.” Krantz’s doctor gave her a cervical block, a local anesthetic injected into the cervix, to lessen the pain she might feel upon insertion. “The shot felt like a dull, achy pain,” she said.
With the cervical block in effect, Krantz didn’t experience a lot of pain upon the insertion of the IUD itself — in fact, she wasn’t even sure when it went in. “I did feel one sharp, quick little pain, which I'm assuming was the moment [the doctor] inserted it,” she explained. (You can read her full account of the procedure here.)
Research has mixed findings on the efficacy of cervical blocks to prevent pain during IUD insertion, but, in Krantz’s case, it certainly seemed to help. Doctors have a variety of methods for getting patients through the insertion process; some have patients take over-the-counter pain relievers beforehand, while others have them practice deep breathing and listen to calming music.
Writing for Glamour, Melissa Melms recounted her IUD insertion in 2013. Unlike Krantz, she didn’t have a cervical block; instead she took 800 mg of Ibuprofen before the procedure. She wrote of having the IUD inserted into her cervix,
It lasted for only five seconds or so, but it felt like a very deep, sharp pain — almost like the worst period cramp I've ever experienced but in the center of my body so the sensation was just very foreign.
Maeve McDermott, talking to Christina Cauterucci at Slate, had a worse experience. “My Pap smears have been just momentarily uncomfortable,” she said, “But the IUD insertion was on another level: an intense pain and really uncomfortable pressure for about 30 seconds. I was seeing stars by the end of it.” She added that it was “probably the worst pain I’ve ever been in.”
OK, so that doesn’t sound good. But here’s the thing: All three of these women, from the one who experienced mild discomfort to the one who experienced the worst pain of her life, all agree that they love their IUDs. At Glamour, Melms remarked, “YES, it was painful. But do I think it was worth it? Yes.” She especially appreciated being able to go hormone-free. (Unless you use a barrier method — i.e. condoms — most forms of birth control are hormone-based, and some people’s bodies just don’t like having their hormones messed with. There are two types of IUDs — hormonal and non-hormonal. The non-hormonal IUD, Paragard, is the only long-term non-hormonal birth control method on the market.) At Slate, McDermott said she is “obsessed” with her IUD, despite her painful insertion experience, because it’s hormone-free and “it takes human error out of the birth control equation.”
Bustle’s own Rachel Krantz is also a fan. “Now that I've had my copper IUD over a year, I am grateful for it all the time,” she tells Bustle. “I never have to think about birth control, I don't have to be on hormones, I don't feel it at all, and I've found my period has barely gotten any heavier.” There’s a lot of hype about the pain of IUD insertion, but sometimes the fear is worse than the actual experience — in fact, one study suggests that, on average, women tend to expect more pain from the procedure than they end up having. Krantz says of her IUD, “There was so much fear around the IUD — the insertion and the aftermath — but the truth is, it's the most empowering and simple choice about my reproductive future I've ever made.”
It’s clear that IUD implantation isn’t all hearts and roses, but only you can decide if you’re willing to risk momentary (albeit potentially intense) pain for long-term, highly effective protection against unwanted pregnancy. Considering getting IUD, but worried about pain? Here's Krantz’s advice: “You're tougher than you think (and if you're not, just ask for a cervical block like I did and you'll barely feel the insertion!)”