There was a time, before LED lights began altering our natural circadian rhythms, when women could follow their menstrual cycles by watching the moon. The majority of women had either a white moon cycle (bleeding with the new moon) or a red moon cycle (bleeding during a full moon). Birth control was as simple as looking up at the night sky to see where the moon was in its cycle to determine where you were in yours. But these days, most of us rely on modern medicine to provide our birth control. And lately, you may have noticed that an increasing amount of women around you switching from a pill pack to an IUD.
While the majority of women using birth control are still using the pill, statistics show that the IUD is increasing in popularity with 7.2 % of women opting for long-acting reversible methods (which also includes the shot and the implant.) While the IUD may feel like a very recent discovery, it was first approved by the FDA in 1968. But IUDs had already become popular before they were approved, with their surge in popularity beginning in the 1950’s. The concept of the IUD was first documented in an article written in 1909 by Dr. Richard Richter.
But actually, if we want to follow the idea of the IUD back to its original roots, we have to go back to nomads and camels. Stones were put inside the uteruses of female camels in the 1800’s to keep them from getting pregnant while on the road. Eventually this method was expanded to human uteruses in the form of stem pessaries. The idea to use this method on humans is said to have been suggested by the great thinker Hippocrates. Meaning, a form of birth control that feels modern is actually older than most of the inventions we use today.
However, despite its long life and many transformations, the device had a lot of stops and starts. IUDs were repeatedly taken off the market for causing complications, infections, and dangerous consequences if a woman became pregnant after having an IUD put in. Many doctors were asked to stop suggesting the IUD to women to put an end to these complications (and probably more than a few malpractice suits).
These dangerous side effects have mostly been eliminated with recent innovations to the IUD, though infection is always a possibility with any medical procedure. But it hasn’t been easy for IUDs to shake their bad rap. This spotty history is why most of us never heard of the IUD when we first started learning about birth control When we asked for birth control, we were told to use abstinence, condoms, and the pill.
But remembering to take a pill every day can be tedious and many people find condoms to be frustrating and cumbersome, not to mention that they’re not 100% effective. There have also been many documented side effects with the pill, such as mood swings, acne, and weight gain that come with synthetic hormones. Women who decide to go with an IUD can make the decision to have low-hormone version or one with none at all. Paragard is currently the only non-hormonal IUD on the market. Some women, like Jessica from Colorado have medical issues that prevent them from using hormonal birth control. She explains, ”my doctor said no more hormones; an IUD was the only birth control I could ever use again.”
Shifts in cultural attitudes are another reason IUDs are having a resurgence in popularity. They’re less permanent than sterilization, but more long-term than the ring or the pill. There was a time when achieving the American dream meant earning enough money to have a house and kids as soon as possible. There was also a time when women were expected to dedicate their lives to staying home and raising those children. But times change and women today can have a career instead of children, or both. And many want to have the time to establish their career first and focus on children later. Five years of birth control can be the security that a woman needs to live her life without worrying about getting pregnant. Ashley from San Diego explained that she chose the IUD “because I know I do not want children and wanted a long term birth control solution since I cannot currently afford sterilization surgery.”
There are many options available to modern women for birth control. And with the topic slowly (very slowly) becoming less of a taboo, women can talk to their friends, partners, and doctors about what choice is best suited to them as an individual. The IUD feels like the most recent fad, but it may actually be the oldest and most discussed form of birth control. Whether you’re single and loving it, in a committed childless relationship, or a mother who’s decided to stop having more children, the IUD may be the best choice for you.