Things teens should consider before using IUC
Last year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended intrauterine contraceptive devices (also known as the IUC) as a first-line contraceptive option for nearly all women of reproductive age. Now, the group is recommending the IUC for teenagers as well.
For those of you who don’t know, the IUC is a small T-shaped device that is placed in your uterus by your healthcare provider during a routine office visit. The IUC is effective for anywhere from two to 10 years, and this flexible birth control is reversible as soon as a healthcare provider removes it.
Many found the recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists unexpected, especially since the IUC has only recently become popular in the United States. (The IUC is much more popular in Europe, however, it is catching on here — use of IUCs by American women has tripled since 2006).
Perhaps part of the reason women have been hesitant to use the IUC is due to concerns over the devices that were used decades ago in the 1970s. (Back then, they were known as IUDs and they were linked to symptoms such as infertility and infection among other things).
However, today’s IUC is safe, reliable and it has the highest efficacy rate of all the contraception tools on the market.
There are many other reasons to consider an IUC. For one thing, they come with options: hormonal and non-hormonal, which is a huge bonus especially for women who struggle with hormones.
Non-hormonal IUCs come with very few side effects, a big plus for women who are tired of the weight gain and low libido (among other things) that come with other birth control options.
Secondly, IUCs require a simple, one-time office visit. This means that you don’t have to remember to take the Pill daily or shell out money at the pharmacy every month. For women, the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the IUC makes it an attractive alternative. It’s also almost 100 percent fail safe — no need to struggle with contraceptive rings and diaphragms, and no need to set a timer on your phone so you take the Pill at the same time everyday.
However, I still have some reservations when it comes to recommending the IUC to teenagers. This is because the IUC still has some risks, especially when it comes to STDs. The IUC basically acts as a gateway to the uterus, so if you contract an STD while using an IUC, it can spread much further and faster to the reproductive organs before you even realize the damage is being done.
This is why doctors always recommend that a woman have a committed and monogamous relationship before she consider the IUC, and the same strong warning should go to teenagers as well.
While teenagers are capable of enjoying close-knit and faithful monogamous relationships, the reality is that the IUC can still be more risky for a teenage girl than an adult woman.
People stray regardless of age, but when you are young and figuring things out, it can be easier to slip up and make mistakes.
If that mistake includes unprotected sex and an STD, that mistake can be costly.
Along with warning teens about the risk associated with STDs and the IUC, doctors and parents also should drive home the message that condom/dental dam use still is a must.
The IUC can protect against pregnancy to a large extent, but it can’t prevent the spread of STDs, whether it’s HPV, herpes, etc.
Ultimately, any discussion we have about teens and contraception is a windfall in my book.
We need to keep the focus on safer sex for our teenagers and young people. By giving them the information and resources they need to be safe, we can ensure that the teen pregnancy rate goes down along with STD rates.
Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of drlauraberman.com.