Will IUDs Ever Catch on in America?

Here's a question: Why aren't IUDs more popular? There's no worrying about broken condoms or forgotten pills, they last for years and they're pretty much the definition of "set it and forget it." Can reproductive health advocates finally convince American women and doctors to consider them?

Time ponders the question. Just 9 percent of American women have opted for the devices. Compare that to 23 percent of French women and 41 percent of Chinese women. Many don't even know it's an option.

That low number is partly because IUDs are still dogged by their flame-out in the 1970s, when the Dalkon Shield was yanked from the market in a flurry of lawsuits. Today's IUDs are far safer, but it's still a PR problem among both women and doctors. Then there's the fact that a straightforward birth-control pill prescription is easier to get and, until the contraception mandate, generally cheaper. Plus, some worry about side effects:

The copper IUD, for instance, can cause heavy periods and cramping in some women for the first few cycles after insertion. Some women with hormonal IUDs report cramping and abnormal bleeding. And in extremely rare cases, the IUD can migrate from the uterus or puncture the uterine wall—which is the subject of several lawsuits against Mirena. Mirena manufacturer Bayer says the company "has adequately disclosed all known risks associated with Mirena since the FDA first approved it in 2000."

"The women who are happy with their IUDs and have no problems are not the ones who get in the press," said Dr. Laura MacIsaac, who heads up family planning at Mt. Sinai. And many reproductive health advocates are pushing to raise awareness about the option:

"IUDs help women work on other parts of their life before they're ready to have kids," says Louise Cohen, vice president of Public Health Solutions. "We want to increase the degree to which women learn about them—whether through a physician or social media—and we will have them readily available when they want them."

And Time says the IUD is growing in popularity among moms and younger women alike (many of whom don't even remember the failures of the 1970s). Given how late everyone is pushing baby-making (who's got the money OR the time?) it's hard to imagine that trend won't continue.

Photo via Image Point Fr/Shutterstock.