A new University of Texas study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology recommends IUDs as a birth-control method for teenagers. The study's authors say increasing teenagers' access to IUDs could have a "tremendous impact" on rates of unintended pregnancy.
The researchers argue that the IUD is a safe, long-lasting, and highly effective form of contraception that suffers from a stigma that is not medically warranted — and that leads many doctors to overlook the potential benefits of the IUD to younger patients.
"Today's IUDs are not the same as the ones that existed decades ago and are undeserving of the outdated stigma they carry," said Dr. Abbey Berenson, the study's lead author. "Modern IUDs are safe, cost-effective and provide years of worry-free birth control. Though more research is needed, this study shows that IUDs should be among the options considered to address teen pregnancy rates."
Berenson's study followed 90,000 IUD users between the ages of 15 and 44. It found that less than 1% of users experienced serious complications, a rate which was the same among teenagers as among older users. It also found that the rate of early discontinuation of IUD use were the same among teens and adults. Still, as anyone who's actually tried to get an IUD knows, many doctors still (wrongly) believe they're only appropriate for women who've already given birth, or for women who are in monogamous relationships. A study completed earlier this year found that even many women hold mistaken beliefs about the IUD's effectiveness and safety.
The University of Texas study says that IUDs have advantages over other forms of birth control that are particularly applicable to teenagers, who may not take oral contraceptives correctly or use condoms consistently. This makes sense because IUDs are more effective at preventing pregnancy than any other kind of contraception — more effective than the pill, the patch, the ring, condoms, you name it. An IUD is statistically as effective at keeping you un-pregnant as sterilization, only unlike a tubal ligation, an IUD can be removed with a 15-minute doctor's visit. And because IUDs last a long time — they can protect against pregnancy for up to ten years from implantation — teenagers and younger women who are far away from their child-bearing years are likely to get the most use from them.
IUDs obviously aren't the right choice for every woman (which is probably part of the reason only 8.5% of U.S. women who use contraception are currently using them), and though complications from IUDs are rare, they can be serious, like ectopic pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease. And, like the pill, they only protect against pregnancy, not STDs.
For the record: I am a card-carrying member of the Paragard Club, 2010-present, and I couldn't be happier with my decision.