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TikToks About 'Traumatizing' IUD Pain Go Viral as Some Doctors Refuse to Remove Them

The political war on birth control is very much real, but that doesn’t mean the intense pain of IUD insertion isn’t. Jezebel spoke to some frustrated patients.

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Image for article titled TikToks About 'Traumatizing' IUD Pain Go Viral as Some Doctors Refuse to Remove Them
Screenshot: @malbtat, @graceott0, @bridgetgoes via TikTok

When TikToker Bridget Goes took a video of herself getting her first IUD removed and her second one inserted in June, she didn’t expect the video to go viral, drawing nearly 900,000 views since. In the video, Goes is visibly and audibly in agony. “i need anyone who wants to get an iud understand it can be traumatic,” the caption of her TikTok reads. “it was traumatic for me.”

Goes told Jezebel she initially wasn’t sure she wanted to post such “an innately intimate” video, which stands out from her posts primarily centered around Harry Styles and her cat. “I took the video for myself, because I was so traumatized by the first one that I pushed the memory out of my brain and wanted to remember the second time,” she said in a phone interview. Since posting it, she’s been heartened by the support she’s received—especially from others who endured similarly painful experiences getting an IUD inserted without any pain medication. Goes says she’s had broken bones, and “the IUD was still by far the most painful experience.”

IUDs are a great option for those who can weather the pain of insertion, who don’t experience side effects, and who seek a long-acting contraceptive or alternative to the pill. But frustration around IUDs has been a hot topic of late: Last month, one woman shared her story of searching for an OB-GYN to remove her IUD, only to be turned away by all of them. IUD removal is expensive, and people who have tried to have their devices removed say doctors often push back on their requests—which is especially egregious considering the lack of pain management.

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For all the comfort Goes has found in people’s supportive responses, she’s also concerned about her video possibly being used to fearmonger and spread disinformation about IUDs, which are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, and other forms of birth control. “I didn’t like people saying, ‘Oh no, I don’t wanna get an IUD now,’” Goes said, emphasizing that hers was one of many different experiences with the contraceptive method and that she still very much trusts doctors and health care workers. TikTok, she observed, is a valuable platform for people to share stories and listen to each other—but in some contexts, it’s also become a pipeline for misinformation.

Earlier this month, researchers from Duke University found that of the 100 most viewed videos that are tagged #IUD on TikTok, about 38% had a “negative tone,” 28% expressed distrust of health care workers, and about a quarter pushed “moderately or highly inaccurate scientific claims.” Speaking of “inaccurate” claims, just last year, several TikTokers went viral by claiming to have removed their own IUDs at home and encouraging viewers to do the same. Doctors quickly responded by warning that doing so could result in serious complications, like uterine prolapse.

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Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, CEO of birth control advocacy organization Power to Decide, says that this reality coexists with the fact that IUDs are a safe, important birth control option for people to have available to them. Patients should be getting comprehensive, accurate information from doctors, she says—and doctors should listen to them about the pain they’re experiencing.

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“Any conversation about birth control should include a review of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of each method. And that conversation should make space for finding a method that works for the individual, for a supportive provider,” McDonald-Mosley told Jezebel. She emphasized that “it’s important that we don’t minimize people’s experiences with pain” and “also explain that the experience can be very variable.”

What TikTokers are saying

Many of the experiences detailed in viral TikToks with the hashtag #IUD are grueling and difficult to hear. In a January TikTok with nearly 3 million views, Lissa Stewart, a civil rights lawyer, recounts her overwhelmingly positive experience having an IUD, but says she doesn’t want one again after the “horrific and traumatizing” process of getting it inserted. The video has a happy ending: A shocked and relieved Stewart says her doctor offered to put her under for her next IUD. “I’ve never had a doctor take me that seriously that quickly,” she says.

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Stewart told Jezebel in a phone interview that she was “blown away” by the response to her video, in which people shared “their own very similar or even worse experiences with IUDs.” She says she realized that “so many people are desperate to just feel heard, respected, and believed” by their health providers and to find supportive OB-GYNs. Stewart added that her gynecologist, whom she references in her TikTok, recently informed her that since the video went viral, she’s “been booked for months and months.”

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In a TikTok from February, Mallory Tatman records herself “screaming” in pain from getting her IUD inserted, with the audio substituted for the Ciara song “Like a Boy.” She told Jezebel she’s had eight stitches from injuries, and her IUD “was still more painful.” Tatman noticed that her video became more popular shortly after the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, as more users began to weigh their reproductive options. “This fed a big debate in my comments section, some thanking me for sharing, others saying videos like mine are scaring people away from a good birth control method,” Tatman said.

Grace Otto, another TikToker who shared her experience getting an IUD earlier this year, said in her video that her soul “left my fucking body” while getting it inserted, despite how her doctor told her it would only feel like a “pinch” in her cervix. “Telling ourselves something is ‘not that bad,’ when it is, is such a universal experience,” Otto told Jezebel. The IUD has worked well for her, and she hopes people still consider it. But she also thinks “it’s important for women to talk openly about our pain and what we just have to endure with little to no help or warning.” It can “only help,” she says, for people to know what she and others have endured. “As a white woman, even my pain wasn’t listened to, and it’s worrying how Black and brown women have their experiences of pain dismissed on a larger scale.”

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None of these experiences—or her own—should be minimized, Goes told Jezebel. Still, she hopes viral TikToks don’t deter people from listening to doctors. “The ‘crunchy,’ anti-doctor pipeline is very close to the alt-right pipeline. If you take your medical care seriously, you shouldn’t just be watching TikTok and not getting the opinion of doctors.”

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Jenny Wu, a resident OB-GYN at Duke who worked on the study, told NBC last week that their findings exposed a “communication gap between health care providers and patients” on IUDs. Wu said she hopes the study helps “health care professionals to really know what is out there online,” so they can provide patients with more personalized information about IUDs and available pain management options.

McDonald-Mosley says Power to Decide’s own research found about 38% of respondents ages 18 to 29 say they received information about birth control from social media, compared with 28% who said they received it directly from a health care provider. “It’s incumbent upon us in health communications and upon providers to ensure there’s balanced evidence, informed content, presented in a way that’s accessible to audiences on these platforms.”

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Asking more of health care providers

It can be difficult to approach thoughtful, critical conversations about reproductive health services at a time when so many bad-faith actors are eager to weaponize negative stories as arguments to eliminate rights to birth control and abortion altogether. But the fact remains that pregnant and pregnant-capable patients’ pain too often isn’t taken seriously by doctors and the health system, to severe, sometimes fatal consequences.

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Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are astronomically high—disproportionately so for Black people and people of color—and a 2016 study found half of white medical students believe Black patients are less likely to feel pain than white patients. The maternal mortality crisis extends from broader, systemic dismissal of pregnant-capable people’s pain, which similarly feeds the expectation that we should just accept negative side effects from some birth control methods—instead of finding a method that works.

Image for article titled TikToks About 'Traumatizing' IUD Pain Go Viral as Some Doctors Refuse to Remove Them
Photo: Science Photo Library (Getty Images)
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As Jezebel has previously reported, TikTok has seen a recent rise in “trad-wife” influencers claiming feminism ruined women’s lives by making us work, and it’s these women—not doctors and actual experts—who are now pushing video after video promoting unreliable methods of “natural birth control” to millions of views. The videos capitalize on rightful, understandable frustration with some birth control side effects to support inaccurate, right-wing arguments that birth control is fundamentally unsafe and needs to be restricted and policed. In July, hundreds of House Republicans voted against a bill to protect the legal right to birth control.

The political war on birth control is very much real—and that doesn’t mean patients’ pain from getting IUDs isn’t. “There’s a pervasive, insidious history of reproductive oppression in our country that’s led people to have some mistrust of medical institutions, particularly related to reproductive health. We have to acknowledge this history, but not stop there,” McDonald-Mosley said. By listening to patients, McDonald-Mosley says we can build toward a better health care system for all.