Why IUDs Are Having A Moment Right Now

They're the "it girl" on the birth control scene.
Deborah Jaffe via Getty Images

For decades, the birth control pill has reigned supreme as the go-to hormonal contraceptive of choice for women -- so much so that four out of five sexually experienced women in the United States have used it at some point.

After all but disappearing from the market in the 1980s, intrauterine devices (IUDs) are back and gaining momentum. In 2002, just 1.5 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age used long-acting contraception or LARC -- a category that includes IUDs and the birth control implant. By 2011 to 2013, however, that number jumped to 7.2 percent.

And while far more women still use the pill or condom, the use of IUDs specifically increased by 83 percent from 2006 to 2010 and 2011 to 2013.

"As a full-time clinician who sees patients all day, every day... I can tell you [that] absolutely, IUDs are totally having their moment," Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an OB-GYN in Westchester, New York and an assistant clinical professor with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told The Huffington Post. (Dweck has a professional relationship with Bayer, which manufactures the Mirena and Skyla IUDs.)

Though Dweck said she's seen things slowly change over the past two decades, "I've seen a major transition in the last year or two predominantly," she added. Here's some more proof IUDs are having a serious moment.

America's medical groups are all about the IUD. On Tuesday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strengthened its recommendations regarding the use of LARC methods, calling them "the most effective and safe forms of non-permanent contraception."

"We continually see more and more data to support and strengthen our recommendations," Dr. David Soper, chair of the College's Gynecologic Practice Committee, said in a statement. By way of example, ACOG cited the ongoing CHOICE Project, which gives women free access to various birth control methods and tracks their outcomes. LARC methods were 20 times more effective at preventing unintended pregnancy among study participants than the birth control pill, patch or ring.

Plus, in 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that long-acting methods like the IUD be the first-line contraceptive options for sexually active teens. Though overall use of LARC methods by those younger women remains relatively low, the CDC reported that it jumped from just 0.4 percent of teens seeking birth control at Title X Family Planning clinics in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2013 -- a pretty dramatic spike.

It's health providers' go-to choice for themselves. A telling 2015 study found that among more than 300 women's health care providers who were personally using birth control, roughly 42 percent of used a LARC method. Overall, those women were significantly more likely to use IUDs, the birth control implant and the vaginal ring than any other contraceptive methods -- a finding that differs from the general population, but could have clear implications for clinical practice and patient education, the study's authors wrote. Though decisions surrounding birth control are highly personal, "as a clinician, I’ve been asked many times by my patients what contraceptive method I use," Lisa Stern, an author on the study said at the time of its release.

For many women, IUDs are now a whole lot less expensive than they used to be. A new Guttmacher study published online in the journal Contraception last week found that the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires privately insured women be able to obtain contraception without a co-payment or co-insurance costs (when they're prescribed by an in-network provider) has helped reduce the financial barrier many women once faced when it came to IUDs. By the spring of 2014, 87 percent of insured women should not have had to pay for an IUD, the researchers determined, compared to just 42 percent of women in 2012. (The researchers used data from a service offered by Bayer, which allows healthcare providers to inquire about a patient's insurance coverage for an IUD before prescribing it, analyzing more than 400,000 such queries to see if women would have been covered hypothetically.)

"Growing numbers of women are able to obtain birth control methods that were once unaffordable," Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement that accompanied the study's release. And they truly were expensive. Though the costs associated with IUDs are all upfront -- the medical exam, device itself and its insertion -- Planned Parenthood estimates they can run up to $1,000.

"Birth control pills, which are still the most commonly used form of reversible contraception for women, were always what was specifically covered by insurance," Dweck said. "[Now] we're seeing IUDs covered much more."

"That," she added, "is a big deal."

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