Feeling a little out of whack down there? Here’s how to keep your vaginal area in balance.
For many women, the vaginal area is high maintenance in a way that, frankly, can get a bit frustrating — and sometimes even painful. Menstruation, dryness, chafing, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections all require us to give the vulva a lot of TLC. However, there’s no need to throw your hands up in exasperation. In fact, by adhering to these five simple rules, you’ll find that you, your partner, and your V-zone can do more than just get along — you can exist in harmony.
Keep it balanced.
A healthy vagina naturally has a slightly acidic pH level that helps maintain optimal amounts of bacteria. This pH, however, is subject to change: If you’re stressed out, overweight, menstruating, on a diet, or taking birth control pills or other antibiotics, your pH levels can be thrown out of whack, causing beneficial bacteria — known as probiotics — to die off. When this happens, the wrong bacteria can thrive, and this can lead to illnesses and infections like yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and vaginosis. Infections like these can make things very itchy, inflamed, and uncomfortable down there, aside from the unpleasant changes they can provoke in both discharge and odor.
To keep your pH levels where they should be, eat foods that naturally contain probiotics, such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, and yogurts that include “live and active cultures” (which is most of them nowadays). Also, drink cranberry juice! Containing naturally acidic compounds that make it through your system and to your bladder without being affected, cranberry juice has been used to both prevent and treat urinary tract infections for a very long time. The less sugar it contains, the better. Enjoy a tall glass every day.
As a matter of fact, you should also avoid scented soaps when cleansing your vaginal area. Soaps often contain harsh chemical agents that can act as irritants and disrupt that aforementioned delicate pH balance. Your vagina is a moist environment, and dirt and bad bacteria should be naturally flushed out when it’s in a healthy state. Gently and thoroughly rinsing between your labia with warm water in the shower should be all you need to keep yourself clean down there.
Although this may be difficult to remember in the heat of the moment, using a little bit of lubricant — even if you need to stop mid-romp to apply — can help you avoid a sore, chafed vagina post-coitus. Even if natural lubrication is not a problem for you, anyone’s body can have trouble keeping up if the sex is rigorous or long-lasting! So, make the conscious decision to be sore no more by keeping a bottle of water-based lubricant on the nightstand.
If becoming naturally lubricated in the first place seems to be the problem, drink more water! Mucous membranes (found in places such as your eyes, mouth, and vagina) rely on a well-hydrated body to function properly. Drinking eight glasses of water per day not only aids in achieving a sex-ready body, but could also lead to a milder vaginal scent and taste.
Wear breathable undergarments.
Your vagina and vulva create a warm, moist environment that naturally breeds bacteria, both the good kind and the bad. Wearing synthetic panties that don’t allow fresh air to get through can cause bacterial production to go into overdrive, leading to — you guessed it — infections. Spending the whole day in a wet bathing suit can set off the same problems, because if there are three conditions that bacteria love, it’s heat, moisture, and darkness. Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s okay to have slinky, sexy, synthetic undergarments for special occasions. But, for day-to-day wear, choose soft, comfortable, cotton underwear that allows your vulva to breathe!
If you don’t self-stimulate regularly, you should start. Being in touch with your body in a way that brings you pleasure provides benefits to both your mental and physical health. It improves communication and self-confidence in the bedroom, relieves stress, boosts your metabolism, allows you a higher understanding of what you need from your sex life, and, hey, it feels good. The rush of endorphins released at the point of climax can even be enough to pull you out of an emotional funk, reduce headaches, and help you sleep better. When you consider all the benefits — and the total lack of cons — why wouldn’t you masturbate? It’s perfectly healthy… and, yes, almost everyone does it!
By being educated about what your body needs to be healthy and sexually satisfied, you can take measures to prevent the inconvenient ailments that are specific only to women, while building a stronger and more intimate bond with your partner. Though being female isn’t always a stroll in the park, most of the time, it’s pretty great.
Please note: Not every woman has a vagina and not every man has a penis.
keep yo kitty right.
THE GREAT CUP Q&A - Revised!
I posted a piece about menstrual cups back in December 2011. Since then I have learnt a few more things and have had wayyyy more experience with using my own.
The idea behind this Q&A is to provide information about the lesser known/talked about alternative to Sanitary Towels and Tampons….The Menstrual Cup.
There are several different brands available throughout the globe, but the better known brands are The Mooncup, Lunacup, Lunette, The keeper, Diva Cup and Femmecup (although this is by no means an exclusive list).
A lot of people I serve at work call it the “OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?”
In fact, a lot of you may be thinking that too, so let’s get started…
Q. Ok, so what is a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a form of sanitary protection worn inside the vagina to collect your flow rather than absorb it.
Q. NO WAY? Why would I EVER want one of those things?
They’re better for you, your budget and the environment”
The thing about Tampons is that they absorb a lot of your Vagina’s natural secretions which are there to keep it moist and healthy (hence why I’m sure a lot of you can feel a bit dry and tender). Furthermore, the majority of brands use cotton treated with pesticides and bleached with chlorine which are NOT healthy for the body.
Sanitary towels can feel bulky, uncomfortable and cause thigh chafing. Also, the top weave is commonly made of a plastic which can be the cause of allergic reaction in some. Their fibres are also Chlorine bleached and, for some odd reason, many now contain fragrances!
Q. Still sounds icky to me
That’s 100% fine and you’re not alone with that opinion.
There are always alternatives such as Organic pads/tampons or re-usable pads. I will link some fabulous companies that make/sell them later.
Q. Ok…..so say I am interested in a cup. What’s so special about it?
The majority of cups are made from Medical Grade Silicone or body safe TPE. This makes them reusable, so you end up hardly paying a thing every Period (you can focus more on chocolate and painkillers instead). Some are made of latex but that’s not so great for allergy sufferers and they have a shorter life.
They don’t absorb your Vagina’s natural secretions so there’s less irritation, there are no deposits of fibres in your vaginal walls and it holds up to 3 times as much fluid as a pad/tampon. They’re comfortable and you can play sport with it, sleep with it, swim with it…
Q. Have Sex with it?
It sits far too low in the Vagina – just at the entrance – for that kind of thing.
If it’s period sex you’re wanting then look up Sponge Tampons for mess free period sexy times. Otherwise, lay on a dark towel and go nuts!
Q. My flow is heavy, so what about leaks?
Provided you have inserted it properly, it’s highly unlikely you’ll leak since it holds up to three times more fluid than a pad/tampon.
Most menstrual cups have a few tiny holes around it just underneath the rim. When inserted properly, those holes help form a seal using the vaginal walls. If you’re still not sure then you can use a thin pad or liner until you get used to using your cup.
Also make sure you buy the right size. There are guidelines depending on the brand so read the box or ask a sales assistant if you’re not sure. Take advantage of their customer services if you are really stuck on what size to buy.
Q. OH MY GOD It looks HUGE! How the hell do I get it in?
It’s quick and simple once you get the hang of it.
Fold it once:
Fold it again:
Then gently insert. Once in place, it should pop open and form a seal.
Cups are designed to be soft and comfortable, so you can bend and squish it to get a comfortable shape and angle for you to insert it. If you’re nervous or stuck then try a blob of water based lubricant around the rim to help insert the first few times until you’re used to it (do not use silicone or oil based lubricant as these can degrade the material!).
A cup sits lower than a tampon so you need to make sure it’s all just at the entrance of your vagina (you’ll eventually figure out the most effective way to place it since we’re all built differently).
It WILL take a few tries before you get it to sit in the right place. Perseverance is key, practice makes perfect…and all of those sayings…
Q. Ok, you keep saying how easy and simple it is but what about emptying it? Cleaning it? Just getting the damned thing out in general?
Answering the last question first:
To remove you can do one of two things:
1) Slide your finger alongside the cup to the rim and gently push to break the seal.
2) Grasp the bottom of the cup between your fingers and gently pull to release.
Make sure you remove slowly and gently in a side to side motion ensuring all liquid stays in the cup (I don’t want to scare anyone, but “splashing” incidents are not unheard of).
Empty the contents down the toilet then reinsert. You can wipe a little with tissue or, if you are able get to a tap, give it a rinse. Otherwise clean it properly when you’re back at home if you feel the need to. It’s advisable to empty your cup every 4 – 8 hours.
Make sure the holes around the rim aren’t blocked - tissue and a squeeze will usually fix that - and you’re good to go!
If you want to wash it during your period, you can simply use water to rinse or a non-perfumed soap. If using soap, please remember to rinse your cup thoroughly as any residues left over can cause vaginal irritation.
It is not recommended to wash your cup in your dishwasher as any detergents used may affect the material of your cup and any residues could cause irritation.
Q. That doesn’t sound very sterile!
It isn’t sterile, but Towels and Tampons aren’t sterile either.
Just emptying and reinserting will honestly do you no harm every once in a while.
Q. What if I DO want to give it a proper KILL ALL THE GERMS kind of clean?
Read the guide that should come with your cup as some brands recommend different things. Generally, if it’s made from silicone then, to sterilize, you can soak the cup in sterilizing solution (used to clean baby bottles etc) or boil in a pan of water for 3-5 minutes.
Read the solution instructions carefully so as not to ruin your cup.
DO NOT boil your cup dry.
Q. Wow, that stalk looks uncomfortable….YOU LIED ABOUT COMFORT!
The Stalk is there to be cut away, either to a more comfortable length or off completely.
It helps removal initially, but most tend to cut the whole thing off once they get used to insertion and removal.
Q. How long do cups last?
Provided you take care of it, your cup should last YEARS!
You’ll know it’s time to change when the following happens:
-If the material of your cup changes (becomes tacky/sticky or starts to harden and split)
-If it loses its shape
Discolouration doesn’t mean your cup needs to be replaced.
If you want to get rid of that then simply soak in sterilizing solution (again, read the cup and sterilizing product guidelines).
Q. Can cups be used if you have endometriosis?
There’s nothing saying that you can’t use it if you have this condition. If you would like to try a cup then go ahead and see how you get on with it.
A good thing about a cup is that, because it collects rather than absorbs, it will be able to collect heavy bleeding and clots (Tampons and towels can’t absorb them).
If you use a cup with measurement marks then it also makes it much easier to monitor your bleeding for any doctor appointments.
Q. What about if I have an IUD/IUS (Coil – birth control)
It *should* be fine to use as a cup sits low in the vagina, but I would recommend speaking to your doctor or sexual health provider before you go ahead.
Don’t use ANY internal sanitary protection 6 weeks after having an IUD/IUS inserted (due to infection risks which should have been outlined before you had it fitted).
If you do decided to use a cup then be careful on insertion and removal and be sure to check your coil strings to make sure they are still sitting in the correct place.
Q. How about after having a baby or during the menopause?
It’s not recommended to use any internal sanitary protection for the first 6 weeks after giving birth due to infection risks, but any time after that should be fine.
It’s perfect to use during the menopause as it can cope with both heavy and light flow days as well as any unexpected flooding. It can help you monitor blood loss and save money on pricey disposable products.
Q. Hmmm…I suppose I’ll think about it. It does all sound like a good idea but disposable products are just convenient, you have to admit!
And expensive and coated in needless chemicals, and they get dumped on landfill sites…
The average woman uses AT LEAST 10,000 pads or tampons in her lifetime. I know I could think of much better things to spend my money on.
But hey, at least you’re thinking about a cup and that’s what is important. The more who know about them and other menstrual options they have open to them the better!
If you have ANY other questions about menstrual cups, sanitary care or just menstruation in general, I will happily try to answer.
Also, I have tried to make this Q&A as Trans* and Genderqueer freindly as possible, but if you see a slip-up then please point it out to me. I want this post to be for ANYONE who menstruates.
I am NOT medically trained so can’t answer more technical questions related to Vaginal health but I do own a Uterus, I have a period and I use a Menstrual cup. I also sell cups and organic Tampons at the store I work for so I HAVE TO understand how they work.
VulvaLoveLovely: Perfect for cloth sanitary towels
Mooncup : The Mooncup
Diva Cup : The Diva Cup
The Truth about Tampons and Pads.
JAMSPONGE Sponge Tampon
Museum of Menstruation and Women’s health
Brilliant explanation of everything you might want to know about menstrual cups!
Man I keep forgetting to reblog this to the right blog - menstrual cup lovers, this one was meant for you guys!
With pelvic pain and skipped periods, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your body could be trying to tell you something.
With the news that insurance companies will now be required to cover preventive health-care measures for women — including birth control, HPV screenings, and HIV counseling — it’s easier than ever to schedule regular checkups with your gynecologist. Prevention is your best defense against future health problems, but you can’t always predict when or what types of issues may arise. So how do you know if your symptoms warrant a trip to the doctor? These potentially serious signs are among several that call for a visit, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Pelvic pain and abdominal discomfort. It’s important to tell your gynecologist what kind of pain you’re having. Does it come on suddenly or is it constant? This will help the doctor make a proper diagnosis. Sharp pelvic pain may be a warning sign that you have an infection, a ruptured ovarian cyst, or a dangerous ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy growing outside the uterus), according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). More constant pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen are suggestive of uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous tumors.
Another potential source of regular pelvic pain is endometriosis, a common condition in which the lining of the uterus grows outside the organ. “Endometriosis starts with pain during the menstrual cycle and can progress to become an ‘all the time’ pain as endometrial cells grow outside the uterus,” says Stephen Weiss, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. The endometrial tissue bleeds during menstruation and can cause terrible pelvic pain. “There is no cure for endometriosis, but anything that makes periods shorter, lighter, or nonexistent can provide symptom relief,” says Weiss. One option is birth control pills, especially a brand called Seasonale, which limits menstrual periods to four times a year. Another choice is the drug Lupron (leuprolide), which lowers estrogen levels and can slow the growth of endometriosis. Your treatment will depend on how bad the pain is and whether you plan on getting pregnant. In addition to causing pelvic pain, the condition can lead to trouble having a baby. “There is no proof that early endometriosis is a cause of infertility, but high stage endometriosis can lead to fertility problems,” says Weiss.
- Bleeding between periods/postmenopausal bleeding. Occasional spotting between periods shouldn’t set off any alarm bells. But when the bleeding lasts for days or is heavy and painful, it’s time to call your gynecologist. This could be a sign of an injury to the vagina, a miscarriage, or even cancer of the cervix or uterus, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “If you’re having mid-cycle bleeding month after month, certainly call the doctor,” says Weiss. It is also important to check in with your doctor if you have stopped having periods due to menopause, but have begun bleeding again. This could be a sign of uterine cancer.
- Problem periods/missed periods. It’s important to know what’s normal for you. “If you have had heavy periods for 15 years, you don’t have to call the doctor about it now,” says Weiss. But if you’re soaking through a sanitary pad or tampon every hour for two to three hours, or your bleeding has lasted longer than a week, your gynecologist needs to know. Uterine fibroids, an infection, or athyroid problem could be to blame. “If you feel weak or dizzy during menstruation, you should call your doctor, no question about it,” says Weiss. Irregular or infrequent periods can be a symptom of an underlying condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone imbalance problem, according to the NIH. A missed period could be a sign that you are pregnant, or that there is another medical condition requiring attention.
- Unusual discharge or soreness in the genital area. Vaginal discharge is the body’s way of keeping the vagina clean and healthy. The thickness of discharge changes at different times of the month, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. But if you notice a yellow, green, or gray discharge that has a bad odor, it’s time to see your gynecologist, according to ACOG. Changes in discharge as well as itching and burning around your vagina could indicate some type of vaginitis. Two major culprits are yeast and bacterial infections, which can be treated with medication. Very painful genital sores could be a sign of herpes, says Weiss.
- Painful sex. One of life’s greatest pleasures shouldn’t be painful. Pain during sex can be felt as deep pelvic pain or soreness in your genital area. Common causes are vaginal dryness, infections, or uterine fibroids, according to the NIH. Your gynecologist will likely perform a pelvic exam and tests to find out what’s wrong.
- Problems with urination or bowel movements. Urinary incontinence or difficulty moving your bowels can be symptoms of pelvic floor problems. That’s when the tissues that support the pelvic organs become damaged or weakened, often due to childbirth. If the muscles are weak, your gynecologist may suggest special pelvic exercises, called kegels, to strengthen the area. But if there’s a tear, your gynecologist will suggest other treatment options.
When to See the Gynecologist: Resources
Experts say females who are sexually active and/or who are over 21 (whichever comes first) should see their gynecologist yearly for routine checkups and screenings. The sooner a problem is found, the sooner it can be treated. To find a gynecologist in your area, search the doctor directory provided by our partner site, Revolution Health, where you can find doctors by specialty, city, state, or zip code.
Always pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, your gynecologist can evaluate the problem and provide treatment to help you get back to feeling your best as soon as possible.
*not just women
Implanon® is a small plastic rod, about the size of a matchstick, which is inserted just under the skin on the inside of a girl’s upper arm. The rod slowly releases a female hormone called progesterone into the bloodstream over a period of three years. But Implanon® won’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s a good idea that both partners have an STI test before having unprotected sex (sex without a condom), even if they have Implanon®.
Implanon® works in three ways:
- Temporarily prevents ovulation (an egg from being released from the ovaries every month).
- Temporarily thins the lining of the womb (uterus) to prevent a fertilised egg from attaching to it.
- Thickens the discharge (juices) from the cervix to help prevent sperm from going into the womb (uterus).
When the rod is inserted correctly by a doctor, Implanon® is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
- Convenient - you don’t have to remember to take anything.
- Lasts for a long time - three years.
- Easily removed.
- Does not protect against STIs - protection such as condoms must be used.
- The menstrual cycle is altered, causing irregular periods and spotting through the cycle.
Implanon® costs $5 - $25 every three years plus the cost of insertion by your doctor.
Do not use if- you are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby younger than 4 weeks old.Smokers should NOT use Implanon.Do not receive the implant if you are allergic to etonogestrel, or if you have:
a history of stroke or blood clot;
a history of breast cancer;
abnormal vaginal bleeding; or
liver disease or liver cancer.
If you have any of these other conditions, you may need a dose adjustment or special tests to safely use an etonogestrel implant:
an ovarian cyst;
high blood pressure;
heart disease or congestive heart failure;
high cholesterol or if you are overweight;
a history of depression;
seizures or epilepsy.Before receiving the etonogestrel implant, tell your doctor if you have an ovarian cyst, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, gallbladder disease, a seizure disorder, or if you are overweight.You will most likely have irregular and unpredictable periods while using the etonogestrel implant. Tell your doctor if your periods are very heavy or long-lasting, or if you miss a period (you may be pregnant).
Any doctor or surgeon who treats you should know that you are using etonogestrel implant.
The etonogestrel implant must be removed by the end of the third year after it was inserted and may be replaced at that time with a new implant. If you choose not to replace the implant, your ability to get pregnant will return quickly. Start using another form of birth control right away if you wish to avoid an unintended pregnancy.
Before receiving this implant, you may need a pregnancy test to make sure you are not pregnant.
The timing of when you will receive this implant depends on whether or not you were using birth control before, and what type it was. Follow your doctor’s instructions.
This implant must be inserted only by a physician or other healthcare provider who has been specially trained in the insertion of the etonogestrel implant. Incorrect placement of the rod too deeply can make it difficult or impossible to remove later on. If the rod is incorrectly inserted and falls out, you will not be protected from unintended pregnancy.
Once the implant is inserted, you should be able to feel it under your skin. Tell your doctor if you cannot feel the implant under the skin at any time while it is in place.
Etonogestrel is released slowly into the body from the implant. The implant can remain in place to provide continuous contraception for up to 3 years. If the implant is placed correctly, you will not need to use back-up birth control. Follow your doctor’s instructions.After the implant is inserted, your doctor will cover your arm with two bandages. You may remove the top bandage after 24 hours, but leave the smaller bandage on your arm for 3 to 5 days. Keep the area clean and dry while wearing the bandage. You will most likely have irregular and unpredictable periods while using the etonogestrel implant. Tell your doctor if your periods are very heavy or long-lasting, or if you miss a period (you may be pregnant).
Your doctor will need to see you on a regular basis while you are using this medication. You may also need to have routine mammograms. Any doctor or surgeon who treats you should know that you are using an etonogestrel implant.
The etonogestrel implant must be removed by the end of the third year after it was inserted and may be replaced at that time with a new implant. If you choose not to replace the implant, your ability to get pregnant will return quickly. Some women have become pregnant within the first week after removal of an etonogestrel implant. Start using another form of birth control right away if you wish to avoid an unintended pregnancy.Do not use etonogestrel implants for longer than recommended by your doctor.Do not smoke while using etonogestrel implant, especially if you are older than 35. Smoking can increase your risk of blood clots, stroke, or heart attack caused by etonogestrel implant.
Etonogestrel implant will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases—including HIV and AIDS. Using a condom is the only way to protect yourself from these diseases.
Etonogestrel implant side effectsGet emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat. Call your doctor at once if you have any of these serious side effects:
warmth, redness, swelling, or oozing where the implant was inserted;
sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body;
severe pain or cramping in your pelvic area (may be only on one side);
sudden headache, confusion, pain behind the eyes, problems with vision, speech, or balance;
chest pain or heavy feeling, pain spreading to the arm or shoulder, nausea, sweating, general ill feeling;
swelling in your hands, ankles, or feet;
jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes); or
symptoms of depression (sleep problems, weakness, mood changes).
Less serious side effects may include:
pain, numbness, or tingling where the implant was inserted;
minor bleeding or scarring where the implant was inserted;
acne, freckles or darkening of facial skin;
menstrual cramps, changes in menstrual bleeding pattern;
increased hair growth, loss of scalp hair;
nausea, mild stomach pain;
vaginal itching or discharge;
headache, back pain, nervousness, dizziness;
runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough; or
problems with contact lenses.
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.What other drugs will affect etonogestrel implant?
Before receiving etonogestrel implant, tell your doctor if you are using any of the following drugs:
phenylbutazone (Azolid, Butazolidin);
St. John’s wort;
antibiotic medicines such as griseofulvin (Grisactin, Grifulvin V, Fulvicin PG), itraconazole (Sporanox), ketoconazole (Nizoral), amoxicillin (Augmentin), ampicillin (Omnipen), doxycycline (Doryx, Vibramycin), minocycline (Minocin), penicillin (Veetids, Pen Vee K, Bicillin), rifampin (Rifadin), rifabutin (Mycobutin), tetracycline (Sumycin, Achromycin, Robitet), and others;
seizure medicines such as phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), felbamate (Felbatol), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), or topiramate (Topamax);
a barbiturate such as amobarbital (Amytal), butabarbital (Butisol), mephobarbital (Mebaral), secobarbital (Seconal), or phenobarbital (Luminal, Solfoton); or
HIV medicines such as amprenavir (Agenerase), atazanavir (Reyataz), tipranavir (Aptivus), indinavir (Crixivan), saquinavir (Invirase), lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra), fosamprenavir (Lexiva), ritonavir (Norvir), or nelfinavir (Viracept).
This list is not complete and there may be other drugs that can interact with etonogestrel implant. Tell your doctor about all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you use. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and drugs prescribed by other doctors. Do not start using a new medication without telling your doctor.
Yesterday I finally took the leap and got an IUD! After months of issues with my birth control pill and the release of new information about significant risks associated with my particular brand I gave in and scheduled an appointment. Before I went in, I was pretty anxious about what I would experience, and didn’t find a lot of information about what would actually happen once I got there readily available. Now that I have experienced it, I thought it would be really helpful to share with everyone else how getting an IUD really works!
Below you will find information about what an IUD is and my own personal experiences having an IUD inserted. It is very important to remember that these were my experiences, and that in general experiences will vary depending on your own body. It is also important to know that I got the hormonal IUD Mirena and not a copper device.
What is the IUD? The IUD is a match-stick sized t-shaped rod inserted into your uterus to help prevent pregnancy. They come in two kinds: copper (ParaGard) and hormonal (Mirena). Since my own experiences were only with Mirena, this is what I will be concentrating on here.
The Mirena device works by releasing small amounts of progestin locally which thickens your cervical mucus (which blocks sperm from meeting with an egg), and prevents eggs from being released. This basically means that it prevents pregnancy and not the transmission of STIs (you should use barrier methods as well if you are hoping to do this!). As a form of contraception, Mirena is 99% effective. The IUD is thought to be the safest and most effective form of birth control on the market. It lasts up to 5 years, which makes it a fantastic option for young people looking for something easy and long-term. Although Mirena may have a large upfront cost, in the long-term it often ends up being a very cheap method. Many insurance companies will cover it in full, so make sure you check with your provider!
Mirena is also wonderful since it can decrease menstrual flow, sometimes stopping it completely, and help with cramps after the device settles in. However, it also comes with many side effects unique to this method such as: More spotting, pain during/after insertion, cramping, and rarely uterus perforation which can be very serious. However, since Mirena doesn’t have estrogen it isn’t associated with many of the negative side effects that you usually get with hormonal birth control such as the pill.
The IUD is inserted using a long tube that looks something like what you see in the image below. This image also can give you a good idea of where in the body the IUD sits.
As you can sort of see in this picture, the threads of your IUD will hang down past your cervix. This is so you can reach up every now and then and check to see if they are still there. However, often they settle into your body and even curl up around the outside of your cervix which makes it pretty hard to feel. On the bright side, this also means that the strings won’t be felt with a partner during penetrative intercourse which is a possibility during the first month or so with your IUD. The strings wouldn’t hurt a partner, but many people do report that they can sometimes tell they are there.
It is also of note that the IUD is effective immediately after it is inserted. With Mirena, this actually means that it is effective immediately if you have the device inserted during the first 7 days after your period. Otherwise, you should probably use a back-up method for the first week. Either way, you should consult with your doctor about it.
Now on to my own experiences…
Before the Procedure: There are a couple of things you can do before the procedure to help it go smoothly, and I want to make sure everyone knows how much they can help. It can mean the difference between a little bit of pain and a very short procedure, or a lot of pain and a procedure that lasts a couple minutes longer. Here is what you can do:
- Take pain killers: Really, do this. Taking over the counter pain medication will help you deal with the pain. I took 800 mg of ibuprofen before and after I got my IUD, and I really do think it helped, (I assume when it wore off was when I had to go home because of the pain, keep reading for that statement to make sense).
- Try to schedule your appointment for when you have your period: They aren’t kidding when they say it goes in easier if you have your period. Menstruating at the gynecologist may seem awkward to you, but it is never ever something your doctor has not seen before. Trust me, they are used to it and any little thing you can do to ease the process is going to help you feel a whole lot better.
- If your doctor prescribes you something, take it. If they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask about it: Before the procedure, my doctor prescribed me Misopristol which helps to soften the cervix, and again helps to ease the whole process.I really think that having done these three things helped to ease my IUD insertion process and make it a lot faster and less painful.
During the Procedure: Going into the procedure, I was extremely nervous. Although I had done everything I could to prepare before going in, I had no idea what to expect. I asked a couple of friends who said that there was a little pain and a lot of cramping. In retrospect (and after sending a text or two asking why they did not tell me the truth), I have come to believe they may have understated their own experiences a little bit.
The first thing that typically happens when you get to the office is a pregnancy test. My doctor didn’t do this since I had my period. Again, it is typically better to have your period when you go in to get your IUD. This is because the cervix will already be open more and farther down, making the whole procedure generally quicker and less painful.
Once I actually got into the exam room I had to take off my pants and have a STI test. This is usually done prior to getting your IUD since if you do have an STI and get your IUD put in, you’re at an increased risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and then for infertility. I waived the hospitals liability if this were to happen since I had to travel out of state to make this happen, and since I have been in a long-term monogamous relationship for the past three years, and so little chance of having recently contracted and STI.
After that, my doctor felt around to get an idea of the position of my uterus, which involved the insertion of a couple of fingers into the vagina while simultaneously feeling for the uterus on the abdomen. This was a little uncomfortable, but also fairly typically of what you might see at your yearly gyno exam.
Next, the procedure actually gets underway. Some metal holding forceps were put into the vagina and used to hold open the cervix. This felt fairly painful but nothing I couldn’t handle. It mostly felt like there was a lot of pressure pushing around inside of me. The real pain happened when they measured the length of my uterus. I have no idea how they did it, but I literally screamed in pain. Immediately after they inserted the IUD which also hurt, but not as badly as when they measured my uterus. However, it is worth noting that all of this took less than two minutes to do. In my experience, there was a lot of pain but it didn’t last long enough for it to be a real issue.
After the Procedure (Short-Term): I haven’t had my IUD for that long, so I can’t speak to how my body will react to it in the long run. However, I can tell you how the first day went: It was terrible. Immediately after the procedure I was a little dizzy, but not enough where I couldn’t easily get up and walk around. I went to lunch and to the store after.
About an hour and a half after the procedure my cramps seemed to get really bad. I had to head home and spend the rest of the evening on the couch with a heating pad on my abdomen. It felt like there was a lot of pressure and cramps happening in that part of my body. I ended up feeling a little sick to my stomach due to the pain. Even after taking some pain relievers it was still a lot to handle. Fortunately, by the time I went to bed the majority of the pain and cramping had subsided.
In the end, having and IUD was completely worth the pain for me. Since the whole procedure was free, I know have no-cost birth control until 2017. I won’t have to think about, worry about it, or anything else until I am 27. For me, that totally outweighs a day or two of discomfort. I can’t say how the next five years of having an IUD will go, but I’m feeling optimistic!