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Why are IUDs suddenly so popular—and how do they work?

Five years ago, a friend traded her birth control pills for an intrauterine device, or IUD, and I teased her that, pretty soon, she’d be using a Diva Cup for her periods. Fast forward to today, and my four closest female friends now all have IUDs. They’re part of a national trend: Planned Parenthood has seen a 91 percent rise in IUD use among its patients since 2009.

Still, women in this country lag behind the rest world. Only 12 percent of American women who use birth control opt for the T-shaped device, compared to much higher numbers internationally—for example, 27 percent of women in Norway and 41 percent of women in China.

For some, the idea of having a device inserted into their uterus is too much (don’t worry, if it’s inserted correctly, neither you nor a sexual partner will feel it). For others, the IUD still carries a stigma after devices in the eighties were linked to an increased risk of infertility and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.

Since then, however, the technology has changed, assured Christopher Estes, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida. “Current IUDs are proven safe and effective and are not associated with an increased risk of infertility,” he told Fusion.

But what is an IUD, exactly, and how does it prevent pregnancy? Here’s a quick primer on the device’s rise, benefits, and science.


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