“Are you still on the pill?”
This is a question my friends and I have been asking each other for many years and I’m sure it rings a bell for all women aged anywhere between 16 and 35. We are utterly obsessed with making sure our nearest and dearest are using a contraceptive method that works for them.
“But you’re using condoms, right?”
Since I was about 17, I have considered the recipe of condoms and the contraceptive pill to be the only way to go, losing the franger once it’s been established that there are A) no STDs, and B) no third party involved to potentially introduce one. The combination pill has long been established as a safe contraceptive method, with the risk of blood clots still being a shitload lower than at any stage of pregnancy. And of course, it’s a pretty dang reliable baby-blocker. Condoms can be a bit annoying, but really, they’re preferable to pretty much any sexually transmitted disease on the market.
“But I thought you liked the pill?”
I did. I do. It’s a pretty phenomenal invention that played a major role in women’s lib in the 60s and 70s. It’s convenient, inexpensive and has very few, minor side effects. It should be considered as an acne treatment before Roacutane. It should be readily available to every young woman and we should take it with a bit of pride and without fear, despite what some media outlets have to say.
But sometimes, we’ve just had enough of the same thing for a while. Sometimes, we just want to try something new. Sometimes we want to find out what our real cycles are like, instead of the bizarre every-now-and-then-take-the-sugar-pills-cos-it’s-been-ages-and-is-starting-to-seem-a-bit-weird cycle. So, I stopped taking the pill. I had been a bit forgetful for a few weeks and couldn’t be bothered keeping track of the seven-day ‘just in case’ time.
“So, what contraception are you using?”
Glad you asked! I moved to Melbourne only earlier this year and one thing I needed to do was suss out a good doctor. I managed to do exactly that and scored a lovely, 30-something-year-old woman with fantastic bedside manner who is within walking distance of my house. Due to an irregular pap some time ago, I’m on the regular list for smears. Our first appointment was a revelation. I explained that I was just a bit over the pill – not for much of a reason, but basically because I was curious about my natural cycle and wanted to learn about how my body and mind changed throughout it. She understood immediately (I tell you, she’s a mind reader!) and asked if I would be interested in a copper IUD. I admitted ignorance; I knew it meant intrauterine device and that copper is a metal but beyond that I was clueless (thanks school, good job). Well, apparently this little gem of a contraceptive isn’t well known because no pharmaceutical company backs it, because nobody makes any money out of it (great system). She said it’s pretty standard in England and probably the safest, most effective, least expensive and has the fewest side effects of all the methods (aside from the dreaded Abstinence).
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
I am talking about a long-acting, non-hormonal, reversible form of contraception.
I am talking about a T-shaped plastic and copper doo-hickey, a few centimetres in length, which, once inserted by a GP or specialist, can be left for 10 years with very little worry. This is a contraceptive that has been around in some form for more than 100 years.
“And that doo-hickey works how?”
I’m pretty terrible with chemistry and biology but apparently, copper kills sperm (there’s a feminist superhero idea in there). It sends out little waves of coppery-infused fluid power and zaps any sperm trying to get all up in your love oven. That’s it. Unlike the pill, the ‘typical use’ failure rate and ‘perfect use’ failure rate for a copper IUD are the same because your actions don’t impact its effectiveness. Once it’s in, you just live your life and have all the spontaneous sex you want. The only thing you need to remember is to take it out 10 years later.
“Sounds great. What’s the catch?”
A few minor side effects – it’s pretty normal to have a slightly heavier period, maybe a few extra cramps. I make that sound like no big deal because for me, it isn’t. But I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune if I suffered like some do. At least you can take it out with a quick trip to the doctor and only about $100 out of pocket (keeping in mind, that’s $100 for 10 years. That’s the most cost-effective sentence I’ve ever written).
One other potential problem is a slight chance of perforation of the uterus. Doctor Fantastic assured me this was very rare and basically shouldn’t happen if the doctor has any clue about what they’re doing (it would be like a nurse messing up an injection).
“Can I get one?”
Probably. Unless you have some sort of reproductive organs issue, diagnosed or otherwise, like abnormal bleeding, infection, STI, etc. I’m currently waiting on an HPV all-clear before I can get an IUD. Other than that, any person with biologically female bits who’s had a single period can get one.
Of course, I’m not a doctor. You need to check with a pro that knows you, your bits and their business. I was very lucky to happen across this new doctor of mine; I hope everyone can find one like her. The best thing she said to me was, “I got the copper IUD a few years ago. I love it.” This was not some hypothetical medical journal and industry selling point; this was woman-to-woman advice. The kind of shit my girls and I talk about over wine, cheese and Beyoncé. I’m getting one on my next visit, I’d be happy to let you know how it goes.