About the IUD

The IUD has a success rate of nearly 100 percent.
The IUD has a success rate of nearly 100 percent.
Spike Mafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock

The intrauterine device, or IUD, is a T-shaped device that is inserted into a woman's uterus to prevent pregnancy. It can be implanted in a doctor's office, has an amazing success rate of nearly 100 percent, and is the most popular form of reversible contraception in the world, with over 85 million users. However, in the United States, only 1.3 percent of women use the IUD as birth control.

The reason? Many believe that the IUD is a victim of bad PR in the U.S., due in large part to the Dalkon Shield, a similar-looking device that was promoted as a revolutionary form of contraception in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Shield's makers did not thoroughly research its potential design faults, and the infamous multifilament string (as opposed to a safer monofilament one) caused users to fall victim to pelvic infections, internal scarring and even infertility. Class action lawsuits brought against Dalkon's A.H. Robins Company totaled over $1 billion and forced it into bankruptcy.

Such a traumatic ordeal has made today's IUD relatively unpopular in the U.S.—even with women who weren't yet born during the Dalkon Shield crisis. It's also led to misconceptions that continue to keep American women away from the IUD, even as those in other countries embrace it. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinicalprofessor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University, would like to see this change.

Dr. Minkin admits that the IUD is "wildly popular" in Europe and Asia, and says that the IUD can greatly benefit women. "It's a good idea to revisit what you're using contraceptively," says Dr. Minkin. She cites the sponge as a prime example. "The sponge isn't perfect, and someone with good fertility is better off with an IUD." Also, in terms of overall health, an IUD is safer than birth control pills for smokers. "There's no doctor that would advocate smoking, but if you're a smoker over 35, the pill greatly increases you chance of cardiac disease."