Thinking about contraception might not be the most glamorous part of travel, but it’s certainly worthwhile to invest proper time and thought into deciding what is the best option for you.
Most girls know about contraceptive pills and condoms, but surprising few women opt for the coil – either the IUD (intrauterine device) or IUS (intrauterine system) – as a means of regulating their fertility and menstruation.
Both work in similar ways: a small T-shaped device is implanted into the uterus by a nurse or doctor, where it can remain for 5-10 years depending on the brand, preventing pregnancy with an efficacy rate of over 99%, until it needs removing once more.
The only difference between the IUD and IUS is that the IUD is non-hormonal (it releases copper into the body), meaning that it can be a good option for women who wish to avoid hormonal methods for medical reasons or out of personal preference, whereas the IUS is hormonal – hence why it’s sometimes called the ‘hormonal coil’.
Whenever a woman is thinking about having an IUD fitted, there are a number of different issues to consider – especially if that woman is a traveler. Here are just some of the things to think about:
- It lasts yonks and you don’t have to do anything. ‘Nuff said. No worrying about trying to find the morning after pills in foreign lands! No stocking up on prescriptions before you go! No cross-border abortion excursions! A coil can offer real peace of mind wherever you may be in the world, and it won’t take up valuable space in your backpack either.
- For some women, having a coil fitted can mean their periods get lighter and shorter, or even stop entirely (this is generally more likely with an IUS).
- The coil’s efficacy isn’t affected by taking other medicines (like antibiotics) or by getting ill – both of which are likely occurrences on the road.
- Let’s be honest: the process of fitting and removal isn’t a barrel of laughs. Although it’s a quick procedure, it’s also not that comfortable and, for some woman, can be downright painful. This is enough to put some – especially the squeamish – off the idea.
- Whereas some women’s periods can improve with a coil, for others they can get worse. Heavy bleeding and spotting can also be problems (this is more likely to be the case with an IUD).
- Doctors advice that you allow six months for your body to adjust to a new coil before deciding whether or not it’s for you. This is because the first few months are when you’re most likely to experience any unpleasant symptoms (such as pain or irregular bleeding), which will then usually fade with time. There are also a whole host of scary-sounding potential side effects (infections, womb perforation, and expulsion to name but a happy few – yippee!) that you’re most at risk of at the very beginning. Travel plans, therefore, might be best left until your body has settled.
- There’s also the risk of STDs: many doctors will only give IUDs to women in monogamous relationships, as it can be easier to get an infection or contract an STD. So if you’re using it while traveling, you’ll still want to use condoms to be safe.
Speaking personally, as someone with an IUS, I have had only a positive experience: minimal discomfort whilst having it fitted, mild cramps for the rest of that day… and then nothing. I have not had a period since! As I’ve been plagued by incredibly irregular periods all my adult life, this makes my life a thousandfold easier. Several women I know have had similarly positive experiences; that said, I know others who haven’t, and who have ultimately opted to have their coils removed.
Whether or not an IUD is right for you is a very personal decision, and having one fitted can be a bit of a gamble. However, if you think it might suit you then speak to your doctor and see what they suggest – and remember to factor in any travel plans when making your decision!