Discussions around the contraceptive coil have reached a new high, after BBC presenter Naga Munchetty and journalist Caitlin Moran spoke out about their personal experiences of having the device fitted.
The two women shared the intense pain they endured with the coil and demanded that all women should be offered pain relief. This comes at the same time as singer Britney Spears spoke of her being forced to have an IUD fitted as a requirement of her conservatorship.
Women across the globe have shown their support for Naga, Caitlin and Britney by sharing their own painful experiences of the procedure on social media.
Under an Instagram post by the BBC about Naga’s experience, one woman wrote, “It really was a most horrendous experience when I tried too – it seriously needs researching and improvements made – I’m so glad it’s being talked about now in the media”.
Another commented, “At the end of the day – everyone’s experience is different. I’m happy for those who felt nothing and had no pain. As for persons like myself who had a horrible experience, I feel it should be spoken about more because a pre-warning of ‘mild discomfort’ is a severe understatement.”
What is the IUD?
The Intrauterine device (IUD), commonly known as the coil, is a T-shaped device made from either plastic or copper that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. This form of contraception is 99 per cent efficient when fitted correctly.
The copper IUD works by releasing copper into the womb, which thickens the cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg. Additionally, it can prevent a fertilised egg from implanting itself.
Hormonal IUDs, however, contain a small quantity of progestogen which functions in the same way as the copper to prevent sperm entering the uterus.
While the NHS warns the fitting of the coil may be “uncomfortable”, Naga Munchetty recalls her experience as one her “most traumatic physical experiences”.
As she prepared for what she had initially considered a “routine procedure”, her husband waited in the GP waiting area, as advised, to drive Naga home.
However, Naga recalls that her screams were so loud her husband attempted to find out what room she was in to make it stop. Despite the pain, the news anchor did not wish to stop, instead forcing herself to finish the procedure in an attempt to make the pain she had endured worthwhile. Naga goes on to tell her Radio 5 Live programme listeners that she fainted twice due to the pain.
“Violated, weak and angry”
Naga highlights that although she was asked whether she wanted to stop the procedure by her GP, she was not offered any sort of sedation or anaesthesia to continue with the procedure.
Naga, who has never been pregnant, details how the procedure is “much less painful for women who have had a baby… I would have expected them to use anaesthetic gel or inject anaesthetic into the cervix for women who’ve not been pregnant.”
A year later, Naga decided she had had enough of the coil and returned to the GP to have it removed, which was yet another “excruciating” experience. She recalls feeling “violated, weak and angry.”
She does however stress that there are a range of experiences, with some people feeling minimum discomfort in comparison. Naga concluded that her story was not about the coil itself, which we know is an effective form of contraception, but about how we look at all women’s health about pain.
In Caitlin Moran’s article about her IUD experience, which inspired Naga to speak out, she wrote, “Why is it assumed that women will be fine with having their uterus artificially dilated with a pair of metal barbeque tongs, before having what is basically the wire coat hanger from a dolls house inserted into their uterus…Women are merely told ‘this might be a bit uncomfortable’.”
Gender bias in healthcare
Anecdotes of the women above and academic research both point to a concerning trend: the dismissal of women’s pain in medical settings. It is difficult to definitively determine whether this is due to genuine differences between the sexes of pain, a deficit in the research on women, a gender bias, or, potentially, a combination of the three.
These findings and experiences do not aim to discredit the ways in which men suffer in the healthcare system, particularly on the experience of mental health. Instead, they shine a light on a clear gender disparity within the experience of pain. Class and ethnic biases also feed into the unjust nature of the system.
The girl who cried pain
On an individual basis, it is difficult to prevent the innate biases held by physicians and medical workers on women’s pain. However, as highlighted by the variability in the experiences of women in the fitting of the coil, many people believe that a ‘one size fits all’ approach should no longer be applied.
A Swedish study also found that women were more likely to wait significantly longer to see a doctor, and less likely to be classified as an urgent case.
The dismissal of female pain can have disastrous consequences. French woman Naomi Musenga, 22, died after calling emergency services with abdominal pain so acute she felt she was “going to die”. The telephone advisor responded, “You’ll definitely die one day, like everyone else.”
Naomi tragically died of a stroke and multiple organ failure following a delay of five-hours to be taken to the hospital,
Women speak out
Guidance surrounding pain relief for IUD fittings have since been updated after Naga Munchetty and Caitlin Moran’s experiences came to light.
Changes mean that healthcare professionals within the UK should offer “appropriate analgesia” or refer on to another healthcare provider if they cannot offer this. This is a promising change for many, demonstrating the power of women speaking out of their experiences.