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‘It would have control over me instead of me having control’: intrauterine devices and the meaning of reproductive freedom


In the past decade, enthusiasm for intrauterine devices (IUDs) has rapidly grown in the United States. Messages from health care providers, pharmaceutical advertisements, and public health campaigns extol the freedom that women can experience using a long-term, internal, highly effective contraceptive method. Little research has investigated how young women conceptualize IUDs in terms of freedom and control. We conducted a thematic analysis of in-depth, individual interviews with 37 young Black and Latina women and explored their perspectives on IUDs as promoting and constraining freedom. Participants with favorable views of the IUD (n = 13) appreciated that it would allow them to live their day-to-day lives ‘normally’ without thinking about contraception and with minimal side effects. Four current IUD users found the method empowering because they could pursue their goals without fear of unintended pregnancy. In contrast, nearly two-thirds of participants (n = 24) had predominantly negative views and focused on temporal and physical features of IUD use. They expressed concern that IUDs would impinge on their personal agency by restricting their bodily autonomy since they would not be able to discontinue use without a health care provider; found the idea of a contraceptive method inside their body for years unsettling; and/or desired flexibility over their pregnancy plans. These results highlight a contradiction between IUD promotion discourses and some women’s views about the method and their approaches to pregnancy. Discursive and clinical practices that encourage the use of long-acting contraceptive methods like IUDs over other methods may unintentionally infringe upon reproductive autonomy.

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