The coil

If you're considering getting something metal and plastic put up your vag you're bound to have a few questions. How does the coil work? Does it hurt? What does the coil look like? Luckily, we've found the answers to the most common queries about the coil.

A young woman is standing by the lockers. She is considering getting the coil.

What is the coil?

The coil is a small t-shaped device (about the size of a match) made of plastic and copper. It’s inserted into your vagina with the primary purpose of preventing pregnancy. You also have a bit of choice when it comes to this method of contraception. There are two types: an IUD and an IUS.

And what does the coil look like? It largely depends on which type you get but generally speaking they’re just a T-shape tiny device. 

How is a contraceptive coil fitted?

First things first, you’ll have to let the nurse get to know you real well. It should be fairly obvious that getting something in your vag can’t be done through clothes. You’re expected to lie down on a table, take your knickers off and open your legs. This can be a daunting experience if you’ve never had a smear test or Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) test before. So if the thought really upsets you or makes you really uncomfortable, it might be worth looking at other contraceptive options. You can check our article out here to do just that.

Okay, now that you’ve decided you’re for it – here’s what’s gonna happen. 

A speculum covered in lubricant (thankfully) will be inserted to open up the walls of your vagina. That way your doctor can get a nice clear view of your cervix. After that, you’ll get a local anaesthetic gel or injection. Nothing will happen for the next couple of minutes while it works its magic. Then, the T-shaped coil is then folded up and pushed through your vagina up into the cervix. This will hurt or be uncomfortable but only for a few seconds. And that’s it. Okay, so there may be some period-like cramping for a couple of days after that. But then it’s all done.

Jane*, 24, had a copper coil inserted a year ago. She says: “I wouldn’t say it hurt, it was just really uncomfortable. Being injected was probably the most painful part. Other than that, it just felt like bad period cramps. Luckily, the anaesthetic helped. On a scale of one to 10, I’d probably rate the pain at seven. Don’t just go off my rating though – everyone’s different. ”

How does the coil work?

So now that you know what it is and how it gets in you, you’re probably wondering ‘How does the coil work?’

Well, there are two types of coil. One is non hormonal (IUD). And the other type of coil works by releasing a hormone into your womb (IUS).

The IUD is made of copper. Basically, this metal has a toxic, kryptonite-like effect on sperm, which stops them from fertilising the egg. It also thins the lining of your womb. This means that if a rogue swimmer gets through to an egg, it won’t be able to embed itself anywhere. This is actually considered a form of emergency contraceptive if fitted by a doctor within five days of having unprotected sex.

The IUS is completely different. It’s commonly known as the Mirena or hormonal coil and slowly releases the hormone progesterone directly into your womb. This prevents the creation of any potential offspring by thickening the mucus in your cervix so sperm can’t get through. Plus, just as an added security, it makes your womb an unwelcome habitat for eggs. On top of all that, it can also stop your ovaries releasing eggs entirely. So you’re basically looking at a triple threat here. 

Will the coil make my periods worse?

Potentially. Not the answer you wanted to hear, we know. But it really does depend on which coil you choose.

One of the side effects of the IUD is heavier and longer periods. Therefore, it isn’t recommended for women who already experience heavy periods from hell.

The IUS has the opposite effect. It makes periods much lighter, and can even stop them altogether. Just know that this might not be the one for you if you value using your period as a not-pregnant reassurance device.

Can my partner feel the coil during sex?

We covered what the coil looks like and where it’s put, so you can probably guess that the answer is nope. The coil is a small device that sits in your cervix, not in your vagina. So even Mr Tickle’s arm wouldn’t be able to navigate that far up. 

That being said, they may be able to feel the threads of the thin wire strings that hang down from the device and come into your vagina. These might be a tad sharp. Good news is, if they can feel them and it’s uncomfortable, you can just ask your doctor to trim the strings shorter. Then you’re good to go.

Can the coil get dislodged during a particularly energetic sex session?

Again, no. Remember, it’s really, really high up. So go forth and bang to your heart’s content. Although, we should probably mention that in rare cases it is possible for a coil to fall out of its own accord. But, rest assured, it’s never the result of a “faster-harder-deeper” sesh.

Does the coil affect fertility?

Here’s the thing. The coil doesn’t affect your fertility, but chlamydia does. The latter can cause a pelvic infection that scars your fallopian tubes. And what many people don’t know is that Chlamydia can climb. Think of your vag as Mount Everest, your cervix as the summit, and chlamydia as the climber determined to reach the top.

The problem with the coil is that it has two dangling strings. These offer the perfect leg-up to the danger zone. While contracting chlamydia is bad enough when you’re on the pill or another form of contraception, the coil makes the whole fertility-destroying process much quicker. So please please, don’t have unprotected sex with any new partner. For your health.

Does the coil cause abortion?

We’re getting into morally murky waters here depending on when you personally believe a human life begins. But technically, no – the coil doesn’t cause abortion. However, if you believe life begins the moment a sperm meets an egg, then your view may differ. 

Legally and scientifically speaking, pregnancy begins when a fertilised egg implants in the lining of the womb. This happens about 10-12 days after sex. Just in general, lots of eggs don’t implant anyway. This means that the coil is just giving this process a helping hand

Ectopic pregnancy

It’s worth noting that in the unlikely scenario that the IUS fails and you become pregnant, there’s an increased risk of something called an ectopic pregnancy. This can be very dangerous so if you have any pregnancy symptoms, make sure you see a doctor immediately.

I’ve haven’t had children yet. Can I still get a coil fitted?

Yes you can. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. The idea only mothers can have a coil fitted is an old-fashioned view. Unfortunately, even some health professionals are guilty of reinforcing it. Your vagina is incredibly flexible – it’s capable of squeezing a baby out of it – even if you never end up using it for that

Just know that there can be a reluctance to fit younger women with coils. Regardless, it’s your right, and ultimately your responsibility, to choose a contraception that best suits your life. The only thing you’ll hear us say as regards to safe sex is to make sure you forgo unprotected sex. Always use an extrinsic contraception such as condoms with new partners.

Can the coil get stuck inside me?

This is a cousin of worrying whether a tampon can get lost inside you. And the answer is the same. No – because it has nowhere to go. The coil isn’t suddenly going to break loose and start frolicking around your liver, brain, or foot. It’s physically impossible. 

However, during insertion there is a very small risk of perforation. This is where the coil can get pushed through the wall of your womb or cervix. But it only happens in a teeny tiny number of incidents.

Thank you to the Family Planning Association for their help with this article. 

If you wanna conduct further research into the wonderful world of contraception, check out this article on types of contraception.

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
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By Holly Thompson

Updated on 23-Jun-2022