birth control

Does it hurt to get an IUD? —Concerned

AA: We are so glad you asked, Concerned. For today’s post I’ll be writing as the content expert regarding intrauterine devices (IUDs). TL;DR: While level of pain varies from person to person, yes. There are a number of factors that inform the physical experience of getting an IUD.

SM: I’ll be the context expert for today. Some factors that can play a role include where you are in your cycle, whether or not you’ve ever given vaginal birth, your personal anatomy (i.e. the shape of your uterus, thickness of your cervix), and pain tolerance.

AA: Some of these factors you may not be able to control but there are some things that you can do to manage the pain. Pain that is experienced during IUD insertion comes from a speculum specially designed for dilating your cervix. If you have flexibility with when you are able to schedule your IUD appointment, try to aim for near the tail end of your period. During this time, your cervix is more open than at other times of your cycle.

SM: Another way to manage pain during an IUD insertion is to take ibuprofen or another NSAID approximately 20-30 minutes before your appointment. This can help reduce the pain from cramping during and after the insertion. If you do choose to take ibuprofen, be sure to not do so on an empty stomach.

AA: Studies have shown that expectations of pain can influence experience of pain. Talking with your clinician about your concerns and what to expect may have a positive impact on your experience. Here are some talking points to possibly bring up with your clinician:

  • Do you prefer to have a step by step explanation of what is happening in the moment or would you prefer less verbal information?

  • Do you have any diagnoses that may have an impact?

  • Have you experienced interpersonal harm, which may inform how much or little information is helpful, the pace at which the procedure goes, and other coping strategies?

SM: There are other things that people have found really helpful during the procedure itself, including bringing a book, listening to a relaxing playlist, bringing a friend or loved one into the appointment, practicing breathing exercises, or zoning out on your phone. After the procedure, some people find snacks, tea, a hot water bottle, or just taking time to relax can help.

AA: If you have any questions, concerns, or pain after your procedure don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider. Thanks again for your question!


Where can I get free condoms on campus? Do I have to prove that I’m a student?

AA: Thanks so much for writing in to ask this question. We’re really proud that here at Harvard we provide (for free!) a variety of types of condoms and other barrier methods, such as oral (dental) dams, finger cots, and gloves.

LM: One of the most popular forms of birth control is the external (or male) condom. In addition to preventing pregnancy, external condoms can also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because they provide a physical barrier. There is also the internal (or female) condom, which is inserted into the vagina or anus before sex.

Below is a list of places on campus you can get free safer sex supplies, as well as a map.

Houses & First-Year Dorms: Most Houses and dorms have dispensers with external (male) condoms. These are generally located in laundry rooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, or near building manager’s office.

Health Promotion Office (6th floor Smith Campus Center): internal & external condoms, oral dams, finger cots, gloves, lube, & educational materials

Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (Smith Campus Center, 6th floor): internal & external condoms, oral dams, finger cots, gloves, lube, & educational materials

Women’s Center (Canaday Basement): internal & external condoms, oral dams, & lube

Office of BGLTQ Student Life (Grays Basement): internal & external condoms, oral dams, & lube

AA: In answer to your second question, nope! No questions will be asked when you show up for condoms!  If a staff person is available and you have questions or you don’t see something you’re looking for, please feel free to ask!

LM:  Thanks again for your question!