I Faced Severe Pain To Get an IUD for the Sake of My Relationship—So, Yes, I Deserve a Gift From My Partner

Photo: Courtesy of W+G Creative
In a healthy relationship, doing something to support the partnership or help your partner should be a natural reflex—not contingent on receiving something in return. Like, of course I’ll pick up dinner for us when you’re working late. You bet I’ll wipe the cat’s poop off the carpet when you’re having a bad day. The idea is, if both people in a relationship adopt this ethos, everyone is supported without feeling a need to keep a mental tally of their contributions.

But when it comes to being in a heterosexual relationship where only one of us (read: me, a cisgender woman) is expected to get birth control so that we both don’t have a child before we’re ready, I absolutely expect something for my effortsmuch like a push present for giving birth, but in this case, for actively preventing birth. Especially when getting that birth control placed inside your body feels like your insides are being scraped away by the claws of a demon.

Why, yes, I do have an IUD. How did you know?

I’m in the best relationship I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been on birth control since I was the ripe age of 15. But let me tell you: When I got my IUD placed for the first time a few weeks ago (I was an arm implant kind of girl before), the first thing I thought was that this man better get me something real nice for enduring this amount of pain for the sake of us both.

I was heated—so much so that I made a TikTok video just to get some things off my chest. It was nothing wild; I just said that anyone who gets an IUD to maintain the current state of a relationship deserves dinner, ice cream, perhaps a mansion, from their partner for their Herculean efforts.

Lo and behold, I’m not the only person who feels this way. The video blew up. It has nearly 3 million views, 260,000 likes, and thousands of comments from people who had similarly crummy IUD experiences as mine, who thought that they, too, deserved a little somethin’ somethin.’

“Real. I deserve compensation for being bedridden for a day and a half,” wrote one user. “Babes, I’m on my 3rd, and I started with the copper one (used to faint from heavy flows/low iron)… I deserve a damn Hawaiian vaca and a new car,” wrote another.

My feelings about deserving a gift from my partner for getting an IUD are only partially about the pain experienced; the other part is principal.

Now, I’m not trying to be a fearmonger here—everybody reacts differently to the placement of an IUD, and some people don’t even feel more than some cramping (how lucky to be them). Regardless, my feelings about deserving a gift from my partner for getting an IUD are only partially about the pain experienced (more on that below). The other part is principal.

Men and non-uterus-havers don’t give birth and aren’t expected to be on birth control. Women and uterus-havers do and are. Therefore, the former group can—and should—repay the latter group in some way (food, gifts, verbal affirmation, you name it) when they tackle the often-painful biological requirement for birth or contraception.

Why I think it’s important to normalize recognition (like a gift) from a partner for getting an IUD

The expectation that naturally falls on uterus-having people to handle contraception in a relationship is at the root of my desire to make IUD push presents a thing. “I think the larger feeling here is that women want acknowledgement, and some may consider that in the form of a physical gift,” says therapist Beth Gulotta, LMHC, who specializes in dating and relationships, when I ask her about the reasoning behind my request.

“The sentiment is that their partner sees and validates [the act of getting an IUD] as a contribution to the relationship, especially if this is a joint decision about the best means of birth control for the relationship,” adds Gulotta. “They want to feel like this is appreciated by their partner and seen as doing something for the relationship and not just an implied responsibility because of [biological sex].”

Indeed, it’s the implied responsibility so often placed on women and uterus-havers that hurts—both physically and emotionally. For starters, the societal roles that women are traditionally expected to fulfill (not just working in the labor force, but also domestic work and family care-giving) account for a longer list than what’s expected of men, says clinical psychologist Roger B. Fillingim, PhD, director of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence at the University of Florida.

That's to say, women still operate in a broken system with higher demands on their time, attention, and general bandwidth than that of men. Given the systemic issues underscoring that reality, some of the roles that women hold "aren't ones from which they can easily take vacation," says Dr. Fillingim, which means that when they're in pain, "they're often in the position of having to power through it." What’s worse, his data suggests that women also bear a greater burden of pain, in part because “historically, and to some degree still, their pain is under-treated.”

This leads me to my next tiff with the IUD process, and even more of a reason we, IUD-havers, deserve some recognition. More often than not, people who are getting an IUD placed aren’t given any pain medications or offered anesthesia; the recommendation is just to take some Ibuprofen an hour prior. To my utter lack of surprise, the stuff I use to treat hangovers did little to make my cervix feel better when under attack (to put it dramatically).

When I got my IUD, I felt like the lovely, very sweet and kind OB/GYN was shredding my stomach from the inside out. In reality, Jonathan Schaffir, MD, an OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says the doctor was simply measuring my cervix, disinfecting the area, and then placing the rod.

That description sure sounds a lot less gruesome than what I pictured was happening, but alas, it's hard for doctors to know how to prepare patients for what to expect from the procedure. “The [pain] just really is rather unpredictable in terms of the great variety of women's experiences,” says Dr. Schaffir of IUD placement.

While some doctors (and many Google results) report that the pain level during IUD insertion is light to moderate—one of the first search results even says the process is a “2/10” on the pain scale—some studies suggest that experiencing a more substantial amount of pain is common. Indeed, one 2016 report of 100 women who got an IUD found that 78 percent said they experienced moderate to severe pain during the insertion.

That's all the more reason why I think we IUD-having baddies deserve some sort of gift. AKA support, according to Gulotta. “I think it is important that the partner [of the person getting the IUD] makes sure they are available to take care of them through their recovery,” she says. “They should be there to go with you, pick up any necessary prescriptions, stock the fridge with drinks and snacks—little gestures of acknowledgement and thoughtfulness are significant.”

“I think it is important that the partner [of the person getting the IUD] makes sure they are available to take care of them through their recovery.” —Beth Gulotta, LMHC, therapist

That includes emotional gestures, too, adds Gulotta: “Simply sharing that they acknowledge this contribution to the relationship and taking care of you emotionally and physically is important.”

As for an actual gift from a partner for getting an IUD placed? Gulotta isn’t so quick to say it’s necessary. Some of the resentment I felt toward my non-uterus-having boyfriend was likely displaced, she says, and may have had more to do with society’s faults than anything he did or should have done.

“It can seem unfair that women have to bear the entirety of the reproductive burden, in some ways…and it’s easy to place this anger on a partner and to develop narratives of inequity,” says Gulotta. Holding onto the idea that women are supposed to do this, and men don’t need to acknowledge it can make you resent a partner who isn’t necessarily in the wrong, she adds. But on the flip side, they should certainly be present to offer support just how they would for any challenging or painful experience, in alignment with how you’d like to receive it, she adds.

If that’s a physical gift—like I wanted—then, I think that’s totally fair. After all, if you’re getting an IUD for the sake of a relationship (or any type of birth control that can send your body into a hormonal anger spiral brought on by cramps and bleeding), you deserve some acknowledgement from a non-uterus-having partner that they’ll never know what that feels like… and maybe a meal, some chores handled, and a whole lot of “thank you’s.”

And in case you’re wondering, yes, my lovely boyfriend did do all of this for me, and he’s safe in our house no longer experiencing the displaced frustration I exhibited the day of my IUD placement. But I’m still a little heated at men and society as a whole. I bled for nearly a month straight and had cramps so bad, I could feel them in my ears. Can you blame me?

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