These Robotic Uteruses Are Helping Doctors Cause Less Pain During IUD Insertion

Getting an IUD is a notoriously painful procedure, but, for many people who get them, it's necessary. After all, it's the most effective form of birth control out there, and many of them can prevent pregnancies for up to a decade. Sure, it's a relatively brief period of pain in exchange for a number of worry-free years, and the alternative is taking the birth control pill every day, using a patch weekly, getting a subdermal device, or remembering to use condoms. But the prospect of the pain is still an ever-present specter for those considering an IUD. Thankfully, though, doctors are making progress to actually solve that pain. Vox reported that doctors doctors are using robotic uteruses to practice IUD insertion techniques that could cause less pain. In a world (and that especially applies to the medical profession) that often doesn't take women's pain seriously enough, that's a major step forward.

The concept of a robot uterus may sounds like something straight out of a bad sci-fi movie, but it's definitely good news for so many women out there. Here's the deal: A nonprofit called Upstream USA makes a robotic replica of the female pelvic area — including a vagina, a cervix, and a uterus — available to clinicians to help them practice the best way to insert IUDs, Vox reported. The staff at a recent event where clinicians tried out the robot, they named it "Joan." Joan is much more than a fancy tool for physicians to poke and prod in the same way they always have. In fact, Joan can actually groan in pain. A company called VirtaMed actually makes the robotic pelvises.

Upstream USA's mission is to ensure that all women have access to contraceptives, and, generally, to make sure they get the highest quality services possible, according to its website. So, the nonprofit aims to break down barriers to contraceptive access such as a lack of trained providers, misinformation, cost concerns, poor patient counseling, and more. Although it doesn't list the pain associated with IUD insertion as a barrier, it's refreshing to know that the organization takes it seriously, as evidenced by Joan's ability to feel and express pain as part of the clinician training Upstream USA provides.

In a 2016 Cosmopolitan writeup, 13 women described their experiences getting IUDs. Writer Hannah Smothers summed it up as resembling "participating in an extreme sport, walking on hot coals, and doing your taxes all at once." Others reported that the pain was "so bad that I almost passed out after," "more intense and concentrated" than getting a pap smear, and like someone was "shocking my cervix with a taser." Still, many women are more than willing to endure the pain in exchange for the long-term benefits. "... I'm so excited about going hormone-free for up to 10 years!" Melissa Melms wrote for Glamour in 2013, the day after getting the non-hormonal IUD ParaGard. "I feel like a brand-new me already."

But if there's a way to mitigate or even eliminate this pain and discomfort, it's encouraging that these professionals are trying to find it — and using a pretty cool high-tech method to do so. After all, it wouldn't be super surprising if this problem went more or less entirely ignored, considering research has shown that medical professionals are much more likely to undertreat their female clients when it comes to pain than their male ones, Vice reported. "They also tend to assume that their pain stems from emotional or psychogenic origins, rather than more readily treatable biological ones," according to the site.

Hopefully, more and more doctors will be able to get their hands on a robot uterus like Joan ASAP. Because the more the professionals are thinking about IUD insertion pain, and ways to make the process better for women, the better.

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