Story: Contraception and sterilisation

Page 4. IUDs and sterilisation

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Intrauterine devices

The IUD or intrauterine device was introduced in the mid-1960s. Now termed an IUCD (intrauterine contraceptive device) it is inserted into the uterus. If this is not done carefully, it can perforate the wall of the uterus.

By 1975 about 500 women had had the Dalkon Shield, a brand of IUD, inserted at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital – and an unknown number by their own doctors. The manufacturers had been forced to withdraw the Dalkon Shield in the United States the previous year. It was causing pelvic inflammatory disease, which led to sterility and sometimes death. Women sometimes did conceive with a Dalkon Shield – often leading to what was called ‘septic spontaneous abortion’ of the foetus, or babies born with deformities. New Zealand women raised concerns about the safety of the Dalkon Shield from the late 1970s. In the US women filed successful claims against the manufacturers, and some New Zealand women also received compensation.

Sterilisation

By the mid-1970s, following the introduction of micro-surgical techniques, sterilisation became second only to the pill as a form of contraception. For women the procedure was tubal ligation (colloquially, ‘getting your tubes tied’) and for men a vasectomy (‘the snip’) – a much simpler and cheaper operation.

New Zealand had a high rate of sterilisation compared with other Western countries. By the time they turned 30, 20% of women born between 1946 and 1950 had been sterilised or their partner had had a vasectomy. By the late 1990s sterilisation of one member of a couple (usually the male) was the most common contraception method used by women over 30.

Male vasectomy

New Zealand has a high rate of vasectomy – a simple operation in which the tube that carries the sperm from the testis is cut and sealed off. It does not affect sex drive or the production of sex hormones, and can later be reversed, if desired. In the late 1990s a survey of 1,225 Pākehā men aged between 40 and 74 found that 44% had had a vasectomy. Those aged 40–49 had the highest rates (57%) while those aged 70–74 years had the lowest (15%). Catholic men were much less likely to have had a vasectomy, while men who had been married more than once and those whose wives were more highly educated were more likely to have had the procedure. Men across all income levels had vasectomies. In 2007, 18% of all men, including 25% of married men and 55% of 40–49-year-olds, had had the procedure.

Return to earlier methods

In the 1980s barrier methods became popular again. HIV/AIDS was the spur for campaigns promoting safer sex and condom use, and new, thinner and more effective condoms had been developed. In 1976, 6% of people using contraceptives chose condoms – in 2001, 36% used them.

Implants

In the early 21st century contraceptive methods also included implants, which were inserted under the skin of the woman’s upper arm. These released tiny doses of progestogen to prevent ovulation and could remain in place for up to five years.

How to cite this page:

Jane Tolerton, 'Contraception and sterilisation - IUDs and sterilisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/contraception-and-sterilisation/page-4 (accessed 30 May 2020)

Story by Jane Tolerton, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 7 Dec 2018