A do-it-yourself IUD removal trend is either macabre or empowering depending on who you ask

Aviral TikTok video of a woman allegedly showing users a "do-it-yourself IUD removal" — claiming she removed her own intra-uterine device herself, at home — is prompting others who want to remove their own IUDs to try it themselves.

Meanwhile, the lurid social media "trend" is stirring controversy — with some reproductive health experts and doctors disavowing it, while others commenting that self-removal of one's IUD can actually be "empowering" and is not particularly unsafe if done with caution.

The initial viral video by TikTok user Mikkie Gallagher, which was posted in March 2021, now has 2.1 million views and counting. In it, the camera focuses on her face as she dons blue surgical gloves and then allegedly inserts her fingers into her vagina, locates the strings and pulls the contraceptive device out. In the next scene, the IUD dangles in her hand; she jokes that her Mirena IUD is the "catch of the day. " In a comment she added to the video, Gallagher clarifies that her home IUD removal was a "last resort" after "constant pain" and five doctors refusing to remove it. Gallagher added that it was done after a consultation on a telehealth platform.

Salon contacted Gallagher for an interview to learn more, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

As the comments section of her video reveals, Gallagher's TikTok has become a huge source of controversy. Some viewers expressed shock; others said they were inspired to remove their own IUDs themselves, too; others still warn of the danger of at-home IUD removal. Months after she posted her video, the hashtag #iudremoval on TikTok has grown in popularity, with more similar videos being posted in last month. The hashtag alone has 65.4 million views.

For people without uteruses, or anyone who has never had an IUD inserted, modern progestin-containing IUDs are small T-shaped devices that have tiny threads at the bottom.The hormone released by these IUDs, progestin, prevents pregnancy by thinning the uterine lining to keep a potentially fertilized egg from implantation. It can also slow down the sperm's movement in the fallopian tube. IUDs are said to be 99 percent effective; the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 14% of American women who use contraception rely on IUDs. IUDs are generally inserted by a nurse or doctor, who will put a speculum into a person's vagina and use a special insert to place it in a person's uterus through the opening of the cervix. This process takes less than five minutes. Similarly, nurses or doctors generally oversee the removal of IUDs as well. While the median cost of IUD removal is $262, it can range from $50 to $1,000.

While headlines have surfaced advising people not to take out their own IUDs in light of the TikTok trend, not all doctors are against it. In fact, some say it can be done safely, and posit that it can even be empowering to take out one's IUD. 

Jody Steinauer, an OB-GYN at San Francisco General Hospital and director of the University of California–San Francisco's Bixby Center, told Salon she would recommend those with IUDs to try to take them out themselves — but only if they are comfortable with it.

"I'm all for it, when you want it out — why do you have to come in to see us?" Steinauer said, adding that she's removed her own IUD before. "I would say, if one tries