A TikTok user whose video went viral of her removing an implanted birth control device has sparked calls among sexual health experts for better monitoring of social media platforms.
In a video that has garnered more than 178,000 likes, TikTok user Mikkie Gallagher was filmed performing a “DIY IUD removal” wearing medical gloves, writing at the top of the post: “So much easier than I thought TBH” and “Catch of the day”: Myrina IUD , 2 inches.
An intrauterine device (IUD) is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy and sometimes helps relieve menstrual pain. They usually need to be taken out every five to 10 years depending on the species. Women can choose when to remove them.
Gallagher, who has 25,000 followers, commented on the post: “This is not medical advice but it only took two minutes,” then shared a TikTok video from another user titled “Watch at the end to see how IUDs are designed to remove them easily.”
Claire Visenga, chief executive of Planned Parenthood in Victoria, said she found it very worrying that “handwork can turn into health care or professional help”.
The hashtag #iudremoval has had 65.2 million views on the social media platform, while #diyiudremoval has had 527,500 views.
“You can’t take out your appendix,” Visenga said.
“The origin of these types of videos seems to be the United States, where healthcare is very expensive, and people are coming to it from this angle about the cost.
“But that’s just a ridiculous thing. Removing an IUD would potentially lead to physical damage, and could complicate contraception.”
Planned Parenthood’s medical director, Kathleen McNamee, said 80% of DIY IUD removals fail, resulting in GP or emergency visits.
“If a person removes the IUD in a failed attempt, it will not be effective as a contraceptive and result in an unwanted pregnancy,” she said.
“Not all IUDs are created equal. Some require precise traction on the thread with a special tool to remove. If you pull too hard, the thread can break, making it a more complicated procedure.
“People often say they resist looking for information about contraceptives online, much of which is horrible. But I see the potential of the good things in TikTok to promote sexual health. It’s a neat little way.”
Vissenga agreed that there are some trusted and reputable voices on the platform, but “there is other information that is not good medical advice, which is concerning.”
“The problem comes down to whether the people who access the information are able to tell if it’s reputable or just someone on social media putting up something they think is interesting, and that’s the tricky part.
She feared that more young people would rely on social media for health advice during the pandemic rather than a face-to-face visit to the doctor.
“The relationship between health professionals and people seeking advice is what gives the best long-term results in sexual and reproductive health,” Visenga said.
Reputable sites need a constant and constant presence on social media to combat misinformation, and women’s health should be made more of a priority at the Commonwealth and state level.
“We’ve never had such a demand for services as we have now, we’re completely booked out.”
The decrease in practitioners meeting patients in person for discussions about contraception or sexual health during the pandemic, as well as a marked increase in medical terminations, has caused the uptick, Visenga said.
“People are communicating and the demand is always there…but with some practitioners not choosing to see people face to face, they are coming for the services they can get,” she said.
“I’m just afraid that bad health advice on social media will lead to poor health outcomes.”