An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped piece of plastic with one or two thin, plastic strings that hang from the bottom of the “T” through the cervix and into the vaginal canal.

If you have an IUD or are thinking about getting one, you’ve probably heard about IUD strings.

The idea is that being able to feel around 2 inches of these strings means your IUD is still in the correct position. However, being unable to feel the strings isn’t necessarily a sign that the device has moved or is lost.

The IUD strings are there to help healthcare professionals safely remove the device when it’s time for a replacement or when you no longer want to use this method of birth control.

Checking your IUD strings can be tricky if you’ve never done it before. You should only be able to feel them with the tips of your fingers, so they’re easy to miss.

If you have a period, you may find it easier to locate your IUD strings just as spotting begins or after menstruation ends. The cervix sits lower during this time of the month, which may make it easier to reach the strings.

Whenever you’re ready, start by washing your hands. You can then sit or squat — whatever is most comfortable for you.

Insert your index or middle finger into your vagina until you feel your cervix. It’s usually firmer and can feel like the tip of your nose. There, you should be able to feel one or two strings poking through.

It’s fairly common not to be able to feel your IUD strings, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. Sometimes, the strings have curled up, broken off, or were cut too short for you to reach them.

In rare cases, about 0.1–0.9%, according to an older 2021 study — the IUD may have moved from its intended position. In very rare cases, an IUD can perforate the wall of the cervix or uterus.

The strings may also be there but you’re accidentally missing them when checking. According to older data cited in a 2012 study, up to 18% of all IUD users cannot locate the strings.

If you can’t find your IUD strings, consider making an appointment with your healthcare professional. They can set your mind at ease and confirm the placement of your IUD.

You might also consider using a backup form of birth control until your appointment. It may provide further peace of mind until you speak with a healthcare professional.

Some situations warrant a visit to urgent or emergency care. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop:

  • fever or chills
  • severe or persistent cramping
  • unusual fluid, odor, or bleeding from your vagina

A healthcare professional may first use what’s called a cytobrush to try to find the strings.

Cytobrush is a long cotton swab that is inserted into the vagina and gently moved around. They may need a magnifying device called a colposcope to help them do this.

If they still can’t find the string, they may give you an ultrasound scan to see where the IUD is sitting. Not finding an IUD via an ultrasound tends to mean it has fallen out through your vagina.

Sometimes, doctors recommend an X-ray to determine whether the IUD has perforated nearby areas or traveled elsewhere in the body.

What should your IUD strings feel like?

As they’re made from thin plastic, your IUD strings will resemble a fishing line.

How long does it take for IUD strings to soften?

IUD strings tend to soften over time. But this can take a few months.

During that time, partners may be able to feel the strings during vaginal sex. Once they become soft, they’re much less noticeable.

How do you know if your IUD strings are too long?

You should only be able to feel the strings with the tip of your finger. If they feel longer than that, they may either have been left quite long by whoever inserted your IUD or the IUD has moved.

If your partner can feel your strings and it’s affecting your sex life, you can ask a healthcare professional to cut them shorter. This will, of course, make checking them a little more difficult.

Is it OK if you can’t feel your IUD strings?

Not being able to feel your IUD strings doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. They may have just coiled up, making it harder to feel them.

In rarer cases, the device may have moved or perforated an area of the body. But these tend to come with other symptoms like cramping, discharge, and unusual bleeding.

Feeling your IUD strings can give you peace of mind that your IUD is still where it should be. They’re also useful as they help healthcare professionals safely remove the device when the need arises.

Do your best to avoid panicking if you can’t feel them at first. You may need to try again to get the angle right. If you’re really struggling, a healthcare professional can always check for you and put your mind at ease.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraine, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.