What is the vaginal ring?
The vaginal ring is a prescription method of birth control. It’s also known by its brand name, NuvaRing. The vaginal ring is a small, flexible, plastic ring that you insert into your vagina to prevent pregnancy. It’s about two inches around.
The vaginal ring prevents pregnancy by continuously releasing synthetic estrogen and progestin. These hormones are absorbed into your bloodstream. They prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs to be fertilized. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which helps prevent sperm from reaching the egg.
How do I use the vaginal ring?
The ring is very simple to use. To insert and remove the ring:
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Remove the ring from the foil packet it comes in and save the packet.
- Squeeze the sides of the ring together so that it becomes narrow, and insert the ring into your vagina.
- After three weeks, use clean hands to remove the ring.
- Place the used ring in the original foil packet and throw it away.
- Wait one week before inserting a new ring.
You should get your period during the week that you are not using the ring. One week after removing it, insert a new ring. You should insert the new ring even if you are still menstruating.
It is important that you remove or insert the ring on the same day of the week. For example, if you insert a ring on Monday, you should remove it on a Monday three weeks later. Then, you should insert your next ring on the following Monday.
If the ring falls out, rinse it off and put it back in. If the ring is out of your vagina for longer than three hours, use backup contraception. The ring may fall out when you:
- remove a tampon
- have a bowel movement
- have sex
How effective is it?
If you use it properly, the vaginal ring can be very effective. It is one of the more effective methods of contraception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typically only 9 percent of women who use the ring will get pregnant.
Certain drugs can also reduce the effectiveness of the vaginal ring. These include:
- St. John’s wort
- the antibiotic rifampin
- some HIV drugs
- some antiseizure drugs
If you use any of these drugs, it’s a good idea to use a backup form of birth control.
What are the risks?
Overall, the vaginal ring is very safe. Like all hormonal birth control methods, the ring has a slightly increased risk of blood clotting. However, this risk isn’t different from birth control pills or patches. Increased blood clotting increases your risk of:
- deep vein thrombosis
- pulmonary embolism
- heart attack
Talk to your doctor about your specific risk factors. Some women in high-risk categories, including women who smoke and are older than 25 years, shouldn’t use estrogen-containing contraceptives.
Weigh your options
The vaginal ring is a birth control option that many women find easy and convenient. When deciding on a birth control method that’s right for you, think about all of your options. If you think the vaginal ring is a good choice, talk to your doctor.
Pros of the ring
- It’s highly effective.
- It’s easy to use.
- It has fewer side effects than oral contraceptives.
- Your periods will likely be shorter and lighter when you use it.
Cons of the ring
- It doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections.
- It can cause side effects in some women, such as spotting between periods, nausea, and breast tenderness.
- It may cause vaginal irritation, infections, or both.