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If you have a uterus and want to avoid getting pregnant, you might consider the vaginal ring. Unlike birth control pills, which have to be taken daily, this form of birth control only has to be inserted once a month. That makes it low-maintenance, but is it the right option for you?

Read on to find out more about how a vaginal ring works, how to use one, and the benefits and potential drawbacks of using this method.

The vaginal ring is a prescription-only method of birth control. It’s a small, flexible, plastic ring that you insert into your vagina to prevent pregnancy. It’s about 2 inches around.

This method of birth control is also known by the brand names:

  • NuvaRing. NuvaRing is a vaginal ring that has to be changed out for a new ring monthly.
  • Annovera. Annovera can be rinsed and reinserted monthly. One ring should last you a full year.

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.

Pros of the ring

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Cons of the ring

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The ring is very simple to use. To insert and remove the ring:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Remove the ring from the foil packet it comes in, and save the packet.
  3. Squeeze the sides of the ring together so that it becomes narrow. Insert the ring into your vagina.
  4. After 3 weeks, use clean hands to remove the ring by hooking your finger under the edge of the ring and gently pulling.
  5. Place the used ring in the original foil packet and throw it away.
  6. Wait 1 week before inserting a new ring.

NuvaRing 101: Here are some common questions and answers.

You should get your period during the week when you’re not using the ring. One week after removing it, insert a new ring. You should insert the new ring, even if you’re still menstruating.

It’s 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 3 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 3 hours, use backup contraception. The ring may fall out when you:

  • remove a tampon
  • have a bowel movement
  • have sex
Uses other than contraception

Some people use the ring and other hormonal contraceptives to control when they get their period. They can regulate their period based on when they remove the ring. Some people use the ring continuously to avoid having periods at all.

If you use it properly, the vaginal ring can be very effective. It’s one of the more effective contraceptive methods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), typically only 7 percent of those who use the ring will get pregnant.

Certain medications and supplements can also reduce the effectiveness of the vaginal ring. These include:

If you take any of these, it’s a good idea to use a backup form of birth control.

Tips for increasing effectiveness

  • Put in and remove the ring on the same day of the week.
  • Use backup contraception if the ring has been out for more than 3 hours.
  • Use backup contraception if you take any medications or supplements that interact with the ring.
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Overall, the vaginal ring is very safe.

Like all hormonal birth control methods, including pills and patches, the ring has a slightly increased risk of blood clotting. This increases your risk of:

If you’re in a high-risk category — for instance, if you smoke and are over 35 years of age — your doctor may recommend a different form of birth control.

Because a vaginal ring is a hormonal contraceptive, the potential side effects are about the same as taking combination birth control pills.

They may include:

  • reduced sex drive
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • breast pain or tenderness
  • cramping
  • vaginal discharge
  • spotting or bleeding in between your period
Effectiveness (typical use)93%93%93%96%99.2% (copper)
99.6%-99.9% (hormonal)
Costup to $200up to $150up to $50up to $150up to $300up to $1,300
Schedulereplace monthlyreplace weeklytake dailyget every 3 monthslasts up to 12 yearslasts up to 5 years
Risksrare, but include:
• blood clots
• stroke
• heart attack
rare, but include:
• blood clots
• stroke
• heart attack
rare, but include:
• heart attack
• blood clots
• stroke
• liver tumors
temporary bone thinning• loss of the IUD or IUD moving out of place
ectopic pregnancy
• infection
• scarring
• infection
Side effectssore breasts
• spotting
• headaches
• nausea
• sore breasts
• spotting
• headaches
• nausea
• sore breasts
• spotting
• headaches
• nausea
• changes to your period
• nausea
• weight gain
• headaches
• depression
• sore breasts
bruising at the injection site
• pain during insertion and days afterward
irregular periods and spotting for hormonal IUD
• more bleeding and cramping during periods for copper IUD
• arm pain
• heavier, longer periods in some people
• headaches
• weight gain
ovarian cysts
• nausea
• breast pain

You’ll need a prescription to get the vaginal ring. If you have a primary care doctor or OB-GYN, you can ask them to prescribe it to you.

The majority of Planned Parenthoods across the United States can also provide you with a prescription for the vaginal ring. In some states, you can go directly to your pharmacist to get a vaginal ring.

Another option is to use online telehealth services, like Nurx or Pill Club, for your birth control needs. Keep in mind that telehealth services might not operate in certain states.

Does the vaginal ring work right away?

If you insert the ring in the first 5 days of your period, you’ll be immediately protected from pregnancy. Otherwise, it’ll take 7 days for full protection to kick in.

Is the vaginal ring comfortable?

If you insert it properly, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. Try to push it higher up if you feel any discomfort.

Can my partner feel a vaginal ring?

It’s possible. But it’s unlikely to affect someone’s ability to feel pleasure during penetrative sex.

What brands offer the vaginal ring?

Two brands offer vaginal ring products: Annovera and NuvaRing.

Can you use the vaginal ring and tampons?

Yes. You just have to take care not to dislodge your vaginal ring when removing a tampon.

Will the vaginal ring stop my period?

Not if you follow the intended schedule. However, you can choose to leave the ring in during the 7 day break and skip your period.

The vaginal ring is a birth control method that many people find easy and convenient.

When deciding on a birth control method that’s right for you, think about all your options. If you think the vaginal ring is a good choice, talk with your doctor.

Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.