What is the vaginal ring?

The vaginal ring is a prescription-only 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.

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 by hooking your finger under the edge of the ring and gently pulling.
  • Place the used ring in the original foil packet and throw it away.
  • Wait one week before inserting a new ring.

NuvaRing 101: Questions and answers about the NuvaRing »

You should get your period during the week that you’re 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’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 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

Some women 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 women 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 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.

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
  • stroke
  • pulmonary embolism
  • heart attack

Some women in high-risk categories, including women who smoke and are older than 35 years, should exercise caution when considering using estrogen-containing contraceptives. Talk to your doctor to discuss your risk factors.

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.