The vaginal ring is a plastic ring containing oestrogen and progestogen. It prevents pregnancy and works just like the combined pill. In the UK it's sold under the brand name NuvaRing.
What is it?
The ring works on a 28-day cycle. It is placed inside your vagina to continually release hormones into the body.
You wear it for 21 days, then take it out for 7 days. During those 7 days you will have a bleed, which is similar to having a period.
At the end of the 7 day break, you put in a new ring.
How does it work?
The hormones in the ring work in several ways to prevent a woman from getting pregnant. They:
- stop eggs from being released (ovulation)
- thicken cervical mucous to prevent sperm from being able to reach an egg
- thin the lining of the womb - so that if an egg was fertilised, it would be less able to implant.
How effective is it?
If used correctly the ring is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Advantages of the vaginal ring:
- it does not interrupt sex because you leave it in when having sex
- it is still effective after diarrhoea or vomiting, because it stays in the body (unlike contraceptive pills)
- you'll get lighter periods, with reduced period pain and premenstrual symptoms
- research shows that it may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including ovarian, uterine and colon cancer
- it can reduce fibroid, ovarian cysts, and other breast disease
- you only have to think about contraception once each month when you remember to put the new ring in.
Disadvantages of the vaginal ring:
- when you first start using the ring you may experience some temporary side effects, such as breast tenderness, increased vaginal discharge, or headaches
- you may also experience some breakthrough bleeding in the first few months, but this should stop
- you will need a fridge at home to store your vaginal ring in as it has to be kept in the fridge until you are ready to use it
There can also be some more serious side effects, such as:
- blood becoming stickier
- a slight increase in the risk of blood clots, causing a rise in blood pressure
- a slight increase in the risk of breast and cervical cancer
Some of these risks may be greater, depending on your family medical history.
Things to bear in mind:
The ring is not suitable for everyone, and it is important that the doctor or nurse prescribing it is aware of your medical and family medical history and any other medication you are taking.
You are less likely to be prescribed the ring if you:
- have high blood pressure
- are over 35
- are a smoker
- suffer from migraines
- are very overweight
Some medicines will affect the effectiveness of the ring. If you need any other medications, make sure your doctor or sexual health clinic knows you are using the ring.
The ring can be kept in place during sex, and occasionally you or your partner might feel it. However, reports find that this is not uncomfortable or unpleasant. The ring is not likely to affect your partner.
Sometimes the ring can come out, especially during sex or if you have constipation. Clean it and replace it as soon as possible - if it was out less than three hours you will still be protected from pregnancy. If it is out for longer than three hours, put it back in as soon as possible, but contact your doctor or nurse to discuss your risk of pregnancy. You may need emergency contraception depending on when you last had unprotected sex.
Most importantly, the ring does not provide any protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections like a condom does.
Where can I get it from and how much does it cost?
The ring is available free on the NHS. You can only get it on prescription from your GP, a sexual health clinic, a practice nurse or a young person’s clinic.