The ring is a plastic ring containing oestrogen and progestogen that prevents pregnancy.
What is it?
The ring is placed inside your vagina and continually releases 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; firstly they stop eggs from being released (ovulation), secondly they thicken cervical mucous to prevent sperm from being able to reach an egg, and lastly they thin the lining of the womb so that if an egg was fertilised it would not be able to implant.
How effective is it?
If used correctly the ring is more than 99 per cent effective at preventing pregnancy.
What are the advantages?
Using the ring does not interrupt sex because you leave it in when having sex. The ring is still effective after diarrhoea or vomiting, because it stays in the body (unlike contraceptive pills). Other benefits are lighter periods, reduced period pain and premenstrual symptoms.
Research shows that it may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, including ovarian, uterine, colon, and can reduce fibroid, ovarian cyst, and other breast disease.
As well, you only have to think about contraception once each month when you remember to put the new ring in.
What are the downsides?
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.
There can also be some more serious side effects, such as blood clots, but this is rare. Research suggests that there is a small increased risk of breast, cervical, or liver cancers.
Things to bear in mind
The ring is not suitable for everyone, and it is important that the doctor prescribing it to you is aware of your medical history and any other medication you are taking. You are less likely to be prescribed it if you have high blood pressure, are a smoker, get migraines or are very overweight. Some medicines will affect the effectiveness of the ring, so make sure your doctor knows you are using the ring if you need any other medications.
The ring can be kept in place during sex, and occasionally, you or your partner might feel it. However, reports show that his is not uncomfortable or unpleasant and the ring is not likely to affect your partner.
Sometimes the ring can come out, especially during sex or constipation. Clean it and replace it as soon as possible, and as long as it is 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.
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 a doctor. This can be your GP, another GP who you have registered with for family planning services, or a doctor at a family planning or young person’s clinic.