What is the Ring?
The vaginal ring is a small, O-shaped piece of flexible plastic that a woman inserts into her vagina each month to prevent pregnancy. It remains in the vagina for three weeks, and then is removed for one week to allow for menstruation. After removal, the ring is discarded and a new one is inserted at the beginning of the next cycle. The ring works by releasing a low dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin at regular intervals, in a process activated by contact with the vagina. These hormones are absorbed into the bloodstream through the vaginal walls and prevent ovulation from occurring, and thicken the cervical mucus, which prevents sperm from entering the uterus.
How effective is the Ring?
When used perfectly, the ring is around 99% effective, meaning that only one in 100 women using the ring will get pregnant each year. However, because of the room for error with the monthly replacement required with this form of birth control, the effectiveness tends to be a bit lower. The ring is about 90% effective with typical use. The ring’s effectiveness can also decrease slightly in women who are heavy smokers or who are severely overweight. Certain medications can also interfere with the effectiveness of the ring, so it is important to discuss any interactions that your medications might have with your birth control. The ring does not protect against STDs.
What are myths associated with Ring?
1. The ring can get lost in my body.
Many women are worried about the ring going too deep into their body and getting lost. These fears are unfounded. In reality, there is no possible way that the ring could go anywhere in the body other than the vaginal canal. It is far too large to get through the cervix and into the uterus, meaning that it has nowhere to go. If you check for your ring and cannot find it, it has most likely slipped out of the vaginal canal. Without the ring, you can begin ovulating again and are therefore not protected from unplanned pregnancies. It is important to alert your doctor as soon as possible to get a new prescription, and use a backup form of birth control in the interim.
2. The ring is uncomfortable.
Some women with rings that were inserted incorrectly have reported mild discomfort including awareness that the ring was lodged in their vaginal canal. Correctly placed rings, however, will not cause discomfort and women are unable to feel the ring’s placement. If you can feel your vaginal ring, it was almost certainly inserted incorrectly and should adjusted.
3. The ring needs to be taken out before intercourse.
This myth comes from a misconception that the ring will interfere with intercourse, but can cause problems for women who take it seriously. The ring is designed to remain in the vagina continuously for 3 weeks, and removing it will decrease its effectiveness, raising the chances of an unplanned pregnancy. A properly inserted ring will not become dislodged during intercourse, nor will your partner be able to feel it.
4. The ring can fall out easily.
This myth has some basis in reality, although people far overplay how easily the ring can actually fall out of the vagina. Occasionally, the ring will fall out of the vaginal canal in a rare process called expulsion. In some cases, certain actions like tampon removal or constipation can displace the ring, increasing the likeliness that of falling out, so it is important to periodically make sure that the ring is still in place. Properly placed rings are very unlikely to fall out than improperly placed ones, although expulsion is unlikely in either case. Additionally, it is quite likely that a women who is experiencing expulsion will notice and be able to stop the process.
What are the disadvantages of the Ring?
Although the ring poses many wonderful benefits, including high effectiveness and low maintenance, it also has some drawbacks. Women must remember to remove the ring after twenty-one days, and to insert a new one seven days after that, at roughly the same time as removal for maximum effectiveness.
Like any form of birth control, the ring has some common side effects. The most common side effects of the ring are nausea, sensitivity in the breasts, and intermittent bleeding between menstrual periods. These symptoms are not dangerous. Certain side effects can be harmful, but these are quite rare. Women using the ring are also at slightly higher risk for blood clots and certain heart problems. These risks are especially elevated in women who smoke heavily, although such risks are very rare. Additionally, women with certain medical conditions may be advised not to use the ring because they are at increased risk for harmful side effects.
Where can I get the Ring?
The ring is available by prescription only. Talk to your doctor if you feel that the ring might be the right fit for you.