The vaginal ring is a hormonal contraceptive that is effective at preventing pregnancy. Below, you can find out more about this type of contraception, including how it works, how to use it and who it is suitable for.
What is a vaginal ring?
The vagina ring is a small, soft plastic ring that is placed inside the vagina. It continuously releases a dose of the hormones progestogen and oestrogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. When used correctly, the vaginal ring offers an effectiveness of more than 99% at preventing pregnancy.
How does a vaginal ring work?
Vaginal ring birth control works by releasing oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream. In turn, this prevents an egg from being released. It also makes the cervical mucus thicker. This makes it harder for sperm to travel through the entrance of the cervix. The vaginal ring also thins the endometrium (the womb lining) so that there is less chance of an egg implanting.
You would usually leave the vaginal ring in for 21 days, then remove it for a 7-day break, during which time you are still protected against pregnancy. Once this 7-day break is over, a new ring is inserted for the next 21 days.
You can start using the vaginal ring at any point during your menstrual cycle, as long as you are not pregnant. If you insert it within the first 5 days of your cycle, you’ll be protected straight away. It’s important to note that you may need to discuss if you need to use additional contraception with your doctor if your cycle is very short or irregular.
If you start using the vaginal ring at any other point during your menstrual cycle, you will need to use another form of contraception, such as condoms, for the first 7 days of use to be protected from pregnancy.
If you have taken emergency contraception recently, or you are changing from another type of contraception, you should speak to your doctor as there may be a recommended time to start using the vaginal ring, and how soon you’ll be protected against pregnancy may differ.
You can use tampons and have sex with the ring in place. You or your partner may feel the ring during sex, but this is normal.
How to use a vaginal ring
To use a vaginal ring effectively, it is vital that you follow the instructions provided in the patient information leaflet. If you have any questions about how to use it, you should speak to your doctor or a contraceptive specialist. They will provide you with detailed information and advice.
Who is the vaginal ring suitable for?
If there are no medical reasons why you can’t use the ring, and you don’t smoke, the vaginal ring could be suitable for you. You should be able to use it until you’re 50 years old.
You may not be able to use the vaginal ring if:
- You have a history of blood clots in an artery or vein
- You have had heart problems
- You have had circulatory problems, such as high blood pressure
- You are aged 35 or over and you smoke, or you have stopped smoking in the last 12 months
- You experience migraines with warning symptoms, otherwise known as migraine with aura
- You have diabetes with complications
- You are overweight
- You have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years
- You currently take medication that could interact with the ring
- You are unable to keep the ring in your vagina
The advantages of using a vaginal ring
There are many advantages of using the vaginal ring contraceptive. For example:
- It’s easy to insert and remove yourself.
- It doesn’t interrupt sex.
- It could help ease some premenstrual symptoms.
- You may notice that your period-like bleeding is not as painful, more regular and lighter.
- It can reduce menopausal symptoms.
The disadvantages of using a vaginal ring
There are some possible downsides of using this type of contraception. For example:
- You may not feel comfortable or confident inserting or removing the ring yourself.
- It does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
- You may experience spotting in the first months of using it.
- The vaginal ring can cause side effects, including nausea, headaches, increased discharge, mood changes and breast tenderness.
- You need to remember to change the ring and replace it with a new one.
- There are some medications that can make it less effective.
- It can take some time for your fertility to return to normal.
What are the risks of using a vaginal ring?
When using the vaginal ring, you are at a very small risk of developing some serious side effects
- Blood clots
There is a very small risk of developing a blood clot in an artery or vein when you use the vaginal ring. You should not use this method of contraception if you have had a blood clot before.
There is a small increased risk of breast cancer for those who use the vaginal ring compared to those who don’t. There is also a slightly increased risk of cervical cancer. This is linked to the use of hormonal contraception containing oestrogen and progestogen for a long period of time.
Where to get the vaginal ring
You can get the vaginal ring for free from contraception, sexual health and genitourtinary medicine (GUM) clinics. Your GP surgery may also offer the vaginal ring free of charge, as well as some young people’s services.