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Ring birth control: What you need to know

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How does it work?BenefitsDisadvantagesHow long to leave it inSummary
Birth control rings are an effective type of hormonal birth control. Inserting the ring into your vagina can help prevent pregnancy and help you manage your periods.
Medically reviewed by Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH
Written by D. M. Pollock
Updated on

There are many birth control methods to choose from, so you can decide which one works well for your individual needs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 65% of women ages 15 to 49 in the United States use a form of birth control.

There are two main categories of birth control:

  • nonhormonal birth control, such as condoms and copper intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • hormonal birth control, such as the implant, the patch and oral contraceptive pills

Hormonal birth control methods typically contain reproductive hormones that block the release of eggs from the ovaries. Some of these methods can be more effective than nonhormonal options for preventing pregnancy, especially if used perfectly.

If you want to avoid pregnancy, you may want to consider vaginal ring birth control. Unlike contraceptive pills, this form of birth control is low maintenance and needs replacing only once per month. It can work really well if you use it correctly.

Learning about the benefits and possible drawbacks of the vaginal ring can help you to decide whether it is right for you.

How does the contraceptive ring work?

A hand holding a birth control ring
viti/Getty Images

The birth control ring, also called a vaginal ring, is a small, flexible plastic ring that you insert into your vagina. While you wear the ring, it works to prevent pregnancy 24 hours per day by releasing hormones. Your vaginal lining then absorbs these hormones and they enter your bloodstream.

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The ring releases the hormones estrogen and progestin, which prevent your body from releasing an egg (called ovulation). Not ovulating means that no egg is present for any sperm to fertilize. In this way, the ring helps prevent sperm from joining with an egg.

The ring also causes the mucus in your cervix to thicken. This acts as an extra barrier to help prevent sperm from reaching an egg.

There are two types of birth control rings available by prescription:

  • NuvaRing: This type needs replacing with a new NuvaRing only once per month.
  • Annovera: Each Annovera ring lasts for 1 year, or 13 menstrual cycles. You place the Annovera ring in your vagina for 21 days at a time, then remove it for 7 days. During these 7 days, you may experience a withdrawal bleed. You then place the same, original ring back into the vagina for the next cycle.

Vaginal rings are very easy to use if you follow these steps:

  1. Be sure to clean your hands with soap and water before inserting the ring.
  2. Remove the ring from its packaging.
  3. Compress the ring by squeezing the sides, then insert the ring into the vagina.
  4. After 21 days, or 3 weeks, remove the ring by placing your finger under the ring and slowly pulling downward.
  5. Wait 1 week before reinserting (for Annovera) or inserting a new ring (for the NuvaRing)

Removing and inserting the vaginal ring on the same day of the week means you will get the most protection. For example, if you insert the ring on a Sunday, you should take it out on a Sunday 3 weeks later. You can then insert a new ring on the following Sunday.

You should insert the new ring 7 days after you remove it, even if you are still menstruating. If you leave the vaginal ring out for too long, you should use a backup type of birth control, such as condoms or another barrier method.

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Benefits of ring birth control

Vaginal rings are a safe, easy, and effective option for hormonal birth control. They can be a good alternative to contraceptive pills if you do not want to take oral medication.

Easy to use

If you do not want to take medication every day, vaginal rings are a great alternative. You may only have to think about your ring twice per month, during insertion and removal.

You do not have to worry about birth control before having sex with a vaginal ring. And if you decide that the vaginal ring isn’t for you, it’s easy and quick to remove.

Effective

For the ring to be effective, you must replace your ring on time, every time. If you follow the instructions perfectly, you can have up to 99% effective protection from pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. With typical use, vaginal rings are 93% effective. Only 7 out of 100 people who use rings get pregnant each year.

Regulating periods

The birth control ring allows you to be in charge of your menstrual cycle. Some people use birth control rings to skip a period for particular occasions or to just not experience periods at all.

Some people find that the hormones in birth control rings can help to make periods lighter and less painful.

Other benefits

Other benefits of birth control rings include that they help:

Plus, you can get pregnant immediately after you stop using the ring if you’d like.

Disadvantages of ring birth control

Does not protect from STIs

No type of hormonal birth control protects you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Vaginal rings are no different. Wearing a type of barrier contraception such as condoms can help protect you from contracting STIs.

Side effects

There are some possible side effects of birth control rings, as with any type of hormonal birth control.

Some possible side effects include:

  • headaches or nausea
  • sore breasts
  • spotting between withdrawal bleeds
  • mood changes
  • weight gain
  • vaginal discharge
  • risk of yeast infection

Most side effects of vaginal rings are not serious and typically go away after your body adjusts to the hormones. However, there are some rare, more serious side effects:

If you continue to experience side effects while using a birth control ring for longer than 3 months, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional about trying another type of birth control.  

You must use it correctly

You must insert your ring at the right time, or you may not receive full protection from pregnancy. If it falls out, for example during sex, you must remember to re-insert the ring within 2 hours or it will not work. In one study, the ring fell out in more than 25% of users.

If you are not able to stick to a schedule for your birth control, you may want to try a long-term type of birth control, such as the implant.

How long can you leave it in for?

You can use a ring for 21 days, with a 7-day break to allow for a withdrawal bleed.

If you are using an Annovera ring, you may wish to use it to skip a period by keeping it in for 4 weeks, but no clinical trials have proven that this is safe. If you want to use the Annovera ring to skip a period, you should speak with a healthcare professional first.

Every time you remove the ring, you should clean it according to the instructions on the label to avoid infection.

Summary

Birth control rings are an effective and convenient type of hormonal birth control. While they require a schedule, they only need your attention twice a month. To maximize the ring’s efficiency, be sure to keep to a regular removal and insertion day and use it correctly.

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