A digital drawing of a woman in a thinking pose, with icons for different types of birth control floating around her head, examples include condoms, pills, birth control ring, and more

What is a Birth Control Ring?

Understanding Birth Control Rings

There are many different birth control products to choose from. Birth control rings are one of those products. Birth control rings are designed to sit in the vagina and are a convenient and effective contraceptive.

A birth control ring, also known as a contraceptive ring, is a circular flexible device inserted into the vagina used to control pregnancy. This device contains a combination of hormones, typically progestin and estrogen.

These hormones work in tandem to prevent the release of an egg from the ovaries (ovulation), which prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. Without the release of an egg, a pregnancy cannot occur.

In addition, the hormones within the birth control ring cause cervical mucus to thicken. The thicker mucus blocks sperm from reaching any released. Furthermore, the hormones also prevent eggs from attaching to the uterine walls.

What Types of Birth Control Rings are Available?

In the U.S., two options are available for birth control rings: NuvaRing and Annovera. The main difference between the two is the length of time each ring is used for.

Annovera lasts for 13 cycles, which is a full year, though the ring should be removed every three weeks. In contrast, NuvaRing requires a new ring after each three-week use.

For some people, saving a monthly trip to the pharmacy makes Annovera a good option. Others prefer having a new ring inserted each month rather than using the same ring for a year.

Compared to NuvaRing, Annovera also contains less estrogen. Therefore, people who experience symptoms with NuvaRing may see fewer symptoms with Annovera. Annovera also includes a type of progestin that more closely resembles naturally occurring hormones in the body, making Annovera less likely to cause side effects.

How Does a Birth Control Ring Work?

A birth control ring is a type of vaginal birth control and its primary method for controlling pregnancy is through the hormones it contains. Much like birth control pills or patches, the contraceptive ring works in coordination with the menstrual cycle.

Most birth control rings have the same instructions:

  1. On the first day of your period, insert a new ring into your vagina. Placing the ring is like using a tampon. There should not be any discomfort.
  2. The birth control ring remains in the vagina for three weeks in a row.
  3. After three weeks, remove the ring on the same day of the week the ring was inserted. For example, if the ring was inserted on a Monday, remove the ring in three weeks on Monday at approximately the same time of day.
  4. Your period should start the week you remove the contraceptive ring.
  5. Regardless of whether you are menstruating, the week after you remove the old ring, insert a new birth control ring.

Typically, a vaginal ring takes about a week to be effective. Couples should use another form of birth control for seven days after the very first ring is inserted.

It’s also important to remember that although a birth control ring works excellently as a birth control, it does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A condom can help to protect against STIs and provide another layer of pregnancy prevention.

How Does a Birth Control Ring Stay in Place?

Finding the right spot for the ring to sit in the vagina may take some trial and error. For the most part, where a vaginal ring remains in the vagina is not vital, so long as there is no discomfort.

Sometimes you may have to push the contraceptive ring further or take it out and re-insert it to find a comfortable placement. You should not be able to feel the ring once it is in place.

The birth control ring remains in place due to the pressure from the vaginal muscles. Keeping the ring outside for more than a few hours may result in a pregnancy. In cases where the ring is removed and reinserted after more than three hours, an alternate form of birth control is necessary for seven days. In some cases, a doctor may advise you to start with a new ring.

Is the Birth Control Ring Effective at Preventing Pregnancy?

No birth control is 100% effective; that said, the birth control ring is a very effective form of pregnancy planning. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) give the birth control ring a 7% failure rate, similar to combined oral contraceptives and hormone patches.

In comparison, the failure rate for hormonal injection contraceptives is 4%. Condoms have a higher failure rate, at 13%. Much of the failure rate for contraceptive rings comes from incorrect usage.

What are the Side Effects of the Birth Control Ring?

Most individuals who use a vaginal ring have no side effects. The side effects that do occur are typically the following:

  • Irregular periods.
  • Breast tenderness.
  • Headaches.
  • Vaginal irritation.

Individuals who do experience birth control ring side effects say symptoms resolve in two to three months.

What are Health Considerations of the Birth Control Ring?

Like most hormone-related birth control methods, the vaginal ring may increase the risk of blood clots. Blood clots can lead to severe problems with the lungs, heart and brain. Smoking tobacco while using the vaginal ring increases the risk even more. As a result, smoking is not recommended while using the birth control ring.

Consult a healthcare professional if you experience the following while on the birth control ring:

  • Vaginal discharge with a foul odor.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Lower leg pain.
  • Chest pain.

Also, as stated prior, the ring prevents pregnancies; it does not prevent STIs. To prevent STIs, use a condom.

Choosing the Right Birth Control for You

A hormonal birth control ring is a safe and effective form of birth control. Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner to determine if a birth control ring is right for you. They can explore your options and find the most appropriate birth control for your situation.