November 12, 2012

The Vaginal Ring (A.K.A. "NuvaRing")

Yes, it seems weird, but this thing will stop you from getting pregnant!
The vaginal ring -- more commonly referred to by its brand name, NuvaRing -- is a small, flexible ring that you insert into your vagina for three weeks at a time to prevent pregnancy. Many people like this method because it's cheap (about $15 with prescription), it's effective, the ability to become pregnant returns quickly after you've stopped using it, and there's no need to stop in the heat of the moment to grab protection.

The vaginal ring is a hormonal birth control method. It contains the same hormones as birth control pills do -- estrogen and progestin. This works to prevent pregnancy in two ways:
  • preventing ovulation; ie, keeping the ovaries from releasing an egg (if there's no egg, there's nothing for the sperm to fertilize)
  • thickening the cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to swim and preventing them from reaching the eggs
I feel like the vaginal ring is one of those commonly misunderstood and ignored birth control methods, which is really a shame, because it's quite effective. With perfect use, less than 1 out of 100 people using the vaginal ring will get pregnant within a year. With typical use, 9 out of 100 people using it will get pregnant within a year. Not bad!

How do you use it ?

The vaginal ring is easy to insert. First, wash your hands with soap and water. Next, take your ring and squeeze it together between your fingers (like the photo at the top of this article). Then, gently push the ring into your vagina -- the exact positioning of the ring doesn't matter, so don't worry about that.

Insertion

There's no need to remove the ring during sexual intercourse, using the bathroom, or anything else. Once it's in, keep it in. 

After you've inserted the vaginal ring, you leave it inside your vagina for three weeks. After three weeks have passed, you take it out, and then you leave it out of your vagina for one week. Three weeks in, one week out. To remove the vaginal ring, simply reach into your vagina and hook the ring onto your finger, then gently slip it out:

Removal
After three weeks have passed and you've removed the vaginal ring for your ring-free week, wrap the ring inside of its original tin foil and then throw it in the trash. This is important, because used rings can still sometimes contain hormones and you don't want any children or animals to take it out of the trash and play with it. It also reduces the chances of hormones seeping into any soil or water supply. After one week of not wearing the ring, you insert a new one.

The ring-free week is usually when you'll have your period. You might still have some bleeding when it's time to insert a new one, which is normal. But -- and this is very important -- the new ring must be inserted on the same day of the week as when you inserted the last one.  

Got that? Let me say it once more: insert your new ring on the same day of the week that the previous one was inserted during your last cycle. If you put it in on a Thursday last time, you better put it in on Thursday this time too. If you don't do this, you might get pregnant. I suggest marking the days on a calendar to help you remember. Said calendar should look something like this:

Leave your ring in for three weeks, out for one week,  then get a new ring, leave it in for three weeks, you see where I'm going with this?
Some people use the ring continuously so they get to skip out on their period. That is, instead of having a ring-free week, they just immediately replace their old ring with a new one. This is something you probably want to discuss with a doctor before deciding to do. If you use the ring continuously, it's normal to have spotting or bleeding for the first six months or so. 

What happens if the ring slips out of your vagina or you make a mistake while using it?

Ah, mistakes happen. The world's an imperfect place. Pregnancy can happen if:
  • the ring slips out of your vagina and isn't replaced within three hours
  • you don't keep the ring inside your vagina for the full three weeks
  • the ring is left in your vagina for longer than three weeks 
  • you forget to put a new ring in on time after your ring-free week
If the ring slips out of your vagina, just wash it with lukewarm water, and put it back in as quickly as you can. If it was outside of your body for less than three hours, that's all you have to do. If the ring was displaced for longer than three hours, use a back-up method of birth control for seven days.

If you left the ring inside of your vagina for longer than three weeks, what you do next varies depending upon how long it's been.

If you've left it in for up to four weeks:
  • Remove the ring
  • Take a ring-free week
  • Insert a new one after your ring-free week
If you've left it in more than four weeks:
  • Remove the ring
  • Try to remember if you've had vaginal intercourse more than four weeks after you inserted the ring -- since the ring only protects you for three weeks, you may be pregnant. You may want to take a pregnancy test. 
  • When you restart with a new ring, use a back-up method birth control method for a week. 
If your ring-free time lasts longer than one week, insert a new ring and use a back-up birth control method for a week.

If you need to use a back up method while using the vaginal ring as your primary method, you shouldn't use a diaphragm, a cervical cap, or a sponge. Having the ring in may prevent these from being properly placed in your vagina. If you need a back-up method, use a condom or spermicide (or both). You can also use emergency contraception (A.K.A "the morning after pill", or Plan B) to prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected vaginal intercourse. This is a great option if you had vaginal intercourse before you realized your ring was not in place or had been in place too long.

It's important to keep in mind that the vaginal ring does nothing to protect you from STIs. Unless you are in a relationship where you know for a fact that everyone involved has been tested and is free of STIs, you should still use a condom when having sex.

Helpful tips and reminders:
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before inserting or removing your ring!
  • Since the ring can slip out, it's not a bad idea to check on it now and again. A good time to do this is after having vaginal intercourse or after you've strained during a bowel movement (since the pushing can push it out of your vagina)
  • Be mindful during sexual activity -- you don't want your partner to accidentally pull your ring out while fingering you
Many people who rely on the vaginal ring love it. It's easier than having to remember to take a pill every day,  you only have to think about it twice a month, and it allows for spontaneous sex because you don't have to pause the action to put anything in place. Like other hormonal birth control methods, it often lead to lighter, shorter periods over time. Similar to birth control pills, the vaginal ring can also be used to control acne and  lessen menstrual cramps.

12 comments:

  1. I've used the ring for a while now and I have to say that it's pretty awesome because I am quite forgetful on taking pills everyday. On the downside though, it has made me super hormonal. My mood swings are quite large and random. Just a heads up to anyone thinking about using it. I know everyone is different, so I just thought I would give a heads up (:

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  2. I like the "convenience" of not having to remember to take a pill. But I don't like the cramping it causes, or that I have to take it out during sex or it is painful and rubs us raw (leaving us bloody). Or the migraines I seem to have with it. I'm still up in the air if I want to continue on with this one. The last pill I took was giving my severe leg cramps and headaches.

    I also wonder about the affects of the hormone being directly on my partner.

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