The main points
- The vaginal ring is a type of hormonal contraception that works in a similar way to the oral contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy.
- It can be a good option for women who find it hard remembering to take a pill every day or who are not comfortable using contraceptive implants or intrauterine devices.
- It does not protect against sexually transmissible infections (STIs). The best way to lessen the risk of STIs is to use barrier protection such as male and female condoms with all new sexual partners.
The vaginal ring is a type of contraception that works in a similar way to the oral contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy. A soft, flexible ring is worn inside the vagina for three out of every four weeks. It slowly and steadily releases synthetic forms of the natural hormones oestrogen and progestogen.
The vaginal ring can be a good option if you find it hard remembering to take a pill every day, or if you are not comfortable using contraceptive implants or intrauterine devices (IUDs). If used correctly, the vaginal ring is 99.7 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.
In Australia, you can buy the vaginal ring from pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription under the brand name NuvaRingTM.
How the vaginal ring works
The vaginal ring works in a similar way to the oral contraceptive pill. It releases synthetic hormones that are absorbed by the body for three weeks, followed by a break for one week. During this week, the ring is taken out and a withdrawal bleed, which is similar to a period, will happen. After this break, a new ring is put in.
The ring sits high up in the vagina and does not need to be put in by a doctor. It should not be taken out during its three weeks of use. If the ring falls out, it has to be put in again as soon as possible for it to still be effective. If it has been left out of the vagina for more than 24 hours, it may not be effective.
Advantages of the vaginal ring
Advantages of using the vaginal ring include that:
- If used correctly, it is 99.7 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy.
- It is a good alternative if you find it hard remembering to take a pill every day, or if you are not comfortable using implants or IUDs.
- Compared to the pill, unscheduled (between periods) bleeding is less likely to happen.
- There is no risk of it not working if you have diarrhoea or vomiting because, unlike the pill, the hormones are not digested.
Disadvantages of the vaginal ring
Disadvantages of using the vaginal ring include that:
- It may cause side effects such as nausea, breast tenderness or soreness, unscheduled bleeding or headaches.
- Serious complications such as deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), heart attacks or strokes can happen, but are rare (this is the same for women taking the pill).
- It may not be suitable if you are breastfeeding.
- You should not use it if you smoke and are aged over 35 years.
- Some medications and natural remedies, including St John’s wort, can interfere with the effectiveness of the ring.
- It does not protect against sexually transmissible infections (STIs).
The vaginal ring may not prevent pregnancy if:
- you are more than 24 hours late putting in the new ring after your period
- your ring has fallen out and has not been put in again within 24 hours.
The vaginal ring is not suitable for everyone
You will need to talk to a doctor before you start using the vaginal ring, as it is not suitable for all women.
You should not use the vaginal ring if you have:
- ever had deep vein thrombosis
- had a stroke or heart attack
- recently had breast cancer
- have certain liver disorders such as severe hepatitis
- have vaginal bleeding of an unknown cause
- have certain types of migraines.
If you forget to put in the ring, do so as soon as you remember and use an additional form of contraception (such as condoms) for seven days straight. You may need to skip the ring-free break. If you have unprotected sex before the ring is effective again, emergency contraception is available from pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.
Vaginal rings and sexually transmissible infections
The vaginal ring does not protect against sexually transmissible infections (STIs). It is important to practise safer sex. The best way to lessen the risk of STIs is to use barrier protection such as male and female condoms with all new sexual partners. Condoms can be used with the vaginal ring for oral, vaginal and anal sex to help prevent the spread of infections.
Other types of contraception
There are many different types of contraception available in Australia. A doctor or reproductive health nurse can give you more information about your options.
When choosing a method of contraception, it is important to consider your general health, lifestyle, relationships and your current and future needs. It is also important to weigh up the benefits and side effects that may come with each method.
Where to get more information, support or advice
- Contact your local doctor (GP)
- Contact Family Planning Victoria's clinics
- Visit Better Health Channel