Last week I was interviewed for Cosmopolitan about ‘femidoms’ or internal condoms. These are one of a handful of contraceptives that often get talked about in sex ed classes, but appear to be less commonly in use.
Another type of contraception that this can be said about is the vaginal ring.
It gets its name from it’s shape – it’s a ‘ring’ made from a soft rubber like materials, about 5 cm across. It is inserted in to the vagina by the user and once inserted sits just below the cervix.
It’s another type of hormonal contraceptive – which means it protects against pregnancy by affecting the womb, ovaries and the fertility cycle.
It contains the same hormones as the combined pill – oestrogen and progesterone. Because of this, it works in a very similar way:
- Stops the ovaries from releasing an egg.
- Helps make the lining of the womb stay thin, rather than building up (a thick womb lining is needed for a fertilised egg to implant in and grow).
- Helps create a thick ‘plug’ of mucus in the cervix – the entrance to the womb. This helps stop sperm from entering the womb from the vagina in the first place and coming in to contact with an egg.
Also like the combined pill, the vaginal ring is used for three weeks and then not for one week – usually with a ‘withdrawal bleed’ in this week off. The main difference is that whilst the pill is delivered to your system by swallowing a pill, the vagina ring releases these hormones in to your system slowly over time.
After the week off, a new one is inserted. This is done by the user – so no need to attend a clinic or other appointment to get it fitted by a health professional, like with other contraceptive methods such as the coil.
From speaking to friends about their personal and professional experiences it seems like the vaginal ring isn’t something that is as easy to get hold of as other forms of contraception, at least in the UK!
Pros and cons
Because it doesn’t form a barrier between the vagina and the penis, it doesn’t protect against STIs. The vaginal ring is a form of contraception (helps reduce the risk of pregnancy) but not protection (doesn’t help reduce the likelihood of passing on infections through sex).
Some people may find it difficult to use – it involves being quite comfortable with your anatomy, slightly more so than a tampon.
On the other hand – it works very well. If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective. For comparison, this is more effective than condoms (98% effective). It only needs removing and replacing every four weeks – unlike the pill, which you need to think about every day.
For further details see:
NHS Contraception advice