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Vaginal Contraceptive Ring

A Hormonal Method of Birth Control

What is a vaginal ring?

The NuvaRing vaginal contraceptive ring is a soft, flexible ring that is worn in the vagina to prevent pregnancy. Like combined oral contraceptives, the vaginal ring contains two synthetic hormones. These are absorbed into the body through the vagina to prevent pregnancy. The ring must be prescribed by a doctor and is purchased by prescription. It is worn for three weeks at a time and replaced once a month.

How does the vaginal ring work?

The ring is believed to work by multiple mechanisms. NuvaRing contains estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (etonorgestrel), which are artificial variations of natural female hormones.

  1. In most cases the ring prevents ovulation. No egg is released so sperm cannot fertilize it.
  2. The ring may also prevent fertilization by changing the consistency of natural secretions in the vagina, making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg.
  3. Women may experience breakthrough ovulation which can lead to fertilization. When this occurs, the ring works by making it harder for the embryo to implant in the womb by keeping the lining of the uterus thin.

How effective is the vaginal ring?


Annual Failure Rate

Because the ring is a relatively new method, the failure rate is not yet known. It is assumed that the failure rate is the same as for oral contraceptives, which have an overall annual failure rate of 7%. That means each year about 1 in 14 users will experience an unplanned pregnancy. These methods have a lower annual failure rate of 6% for married couples, but a higher rate of 14% for cohabiting couples. These methods are also less effective for teens and couples in their early twenties, with a failure rate of about 14%.

Side-effects and health risks of the vaginal ring:

There are many potential side-effects, health risks, and drug interaction concerns involving the vaginal ring. A few are listed here, but not all are provided due to space limitations.

Problems caused by Estrogen Problems caused by Progestin
Breast swelling & tenderness
Vaginal discharge
High blood pressure
Decreased sex drive
Mood swings
Fluid retention
Permanent dark patches on face
Drug interaction problems
Gallbladder disease
Eye or vision problems
Embolism (rare)
Heart attack (rare)
Stroke (rare)
Breast tumor growth (rare)
Weight gain
Fatigue and tiredness
High blood pressure
Acne and/or oily skin
High cholesterol
Insulin resistance
Irregular menstrual bleeding
Breast tenderness
Heart attack (rare)
Breast tumor growth (rare)

Considerations for Christians:

Most medical organizations define pregnancy as beginning with implantation. By this definition anything that prevents implantation is still considered contraception, including the contraceptive patch. However, life begins when fertilization occurs, so many Christians would consider oral contraceptives an abortifacient — a drug that causes a very early abortion. Brochures about the patch may downplay the abortive mechanism to keep Christian women buying this product. The vaginal ring is considered artificial contraception and is not acceptable for Roman Catholics.

Related Links

Source for Failure Rates: N Ranjit, A Bankole, JE Darroch, S Singh, "Contraceptive Failure in the First Two Years of Use: Differences Across Socioeconomic Subgroups," Family Planning Perspectives, 2001, 33(1):19-27. (pdf)

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