Vaginal ring

A vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring that you place inside your vagina to prevent pregnancy.

If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective. This means that fewer than 1 person out of every 100 who use the vaginal ring as contraception will become pregnant in one year.

In real world use at least 9 in 100 people a year become pregnant (91% effective).

It does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Vaginal ring

How a vaginal ring works

A vaginal ring prevents pregnancy by releasing oestrogen and progestogen which:

  • prevents you from releasing an egg (ovulating)
  • make it difficult for sperm to get to an egg
  • thins the womb lining, so there’s less chance an egg will attach to it

You insert a ring into your vagina for 21 days, then remove it for 7 days. After the 7-day break, you insert a new ring for the next 21 days.

A ring still works if you vomit or have diarrhoea.

You can have sex and use tampons while a ring is in your vagina. You and your partner may feel the ring during sex, but this isn’t harmful.

How to insert a vaginal ring

  1. With clean hands, squeeze the ring between your thumb and finger, and gently insert the tip into your vagina.
  2. Gently push the ring up into your vagina until it feels comfortable.
  3. Keep the foil pouch the ring comes in to put the ring in when you throw it away.

If you can feel the ring and it’s uncomfortable, push it a bit further into your vagina. There isn’t a right or wrong place for it to be, as long as it isn’t uncomfortable.

You should be able to check that a ring is still there using your fingers. If you can’t feel it, but you’re sure it’s there, talk to your doctor or nurse. A ring cannot get ‘lost’ inside you.

How to remove a vaginal ring

After a vaginal ring has been in your vagina for 21 days, you remove it. This should be on the same day of the week that you put it in.

  1. With clean hands, put a finger into your vagina and hook it around the edge of the ring.
  2. Gently pull the ring out.
  3. Put it in the foil pouch provided and throw it in the bin – do not flush it down the toilet.

If you have any bleeding or pain, or you can’t pull it out, tell your doctor or nurse immediately.

When you’ve taken a vaginal ring out, do not put a new one in for 7 days. You might have a period-type bleed during this time. You’re still protected against pregnancy during the 7-day break.

After the 7-day break, you need to insert a new ring, even if you’re still bleeding. Leave this ring in for 21 days, then repeat the cycle.

If you forget to take a vaginal ring out

If a ring has been in for up to 7 days after the 21 days:

  • take the ring out as soon as you remember
  • do not put a new ring in – start your 7-day break as normal
  • insert your new ring after your 7-day break as normal
  • you’re still protected against pregnancy, and you do not need to use additional contraception

If a ring has been in for more than 7 extra days (more than 28 days in total):

  • take the ring out as soon as you remember
  • put a new ring in straight away
  • use additional contraception (such as condoms) until a new ring has been in for 7 days

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you’re unsure what to do.

If you forget to put a new ring in

If you forget to put a new ring in, put one in as soon as you remember. Use extra contraception (such as condoms) for 7 days.

You may need emergency contraception if you had sex before you remembered to put a new ring in, and the ring-free break was 9 days or more in total. If this is the case, talk to your doctor or nurse.

If a vaginal ring comes out

Sometimes a ring may come out on its own. This is called expulsion. This is most likely to happen after or during sex, or when you’re constipated.

If a ring is out for more than 3 hours, you are not protected against pregnancy.

If a ring is out for more than 3 hours in the first or second week of using it, rinse it and put it back in. Use additional contraception for 7 days. You may need emergency contraception if you’ve had sex in the last few days. Talk to your doctor or nurse.

If a ring is out for more than 3 hours in the third week of using it, do not put it back in. Throw it away as normal. You have 2 options, either:

  • you can put a new ring in straight away – you may not have a period-type bleed, but you may have spotting
  • do not put a ring in, have a 7-day break – you’ll have a period-type bleed, and you should put a new ring in 7 days after the old one came out (you can only choose this option if a ring was in continuously for the previous 7 days)

Whichever option you choose, use additional contraception until a ring has been in for 7 days in a row. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you’ve had sex in the last few days, as you may need emergency contraception.

Periods and menstrual health

A vaginal ring can help some period problems, for example:

  • it may help with premenstrual symptoms
  • period-type bleeding usually becomes lighter, more regular and less painful
  • it may reduce the risk of cancer of the ovary, uterus and colon
  • it may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease

Who can use a vaginal ring?

Most women can use vaginal rings, however it might not be suitable for some people. Your doctor or nurse will talk about this with you.

You should not use a ring if you:

  • are pregnant or think you may be pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • smoke and are 35 or over
  • are 35 or over and stopped smoking less than a year ago
  • are very overweight
  • take certain medicines such as some antibiotics, St John’s Wort or medicines used to treat epilepsy, tuberculosis (TB), meningitis or HIV
  • are over 50

You will also not be able to use a ring if you have (or have had):

  • thrombosis (blood clots) in a vein or artery
  • a heart problem or a disease affecting your blood circulatory system (including high blood pressure)
  • migraine with aura (warning signs)
  • breast cancer
  • disease of the liver or gallbladder
  • diabetes with complications, or diabetes for more than 20 years

After giving birth

If you have just had a baby you can start the ring on day 21 after the birth. You’ll need to use additional contraception such as condoms for the next 7 days.

If you start a ring more than 21 days after giving birth, use additional contraception for 7 days after you insert a ring.

After miscarriage or abortion

You can start using a ring immediately after a miscarriage or abortion. It’ll work straight away – you do not need to use additional contraception.

Side effects of a vaginal ring

A ring may cause temporary side effects such as:

  • spotting and bleeding while a ring is in your vagina
  • increased vaginal discharge
  • headaches
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • breast tenderness
  • mood changes

Benefits of using a vaginal ring

Some benefits of using the vaginal ring include:

  • it doesn’t interrupt sex
  • it’s easy to put in and remove
  • you don’t have to think about it every day
  • the ring is not affected if you vomit or have diarrhoea
  • it may help with premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
  • period-type bleeding usually becomes lighter, more regular and less painful
  • it may reduce the risk of cancer of the ovary, uterus and colon
  • it may reduce the risk of fibroids, ovarian cysts and non-cancerous breast disease

Risks of using a vaginal ring

There are some risks of using a vaginal ring, but they are not common.

They include:

Hormonal contraception may slightly increase the risk of:

The benefits of a vaginal ring outweigh the possible risks. You should speak to your doctor or nurse about this before starting to use a vaginal ring.

Where you can get a vaginal ring?

You can get a vaginal ring from:

If you’re under 16

Anyone can get contraception for free in Scotland, even if you’re under 16.

Contraception services are confidential so the person won’t tell anyone else about it. You can ask them any questions you may have.

If you’re under 16, they might encourage you to tell your parents, but you do not have to.

The only time a professional might need to tell someone else is if they think you’re at risk of harm, such as abuse. The risk would need to be serious. They’d usually talk about it with you first.

Logo of the Scottish Government, with text that reads:

Source: Scottish Government

Last updated:
30 December 2022