Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new birth control ring called Annovera, which can be used for a full year. The vaginal ring contains a combination of hormones that prevent pregnancy, and it can be reused each month for 13 cycles before it has to be replaced. This news coincidentally comes at a stressful time when lots of people are worried about losing their right to a safe and legal abortion and contraception. In light of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee's stance on abortion, many people are considering switching to a long-acting reversible contraceptive, like an intrauterine device (IUD) or implant now.
The fact that this new ring can last for a year before it has to be replaced might be intriguing for people shopping around new birth control methods. Compared to an IUD, birth control rings tend to be more flexible — literally and figuratively — because they can be inserted and removed by the user, and they sit in the vagina not the uterus. But just like an IUD isn't the right birth control choice for every person with a uterus, there are a few things that you should know about Annovera before you decide get it.
Annovera is a soft silicone ring that's 2.25 inches in diameter that you insert inside your vagina. Once up there, the ring releases a combination of progestin and estrogen hormones into the body. Although this is being marketed as a ring that "lasts for a year," you still have to take it out every 21 days (using your fingers) for a 7-day period, according to the prescriber information. During this time, you'd bleed and get your period like usual, and keep your ring in a case (after you wash it with mild soap and warm water) that comes with it.
The NuvaRing, another type of birth control ring, can also stay in for three weeks, but you have to dispose of it and get a new one each cycle, which can be a pain. Another annoying thing about the NuvaRing is that you have to keep them stored away from sunlight or inside a fridge. But if you follow this three weeks in, one week out cycle, then one Annovera ring is good for 13 cycles or 273 days, and it can withstand temperatures up to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, Annovera sounds great, but how well does it work? In three clinical trials of 2,308 women ages 18 to 40, they found that about two to four women out of 100 women may get pregnant during the first year using Annovera. (It's important to note that women with a body mass index higher than 29 were excluded from these trials, so we don't know how well it would work for people in this category yet.) In comparison, the birth control ring has a typical use failure rate of about 9%, which is the same as a hormonal birth control pill, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Of course, Annovera isn't perfect, and it can be accidentally expelled while removing a tampon, during sex, or while passing a bowel movement. There are also some common side effects that people experienced in the clinical trials, like headaches (including migraines), nausea and vomiting, vaginal yeast infections, abdominal pain, and menstrual cramps. Also, people at increased risk of venous thromboembolism (a blood-clotting condition), or who have a history of breast cancer, liver tumors, or abnormal uterine bleeding, shouldn't use Annovera.
If you're curious whether Annovera is a good option for you right now, it's important to talk to your Ob/Gyn or healthcare provider who can take your whole medical history into account and help you make a decision. According to The Population Council, the nonprofit research organization that developed Annovera, it should be available in late 2019 or early 2020. And one other cool thing is that they plan to provide reduced pricing for Title X family planning clinics, to make it easier for people in low-income populations to access Annovera.
This new ring is being marketed as a contraceptive method that's "fully under a woman's control," which is a nice sentiment for the time being. Ultimately, it's great that there are more birth control options available — because birth control is vital to people's health.