Modern contraceptives have made lives easier for the sexually active population. The most common and easily available contraceptive of course needs no introduction. A condom is the best known method for preventing STIs and STDs. However, it is not just men who do not like using them and unprotected sex is on the rise in the UK. In the 90s, less than 2% of heterosexual men in the USA reported having some kind of experience with female condoms. Although better known today, they are still not widely used. When it exclusively comes to birth control, luckily there are alternatives.
Hormonal contraceptives were first introduced in the form of the oral pill in the 1960s. Still popular, the pill offers numerous benefits besides birth control. Available as a combination of Ethynil Estradiol and Progestin, the oral contraceptive pill can regularize menstrual cycles and prevent migraines and abdominal pain. There is not enough data on its long-term side effects but the benefits far outweigh the risks. However, there is one hormonal contraceptive that has reportedly lower side effects and is superior to the oral pill. It is the vaginal ring.
The vaginal ring has its origin in Germany in the late 1920s as the Gräfenberg's ring, an intra uterine device made of silver and copper. It was discontinued shortly after it gained prominence, and later became popular in China in the form of stainless steel ring known as the ‘Shanghai ring’. The modern vaginal ring was invented in 2001 from a polymer. It was developed keeping in mind that elastomers are capable of releasing hormones which can be absorbed by the vaginal epithelium.
The vaginal ring releases a combination of Ethynil Estradiol and Etonogestrel. Vaginal administration is superior to the oral route as it bypasses gastrointestinal complications and increases bioavailability. This means that lower doses of the hormones can be used for achieving results similar to the pill. Some women may experience wetness during the use of the ring but it improves the number of good bacteria in the vagina and therefore reduces the chances of infections and regulates the pH level. The ring has been found to be well tolerated among a large number of women and is a “highly effective contraceptive method”. A new type of ring containing Dapivirine offers protection from HIV. We may not be far away from inventing a vaginal ring that can offer protection from all types of STDs and STIs. Isn’t it time women ditched the pill and embraced the ring?