A few months ago, after ditching the pill and deciding the Depo-Provera shot wasn’t for me, I decided to try the NuvaRing. Even though I’ve had previous problems with hormonal birth control—the only time I’ve had regular periods in my life was when I stopped taking the pill—I panicked in the Planned Parenthood office (I’m not great with choice; sometimes I panic at the Subway counter) and decided to try out the NuvaRing. Bad choice.
The NuvaRing is a small, hormone-releasing ring you insert in your vagina. Each ring is worn for three weeks, then removed during the week of your period. The active ingredients are estrogen and progestin. Like other hormonal contraceptives, it works by stopping your ovaries from producing eggs, thickening your cervical mucus and thinning the uterus lining. And, like other forms of hormonal birth control, it’s capable of producing a host of side effects, such as irregular bleeding, dizziness, nausea, weight gain and depression.I get depressed right around my period, and hormonal birth control has been known to affect my mood. But I don’t remember every feeling so crazy up-and-down as when I first started using the NuvaRing. Everything would be fine, and then suddenly the world seemed hopeless. I would cry for almost no reason—just suddenly break into sobs without the slightest provocation or conscious reason why.
Of course, there is a period of adjustment when taking any new medication. Maybe the moodiness and depression would have subsided—I don’t know, because I ended up taking the wretched ring out before the end of the month. The mood problems were just the beginning. After a short time, the ring—which I did not find easy to insert, by the way—began to hurt. And not just for me. My boyfriend could feel it too, during sex. It was painful to bang up against and, ( this is probably deserving of a TMI alert) there was chafing. It pinched me during sex, too, and left me feeling sore all the time.
So I took out the NuvaRing. But the problems didn’t stop—I was still tired and depressed, with cramps and lower back pain. In fact, everything got worse (including the pain during sex). I went back to Planned Parenthood, and found I had bacterial vaginosis—a common, sometimes symptomless vaginal infection with a host of causes. Maybe the NuvaRing was not to blame for mine, but I remain suspicious.
I told my friend Jen about my NuvaRing story, and it turns out the NuvaRing had been similarly bad for her. Here’s what Jen, 28, had to say about her time using the NuvaRing:
I was super crazy emotional and irrational … a complete mess. Horribly depressed, I cried all the time for no reason, and I lashed out at people. It was an absolute nightmare.
Plus, my ex was well-endowed, so the ring would always lasso him, or end up pinching me somehow. It was super uncomfortable during sex, almost always. And if you happen to take it out during sex and forget to put it back in for more than 3 hours, the effectiveness could wear off, and you have to use condoms or another back-up anyway. Miserable.
On the other hand, I have friends who love it and use nothing else, so I guess it works for some…
It does work for some—women’s bodies respond to different contraceptives and different hormones, well, differently. Here’s an excerpt from Lilit Marcus‘ love letter to the NuvaRing on our sister site, TheGloss:
Remember how much Elaine adored her favorite kind of birth control, the sponge, on Seinfeld, even going so far as to buy up an entire store’s supply when she heard that the product was going to be discontinued? Well, that’s how I feel about the NuvaRing.
Jen and I both have a history of bad reactions to hormonal birth control—if you’re someone who generally tolerates birth control hormones well, maybe the NuvaRing will work for you. Like I mentioned above, I’m one of the few women whose periods get less regular on the pill, so I’m hardly a good model for how the a birth control will affect most people.
But one thing that’s been universally proven is that the NuvaRing can cause blood clots, at a higher rate than that of older-generation birth control pills (as with other hormonal contraceptive and blood clot links, the risk is greatest for women who smoke and those over 35). NuvaRing relies on a third-generation synthetic progestin hormone called desogestrel, which I wrote about yesterday; desogetrel is one of several newer synthetic progestins that have been found to really increase a woman’s risk of blood clots. And according to this May 2011 article from Marie Claire, almost 1,000 cases of possible NuvaRing-related blood clots have been reported to the FDA since 2001, and more than 700 women in the U.S. are currently suing Merck, NuvaRing’s manufacturer, for downplaying health risks.
Photo: The Gloss