This is a game-changer considering other birth control rings need to be replaced monthly.

By Faith Brar
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Photo: Shutterstock / MichaelKraus

For the first time ever, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a contraceptive vaginal ring that can be re-worn for an entire year.

Annovera, as it's named, is a product created by the Population Council, a nonprofit that is also the brains behind the copper IUD, contraceptive implants, and a contraceptive vaginal ring for breastfeeding women, among other products. (Related: Why Is Everyone Hating On Birth Control Pills Right Now?)

How does it work?

Annovera functions similarly to other contraceptive rings: It's placed inside the vagina where it releases hormones like progesterone that help prevent pregnancy, Buzzfeed News reports. What makes Annovera different, though, is that it uses a new hormone blend called segesterone acetate that helps maintain the ring's effectiveness without refrigeration for up to a year.

"Most forms of contraception-whether taken orally or implanted-all contain certain amounts and types of estrogen and progesterone," Jessica Vaught, M.D., the director of minimally invasive surgery at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies and board-certified ob-gyn tells Shape. "But while the type of estrogen used in contraception always stays the same (otherwise known as estradiol), researchers have experimented with different versions of progesterone in birth control for years."

Dr. Vaught says that segesterone acetate is basically a new version of progesterone. In terms of effectiveness, it's the same as other types of progesterone used in birth control. But it exhibits unique qualities like bypassing the need for refrigeration and its ability to be reused for an entire year.

How is it used?

To make sure you're using Annovera the way it's intended, the Population Council advises that you leave the ring inside your vagina for three weeks and then remove it for one. During the downtime, the ring should be washed properly and kept inside a case that can be stored anywhere.

If you're wondering if that's hygienic, women have been using similar vaginal implants that aren't used for contraception for decades. "Older women often experience prolapse, which is when organs can move forward or down, causing health complications," says Dr. Vaught. "In these cases, they are often given pessary rings that are implanted through the vagina and help keep those organs in place. These kinds of products are similar to Annovera in the sense that they are made with materials that don't cause infections easily, granted to wash and store them properly."

During this week off, the Population Council does warn users that they might experience a period or a "withdrawal bleed." But once those seven days are up, you can just put the same ring back in again, repeating the process for up to a year, without having to go to the pharmacy every month to get a new ring. (FYI, speak to your doctor if you're missing your period.)

"For more than 60 years, the Population Council has been at the vanguard of global efforts to develop innovative family planning methods that meet women's needs," said Population Council president Julia Bunting in a statement. "Having a single contraceptive system that provides a full year of protection while under a woman's control could be a game-changer."

How effective is it?

Turns out, Annovera is slightly more effective than some other forms of contraception on the market. Clinical trials showed it to be 97.3 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in women ages 18 to 40 who used the ring for 13 menstrual cycles. This translates to approximately 2 to 4 out of 100 women who may get pregnant during the first year they use Annovera.

To put that into perspective, there are 18 or more pregnancies a year per 100 women using condoms or the withdrawal method; 6 to 12 per 100 with the Pill, patches, or diaphragms; and less than 1 per 100 per year for IUDs or sterilization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Furthermore, some of the women from the trial reported that Annovera was convenient, easy to use, and comfortable in day to day life-even during sex, according to the FDA.

That being said, the FDA does caution that like most other forms of contraception, Annovera does not prevent against HIV or any other sexually transmitted diseases or infections.

It's also worth noting that Annovera hasn't been tested in women with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 29 and shouldn't be used if you have a history of breast cancers, various tumors, or abnormal uterine bleeding, among other medical conditions. The ring will also come in a box that warns about increased cardiovascular risk when used while smoking. Needless to say, it's not for everyone. (Related: 5 Ways Birth Control Can Fail)

What about side effects?

You can expect similar side effects to other forms of hormonal birth control. The FDA's report included symptoms such as headaches, nausea, yeast infections, abdominal pain, irregular bleeding, and breast tenderness. (More: The Most Common Birth Control Side Effects)

Annovera won't be on the market until 2019 or 2020, and while there's no telling what a prescription will cost you, it will be sold at a discounted rate to family planning clinics that serve lower-income people. "The benefits of having a product like this be affordable is immense," says Dr. Vaught. "To have a form of contraception that is so accessible and doesn't require frequent visits to the pharmacy or doctor's office could allow so many women independence and control over their bodies." (Related: This Company Is Trying to Make Birth Control More Accessible Around the World)

If you're thinking that Annovera might be the contraception for you, remember to consult your doctor first when it does become available. When selecting a method of birth control, it's important to weigh all your options before deciding what type works best for you.

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