Taking something out your fridge and inserting it into your vagina sounds kind of…odd, not to mention a little too chilly for comfort. (And sometimes it’s really ill-advised, like if you’re thinking about giving produce a whirl for masturbation purposes.) But if you use NuvaRing as birth control, you might have heard that in order for this contraception to be most effective, you should store it in the fridge before popping it into your vagina. Are you seriously supposed to keep your birth control alongside your milk and cheese? Here, experts explain what you need to know.
Just in case you’re not sure of NuvaRing’s deal, here’s how it works to keep your uterus unoccupied.
NuvaRing is a small, flexible, plastic ring that you insert deep into your vagina. Just like combined hormonal birth control pills, the ring contains a mix of the hormones estrogen and progestin to ward off pregnancy, the Mayo Clinic explains. The estrogen suppresses ovulation (so there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize when you have sex), and the progestin thickens your cervical mucus to make it harder for said sperm to travel to an egg. The progestin can also thin your uterine lining, which means using NuvaRing and similar hormonal birth control methods can lead to a lighter period and less cramping.
You’ll time your NuvaRing usage with four-week cycles as your guide. Once you insert the ring, you’ll leave it there for three weeks. After three weeks are up, you’ll remove it for a one-week break (during which you’ll probably get your period). After that one-week break, you’ll insert a new ring for another three weeks. So basically, at one point during each cycle, on the same day of the week and at the same time every month, you should insert a new ring and keep it in there for at least 21 days, according to NuvaRing’s prescribing information.
Removing the ring for that one-week break will allow for the withdrawal bleed (period) your body produces without those added hormones. As long as you remove and insert your NuvaRing when you should, you’ll be protected against pregnancy for that ring-free week.
If you’d rather try to skip your period, you can keep your NuvaRing in for four weeks (you’ll still be protected against pregnancy), then immediately put in a new NuvaRing right after taking out the old one. (Heads up: This is an off-label suggestion, so you should really run it by your doctor first. Whether you keep your NuvaRing in for three or four weeks, the prescribing information recommends going ring-free for seven days after removing the device. Also, you might experience some breakthrough bleeding if you give this a go.)
You should check regularly that your ring is still in place, especially before and after sex, but you can otherwise forget that anything’s up there until it’s time to remove and replace your ring.
The most reliable research out there shows that, when used perfectly, fewer than one woman in 100 will get pregnant at some point in the first year of using NuvaRing. But when you’re talking about typical use, that number rises to nine in 100 women getting pregnant within the first year of trying this birth control method. Clearly, using the NuvaRing in the most effective way possible makes a crucial difference.
“You definitely don’t want the efficacy of the ring to go down,” Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF. “That kind of defeats the purpose.” The way you store your NuvaRing can certainly play into that efficacy, but perhaps not in the way you think.
NuvaRing directions make zero mention of you needing to put it in your fridge for ultimate protection against pregnancy.
The prescribing information from the device’s parent company, Merck & Co., Inc., and NuvaRing's website both list a bunch of information on how to store your vaginal ring. There’s absolutely nothing there about using your own refrigerator as a pit stop between the pharmacy and your vagina.
Instead, the Merck & Co., Inc., prescribing information says you should store your NuvaRing at room temperature between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) puts 77 degrees Fahrenheit as the ideal temperature for long-term storage but notes that “excursions” anywhere between 59 and 86 degrees are OK (so, for example, if your car is 84 degrees when you’re driving back from the pharmacy, that should be fine).
Your fridge should be set at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your food safe, the FDA notes. (If your fridge is warmer than that, you might wind up with a nasty stomach bug.) Clearly, that’s colder than room temperature, meaning you don’t need to put your NuvaRing in your fridge to keep it safe.
You can store your NuvaRing at room temperature for up to four months after you get it. After four months pass or if the expiration date comes and goes—whichever arrives first—you should toss it.
Your pharmacist, on the other hand, definitely needs to store your NuvaRing in a refrigerated space before dispensing it to you, because they might have it for longer than four months. Some doctors choose to do this as well.
The prescribing information specifically advises pharmacists to keep NuvaRing in a fridge at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit before giving it out to patients. “Storing NuvaRing in the fridge will keep the product stable longer,” Jamie Alan, Ph.D., Pharm.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells SELF. “At lower temperatures, reactions that break down drugs … occur at a much slower rate, leading to a longer product shelf life. Conversely, these reactions are accelerated at higher temperatures, and more drug breakdown will occur.” (This is why NuvaRing’s prescribing information explicitly states that you shouldn’t store it above 86 degrees Fahrenheit or in direct sunlight.)
It’s normal for pharmacists to have packs of NuvaRing in storage for longer than four months, so those cooler temperatures are key in making sure the product is still working as well as possible when it gets to you, Alan explains. Once your pharmacist hands NuvaRing over into your possession, your four-month room-temperature countdown begins.
Some ob/gyns decide to go the refrigerator route, too. “We keep samples of [NuvaRing] in the fridge at the office,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tells SELF, explaining that this is simply to follow the same rules that pharmacists do. Dr. Greves says her office doesn’t keep NuvaRing samples in the fridge, but that plenty of her Florida-based patients do simply because they live in a hot climate.
So, as long as your home falls within normal room-temperature bounds, there’s no need to put your NuvaRing in the fridge.
If you live somewhere where it’s pretty much always sweltering and your AC is a little finicky, you can go the fridge route just to avoid any chance of temperatures climbing too high and sabotaging your birth control. Unlike storing your NuvaRing in a too-hot area, keeping it a little colder than room temperature won’t harm it in any way, Dr. Minkin says. (But, Alan notes, actually freezing and thawing the NuvaRing could compromise its efficacy, since that process can cause chemical breakdowns that make it less successful. So, don’t stick your NuvaRing in your freezer.)
You might be connecting a few dots here and wondering: Does keeping a bunch of NuvaRings in the fridge mean you can use them way off in the future, even after the expiration date has passed?
Sorry, but no. While you might choose to take your chances with other items in your fridge that are past their expiration dates, this is birth control we’re talking about. Following the instructions precisely is what makes the difference between perfect and typical use, and when it comes to pregnancy prevention, being a perfectionist really is worth it.