Ahoy, matey! This Halloween, there will likely be more pirates than usual walking the streets.
Wearing patches (but not the eye kind) and rings (but not ear kind), you’ll probably have difficulty distinguishing these pirates from the usual rabble of cheerleaders and sexy secretaries that tend to litter campus on Halloween. That’s because these pirate’s patches are discretely placed on the ladies’ buttocks or upper backs, and their rings — well, let’s just say the light of day never, ever, reaches them.
Two new forms of hormonal contraception for women — a transdermal patch and an inter-vaginal ring — both approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2001, are slowly gaining popularity among women. Although for years the pill and the Depo-Provera shot have been the only non-emergency hormonal contraceptives on the market, the creation of “the patch” and “the ring” have significantly diversified the options for women seeking alternative forms of contraception.
Available by prescription, Ortho Evra, also known as “the patch,” and NuvaRing use the same hormones as the pill — estrogen and progestin — to suppress ovulation. Ortho Evra secretes hormones through the skin and into the bloodstream in the same fashion as a nicotine patch, while NuvaRing diffuses hormones through the walls of the vagina. Both advertise 99 percent effectiveness at prohibiting pregnancy — the same level of effectiveness as the pill — without the daily commitment.
“Within the last couple of years, people have heard of them more,” Peer Health Educator Abby Greene ’06 said. “People are impressed. It’s a pretty newfangled idea to have things absorb through their bodies.”
University Health Services began offering both forms of contraception after FDA approval, and UHS’s Peer Health Educators, who lecture freshmen in Connections Workshops, list the patch and ring on their Web site as possible contraceptive choices. The Peer Health Educators have included the ring in their Connections Workshops for the past three years and the patch for the past two years.
“There are lifestyle reasons why a woman may prefer one of the new options,” University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said in an e-mail. “Among students arriving with an interest in contraception, most ask for the pill. There are some specific requests for the patch or the ring, but far fewer than the pill.”
Although approved by the FDA a month after the ring, the patch has been the quickest to catch on among women. This year, especially, magazine and television advertisements for Ortho Evra promote putting contraception “On your body” and “off your mind.”
Both the patch and the ring provide non-daily alternatives to the pill. The patch is applied weekly, while the ring — a clear, flexible ring about two inches in diameter — is inserted by the user once a month. For college students with hectic schedules and a lot on their minds, the convenience of not having to take a pill every day can often be a major enticement.
“It’s less of a daily commitment, but with the same results,” Greene said. “I have a couple of friends that use the patch that are pretty happy with it, especially that it stays on under water.”
Perhaps, due to the lack of a widespread advertising campaign, many women still have not heard of the ring.
Eleanor Cheung ’05 said she had heard of both the patch and the ring, but was not familiar enough with the ring to be able to describe it. Catherine Rivkin ’06, meanwhile, said she had heard of the patch, but not the ring.
“The name is a little scary,” Cheung said of the ring.
The concept of a ring inserted into the vagina makes some women uncomfortable. In Connections Workshops, Peer Health Educator Kathleen McKeegan ’05 said, the sample NuvaRing the educators show usually garners some squeamish responses from the audience.
“The ring always gets a few faces,” McKeegan said. “I may make a few faces, too. In broad daylight it looks a little different.”
The makers of NuvaRing say on their Web site that the ring secretes a lower dose of hormones than the pill, thus reducing the risks of possible side affects. And, perhaps, to combat the potential gross-out factor, NuvaRing’s Web site (www.nuvaring.com) offers a virtual ring that flexes when the mouse passes over it, as well as an animation of inserting and removing the ring. Whether these animations serve to make the viewer more or less disturbed is up for speculation.
Though students don’t make the same faces when shown how to put on the patch, Ortho Evra still has its pit-falls. A thin beige patch, no matter how discrete, will be seen at certain times.
“I feel like no matter where I put it on my body, it would be visible at some point,” Cheung said.
But whether they support the pill, the patch, or the ring, most women say they are just happy the options are growing.
“I want to open people’s eyes to the fact that there are other options besides the condom and the pill,” McKeegan said.