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Barrier Methods of Birth Control: Care Instructions

A diaphragm and where it fits in the vagina

Your Care Instructions

Barrier methods of birth control prevent pregnancy by blocking sperm. This stops the sperm from reaching an egg. Types of barrier methods include condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and the contraceptive sponge. Barrier methods work better when you use them with a spermicide. This is a substance that kills sperm. Spermicides come in many forms—cream, jelly, gel, foam, film, and suppository. Sometimes they are used alone as a birth control method.

In general, barrier methods don't prevent pregnancy as well as IUDs or hormonal methods. The male condom and diaphragm are the barrier methods that work best. The cervical cap and sponge work about as well as a condom or a diaphragm for women who have not had a vaginal birth. But the cap and sponge don't work as well for women who have had a vaginal birth. The female condom does not work as well as a male condom. Use of spermicide alone does not work well to prevent pregnancy.

Condoms also protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS and herpes. Other barrier methods do not protect against most STIs.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What kinds of barrier birth control are available?

Barrier methods of birth control include:

  • Male condom. This is a thin tube that fits over the penis. Condoms can be made of rubber (latex), plastic, or lambskin. They prevent sperm from getting into the vagina. Rubber and plastic condoms also protect against STIs. Lambskin condoms do not protect against STIs. The condom is placed over the erect penis right before sex. A new condom must be used each time the man has sex. After 1 year, 15 out of 100 women whose partners use condoms will get pregnant. You can buy condoms without a doctor's prescription.
  • Female condom. This is a thin plastic pouch that is open on one end. The closed end is placed inside the vagina. The condom then lines the walls of the vagina and prevents sperm from getting into the vagina. The female condom also protects against STIs. A new condom must be used each time the woman has sex. After 1 year, 21 out of 100 women who use female condoms will get pregnant. You can buy female condoms without a doctor's prescription.
  • Diaphragm. This is a rubber or silicone dome with a firm, flexible rim. It fits inside a woman's vagina and covers the opening of the uterus (called the cervix). A diaphragm is always used with spermicide. A woman puts in the diaphragm no more than 6 hours before she has sex. After 1 year, 16 out of 100 women who use a diaphragm will get pregnant. You need a doctor's examination and a prescription to get a diaphragm. With good care, a diaphragm lasts 1 to 2 years. Diaphragms are not widely available in Canada. Buying the necessary spermicidal jelly to use with the diaphragm is difficult.
  • Cervical cap. This is a rubber device. It fits inside the vagina, right up against the cervix. The cervical cap is always used with a spermicide. You need a doctor's prescription to get a cervical cap. After 1 year, 16 out of 100 women who use the cap and who have not had a vaginal delivery will get pregnant. Out of 100 women who have had a vaginal delivery, 32 will get pregnant after 1 year. A cervical cap can last for up to 2 years. Cervical caps are not widely available in Canada. Buying the necessary spermicidal jelly to use with the cervical cap is difficult.
  • Contraceptive sponge. This is a thick plastic foam disc. It fits inside the vagina and covers the cervix. It also releases a spermicide. A woman wets the sponge and then inserts it into her vagina. She is then protected against pregnancy for the next 24 hours, even if she has sex more than once. After 1 year, 16 out of 100 women who use the sponge and who have not had a vaginal delivery will get pregnant. Out of 100 women who have had a vaginal delivery, 32 will get pregnant after 1 year. You can buy the sponge without a doctor's prescription.
  • Spermicide. This is a substance that kills sperm. You can buy it as jelly, foam, cream, suppository, and film. The most common spermicide is called nonoxynol-9. Most spermicides come with an applicator, which is filled and put in the vagina about 15 minutes before sex. More spermicide must be used each time the woman has sex. Spermicide used alone does not work well to prevent pregnancy. After 1 year, 29 out of 100 women who use spermicide alone will get pregnant. You can buy spermicide without a doctor's prescription.

What are the advantages of barrier methods of birth control?

  • Condoms protect against pregnancy. They also are the only method that may protect against STIs such as HIV/AIDS and herpes.
  • Barrier methods are safe to use while breastfeeding.
  • Barrier methods do not use hormones. So they are safe for women who smoke or who have health problems such as heart disease or blood clots.
  • These methods do not affect a woman's menstrual cycle. The ability to get pregnant returns as soon as a woman stops using birth control.
  • Barrier methods cost less than hormonal types of birth control.
  • You do not need a doctor's prescription for condoms, the contraceptive sponge, or spermicides.

What are the disadvantages of barrier methods of birth control?

  • These methods do not prevent pregnancy as well as IUDs or hormonal forms of birth control.
  • Barrier methods prevent pregnancy only if you use them every time you have sex.
  • You may have to interrupt sex to use some barrier methods of birth control.
  • A woman needs a doctor's prescription to get a diaphragm or cervical cap. Buying the necessary spermicidal jelly to use with the cervical cap is difficult.
  • The cervical cap and contraceptive sponge do not work as well as the other barrier methods for women who have delivered a child through the vagina.
  • The cervical cap and diaphragm can't be used by people who are allergic to latex or by women who have had toxic shock syndrome.
  • The cervical cap should not be used during a menstrual period.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.