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Barrier methods of birth control help prevent pregnancy by blocking sperm. This stops the sperm from reaching an egg. Types of barrier methods include external (male) condoms, internal (female) 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, 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, implants, or hormonal methods. The external 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 if you have not had a vaginal birth. But the cap and sponge don't work as well if you have ever had a vaginal birth. The internal condom does not work as well as an external 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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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.
Barrier methods of birth control include these methods.
An external (male) condom is a thin tube that fits over the penis. It can be made of rubber (latex), plastic, or lambskin. It prevents 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 you have sex. When an external condom is used, about 13 out of 100 people who use it will have an unplanned pregnancy. You can buy condoms over the counter.
An internal (female) condom is a thin plastic pouch that is open on one end. The closed end is placed inside the vagina. The condom lines the walls of the vagina and prevents sperm from getting into the vagina. It also protects against STIs. A new condom must be used each time you have sex. When an internal condom is used, about 21 out of 100 people who use it will have an unplanned pregnancy. You can buy internal condoms over the counter.
A diaphragm is a silicone dome with a firm, flexible rim. It fits inside the vagina and covers the opening of the uterus (called the cervix). A diaphragm is always used with spermicide. The diaphragm is put in place no more than 2 hours before having sex. When a diaphragm is used, about 17 out of 100 people who use it will have an unplanned pregnancy. You need a doctor's prescription to get a diaphragm. With good care, it lasts 1 to 2 years. Diaphragms are not widely available in Canada. Buying the necessary spermicidal jelly to use with the cap may be difficult.
A cervical cap is a silicone device. It fits inside the vagina, up against the cervix. The cervical cap is always used with a spermicide. You need a doctor's prescription to get a cervical cap. How well the cap works depends on whether you have had a vaginal delivery or not. For people who have had a vaginal delivery and use the cap, about 32 out of 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy. For people who have not had a vaginal delivery, about 16 out of 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy. 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 cap may be difficult.
A contraceptive sponge is a plastic foam disc. It fits inside the vagina and covers the cervix. It also releases a spermicide. The sponge is soaked with water and then placed in the vagina. After you place the sponge, you have protection for up to 24 hours. How well the sponge works depends on whether you have had a vaginal delivery or not. For people who have had a vaginal delivery and use the sponge, about 27 out of 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy. For people who have not had a vaginal delivery, about 14 out of 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy. You can buy the sponge over the counter.
A spermicide is a substance that kills sperm or stops sperm from moving. You can buy it as a foam, gel, cream, film, and suppository. Most spermicides come with an applicator. This is filled and put in the vagina about 15 minutes before vaginal sex. More spermicide must be used each time you have sex. Spermicide used alone does not work well to prevent pregnancy. When spermicide is used, about 28 out of 100 people who use it will have an unplanned pregnancy. It works better to use it with an external condom. You can buy spermicide over the counter. Buying spermicidal jelly may be difficult.
Advantages of using barrier methods of birth control include the following:
Barrier methods of birth control have some disadvantages.
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Current as of: August 2, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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