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Quick Facts

Barrier Contraceptives

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

A contraceptive is something used for preventing pregnancy (birth control).

What are barrier contraceptives?

Barrier contraceptives are a type of birth control that works by keeping sperm from getting to an egg.

Barrier contraceptives include the following:

  • Condoms

  • Diaphragms

  • Cervical caps

  • Contraceptive sponges

  • Spermicide

Blocking Access: Barrier Contraceptives

Barrier contraceptives prevent sperm from entering a woman’s uterus. They include the condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, and contraceptive sponge. Some condoms contain spermicides. Spermicides should be used with condoms and other barrier contraceptives that don't already contain them.

  • The barrier birth control that works best is a latex male condom (when you use it correctly)

  • Latex condoms are the only type of birth control that also protects against common STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), including HIV

  • You can buy condoms, contraceptive sponges, and spermicide at a store over the counter (without a prescription)

  • Diaphragms and cervical caps come in different sizes and should be prescribed by your doctor

  • You should use spermicide (a chemical that kills sperm) with all barrier birth control

How do I use barrier birth control?

Condoms

Condoms are thin protective coverings that go on the penis (male condoms) or in the vagina (female condoms). Both kinds block sperm from entering the vagina. Condoms may be made of latex, polyurethane, or lambskin. Latex condoms are the only type that also protect you from common STDs.

To use a female condom:

  • Push the inner ring of the female condom as far as it can go into the vagina keeping the outer ring outside

  • Carefully push the penis through the outer ring into the pouch

  • If the penis slips out of the pouch or the outer ring is pushed inside, remove the female condom and put it back in as long as the man hasn’t ejaculated

  • Right after ejaculation, pull the penis out

  • Squeeze the outer ring together and twist it so semen doesn’t spill out

  • Carefully pull the used female condom out of the vagina

  • Throw it away

Use a new condom each time you have sex, and never use a condom that is old or may have a hole in it. Spermicide makes condoms work better, so add it each time you put on a new condom.

Diaphragms

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped rubber cup that's pushed into the vagina and over the cervix to keep sperm out. Your cervix is the lower part of your uterus. You get a diaphragm from your doctor, who will make sure you have the right size and will teach you how to use it. You and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel the diaphragm once it’s in place.

Diaphragms help keep you from getting pregnant, but they don't protect you from STDs.

To use a diaphragm:

  • Put spermicide cream or gel inside the cup

  • Put the diaphragm in before you start having sex

  • Keep the diaphragm in for 6 to 8 hours after sex (but don’t keep it in for more than 24 hours)

  • If you have sex again with your diaphragm in, put more spermicide in your vagina first

You can wash and reuse your diaphragm. You should check the diaphragm regularly for tears. You may need a new size if you have:

  • Gained or lost more than 10 pounds

  • Had a diaphragm for more than a year

  • Had a baby or an abortion

Cervical caps

The cervical cap is a hat-shaped silicone cup that's a bit like a diaphragm but smaller. The cap is pushed into the vagina and over the cervix to keep sperm out.

You can get a cervical cap from your doctor, who will make sure you have the right size.

To use a cervical cap:

  • Put spermicide cream or gel inside the cup

  • Put the cervical cap in before you start having sex

  • Keep the cervical cap in for at least 6 hours after sex, but don’t keep it in for more than 48 hours

You can wash and reuse your cervical cap for 1 year.

Contraceptive sponges

A contraceptive sponge is a sponge with spermicide in it that's put in the vagina to keep sperm out of the uterus. Contraceptive sponges help keep you from getting pregnant, but they don't protect you from STDs.

You can get a contraceptive sponge in a store without seeing a doctor. You and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel the sponge once it’s in place.

You can put in a contraceptive sponge up to 24 hours before you have sex.

To use a contraceptive sponge:

  • Wet the sponge with water

  • Fold it and push it deep inside the vagina

  • Have sex as many times as you want while it’s in

  • Leave the sponge in for at least 6 hours after sex (but don’t keep it in for more than 30 hours)

Possible problems with contraceptive sponges:

  • Allergic reactions

  • Dryness or pain in your vagina

  • Difficulty taking the sponge out

Spermicides

Spermicides are chemicals that kill sperm. Spermicides are available as foams, gels, creams, or suppositories (a soft, dissolving pill-shaped medicine that is placed in the vagina). You put a spermicide in your vagina before having sex. Because a suppository has to melt, you should put it in about 10 to 30 minutes before sex.

Don't use spermicides more than once a day. They can irritate the vagina, which increases the risk of HIV infection.

  • You shouldn't use spermicides alone for birth control—use them with a barrier birth control, such as a condom or diaphragm

  • Although spermicides kill sperm, they don't kill the germs that cause STDs

How well does barrier birth control work?

Condoms

In the first year of male condom use, the number of women who get pregnant is:

  • About 2 in 100 with perfect use

  • About 18 in 100 with typical use

In the first year of female condom use, the number of women who get pregnant is:

  • About 5 in 100 with perfect use

  • About 21 in 100 with typical use

Diaphragms

In the first year of diaphragm with spermicide use, the number of women who get pregnant is:

  • About 6 in 100 with perfect use

  • About 12 in 100 with typical use

Cervical caps

In the first year of typical cervical cap use, the number of women who get pregnant is:

  • About 12 in 100 if they haven’t had a baby

  • About 27 in 100 if they've had a baby

Contraceptive sponges

In the first year of typical contraceptive sponge use, the number of women who get pregnant is:

  • About 12 in 100 if they haven’t had a baby

  • About 24 in 100 if they have had a baby

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