University Health Service

other Barrier method

What are barrier methods?

Barrier methods help prevent pregnancy by blocking sperm from entering the uterus. Examples of barrier methods include male condomsfemale condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap and sponges. They are inserted into the vagina before sex and must be used every time you have sex.

DIAPHRAGM:

The diaphragm is a small, flexible rubber cup that is inserted in the vagina and fits over the cervix. It should always be used with spermicide (read about spermicide below).

Effectiveness:

16 out of 100 users will get pregnant per year.

Benefits:

  • Does not contain hormones
  • Is inserted before sex and does not interrupt sex play
  • Usually cannot be felt by either partner
  • Can last up to 2 years

Downsides:

  • Does not protect against STI, and can cause vaginal irritation which increases risk of STI. Male condoms or female condoms can be used to prevent STI.
  • It is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods.
  • Must be used every time you have sex.
  • Can become loose during sex.
  • Requires a visit to your health care provider for fitting and prescription.
  • Cannot be used when you have your period.

CERVICAL CAP:

The cervical cap (FemCap) is a small, bowl-shaped latex or silicone cup. It is inserted into the vagina and fits snugly over the cervix. The cervical cap is similar to the diaphragm but smaller. It is always used with spermicidal cream or gel.

It requires a prescription and can be purchased online from FemCap, however at this time there are no UHS health care providers who prescribe the cervical cap.

Effectiveness:

For users who have never given birth, 20 out of 100 will get pregnant each year.

For users who have given birth, 40 out of 100 will get pregnant each year.

Benefits:

  • Does not contain hormones
  • You can insert it ahead of time so you do not have to interrupt sex play
  • Can last up to 2 years

Downsides:

  • Does not protect against STI, and can cause vaginal irritation which increases risk of STI. Male condoms or female condoms can be used to prevent STI.
  • Not commonly available
  • It is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods, especially for those who have given birth.
  • Must be used every time you have sex
  • May be difficult to insert
  • Requires a visit to your health care provider for fitting and prescription.
  • Cannot be used when you have your period.

Diaphragm insertion:

  • Before each use, check the device for holes by holding it up to the light, and then filling it with water. If you detect any holes, do not use it.
  • Place a small amount of spermicide inside the device.
  • Insert the device into your vagina by hand. The device should fit snugly over the cervix.
  • To use for another sex act, leave the device in place and add more spermicide.
  • Timing is important. The diaphragm must stay in place for 6-8 hours, not to exceed 24 hours, after the final sex act.
  • Wash the device with soap and warm water after each use, dry and store in its container.

SPONGE:

The sponge (Today Sponge) is a disposable device, made of soft foam containing spermicide. It has a nylon loop at the bottom to make it easier to remove after sex. It is not available through UHS. 

Effectiveness:

For users who have given birth, 24 out of 100 will get pregnant each year.

For users who have not given birth, 12 out of 100 will get pregnant each year. 

Insertion and use of the sponge:

  • First wet the sponge with water.
  • Insert the sponge into your vagina with a finger.
  • The sponge must stay in place for at least 6 hours after sex; it should not be left in for more than 30 hours from the time it was first put in.

Benefits:

  • Does not contain hormones
  • You can insert it ahead of time so you do not have to interrupt sex play
  • Less expensive than a diaphragm or cervical cap

Downsides:

  • Does not protect against STI and can cause vaginal irritation which increases risk. Male condoms or female condoms can be used to prevent STI.
  • It is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods, especially for those who have given birth.
  • Must be used every time you have sex

Where can I get these methods?

Diaphragms are available at UHS and require a clinic visit for fitting. To visit a health care provider at UHS, see Schedule an Appointment. See also Cost, Insurance and Payment.

The cervical cap requires a prescription and can be purchased online from FemCap, however at this time there are no UHS health care providers who prescribe the cervical cap.

The sponge is not available at UHS, but it is available without prescription in some stores, online and at family planning clinics.

Diaphragm personal experiences:

I used a diaphragm for three years. I didn't get pregnant but did get frequent yeast infections- two or three a year, plus a bacterial infection once- and eventually figured out it was from using spermicide. It worked for me but the spermicide was tough to use along with it!

Sponge personal experiences:

I used the sponge before I was able to see my doctor for the pill. I thought it was convenient, but I need a method that is really effective, so I used it only for a short time, until I got a more reliable method.

Where can I get more information?

Talk to your health care provider. You can also get reliable information from the following websites: