Barrier methods include the diaphragm, cervical cap, male condom, and female condom and spermicidal foam, sponges, and film. Unlike other methods of birth control, barrier methods are used only when you have sexual intercourse. Be sure to read the instructions before using a barrier method. It is very important that you use a barrier method correctly every time you have sex.
Male or female condoms are the only birth control methods that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). To help protect yourself and your partner from STI infection, be sure to use a condom every time you have sex.
Follow the directions for your choice of barrier method. After sexual intercourse:
Condoms are necessary when you need to protect yourself or your partner from sexually transmitted infection (STI) or when you do not know that you are both infection-free. Latex or polyurethane male condoms give you and your partner the most effective possible protection from STIs, including infection with HIV. Natural membrane (sheepskin) condoms do not protect you against all STIs.
Barrier methods of birth control, such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or condom, are a good choice if:
|Barrier||Failure rate*||Effectiveness in preventing STIs|
18 (spermicide further lowers this failure rate)
Diaphragm with spermicide
Not effective if used alone; may actually increase risk of getting HIV/AIDS
Sponge with spermicide
12 (no past vaginal childbirth)
24 (past vaginal childbirth)
Cervical cap with spermicide
16 (no past vaginal childbirth)
32 (past vaginal childbirth)
*Failure rate equals the number of pregnancies that occur out of 100 women in the first year of use.
A condom can tear when it is too tight or fall off when it is too loose. If this should happen while you are having intercourse, use emergency contraception. If you are worried about exposure to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), get tested.
Using a diaphragm with spermicide may increase your risk of urinary tract infections.
Leaving a diaphragm or cervical cap in for longer than 24 hours increases your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome.
Some people are allergic to nonoxynol-9, which is the active ingredient in most spermicides. They can develop sores in the vagina or on the penis, which make it more likely that HIV can be transmitted from an infected partner during sex.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that nonoxynol-9 in vaginal contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the vagina or rectum. This also increases the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.
If you have a possible risk of giving or getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and you want to effectively prevent pregnancy, combine condoms with a more reliable method of birth control, such as the hormone pills, ring, patch, implant, or shot or an intrauterine device (IUD).
If you think that your barrier method has failed or has been used incorrectly, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. Douching after intercourse does not prevent sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes, where fertilization takes place. It may also increase your chance of getting a pelvic infection.
Barrier methods of birth control:
Condoms and diaphragms may reduce the risk of cervical cancer, which is caused by a sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Condoms also are the best method for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. If you are considering using a barrier method for birth control, think through what the emotional and financial costs of an unintended pregnancy would be if the method fails.
To prevent pregnancy with a barrier method, you and your partner must be comfortable with using it and be prepared to use it every time you have sex. For some couples, barrier methods are not a good choice because one or both partners:
Some people develop allergies to spermicides. But using spermicide is advised with diaphragms or cervical caps. So if you can't use spermicide, you will need to find a different form of birth control.
For people who have an allergy to latex, polyurethane condoms are available. Latex condoms are slightly more dependable than polyurethane condoms.
- Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
- Abramowicz M (2010). Choice of contraceptives. Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 8(100): 89–96.
Current as of: August 8, 2014
Author: Healthwise Staff
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