Diaphragm and Other Barrier Methods

Diaphragms, cervical caps, and spermicides are all methods of birth control referred to as barrier methods.
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The diaphragm is a shallow cap made of soft latex rubber that prevents pregnancy by creating a barrier over the cervix and holding spermicide against the cervix. The cervical cap is a dome-shaped cup made of soft latex rubber that uses suction to create a seal over the cervix; the cap holds a small amount of spermicide against the cervix. Spermicides, chemicals that kill sperm, can be used alone or with other birth-control methods. They come in different forms, such as suppositories, foams, creams, and jellies. These methods provide only limited, if any, protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Barrier methods are about 80% effective in preventing pregnancy.


Vaginal barrier methods do not alter women's hormone patterns. Few health risks or side effects are associated with the methods. Spermicides are available without a prescription in most drug stores.


These vaginal-barrier methods provide only limited, if any, protection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The methods are not as effective in preventing pregnancy as other birth-control methods, such as the male condom, the birth-control pill, or the shot. The methods require action before or during and after sex and can be difficult to insert. Side effects may include increased urinary-tract infections (diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicides), allergic reactions to latex (diaphragm, cervical cap), or irritation from spermicides.


Spermicides are available without a prescription at most drug stores. You must visit your health-care provider or a family-planning clinic to get a diaphragm or cervical cap.


Diaphragms and cervical caps require an initial visit with a clinician, which can cost from $50 to $150. Both methods last for a year or more and cost from $40 to $60. Tubes of spermicidal creams, jellies, and foam and packages of suppositories cost from $8 to $17. Medicaid and some private health-insurance plans may cover most or some of these costs. Many family-planning clinics provide services and supplies free or on a sliding scale, based on your income.

Information Resources

For additional information, check out these books:

  • Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
  • Winikoff, B. & Wymelenberg, S., The Whole Truth About Contraception: A Guide to Safe and Effective Choices. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 1997.

Related Fact Sheets


From the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.



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