Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms and caps are barrier methods. They are convenient, but is not as reliable as other methods of contraception.

On this page

  • What are diaphragms and caps?
  • How effective are diaphragms and caps?
  • What are the advantages of diaphragms and caps?
  • What are the disadvantages of diaphragms and caps?
  • How are used diaphragms and caps?
  • Who should not use diaphragms or caps?
  • Caring for a rubber diaphragm and cap
  • Some other points about diaphragms and caps
  • Learn more
  • References
  • The diaphragms are dome shaped devices. They are usually made of rubber or silicone. They are placed in the vagina and form a barrier between the sperm and the uterus. There are various types and sizes.
  • Caps are smaller and firmer than diaphragms. They cover only the cervix. They are used much less frequently than diaphragms. They can be used by women who have problems with cystitis (bladder infection) when using a diaphragm.

You should also use a spermicide each time you use a diaphragm or cap. The spermicide kills sperm.

They are about 92-96% effective if used correctly. This means that 8 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year using this method of contraception. When using any method of contraception, more than 80 of every 100 sexually active women become pregnant in a year.

Other methods of contraception are more reliable than this. Several other methods of contraception are more than 99% effective. However, some women prefer to use a diaphragm or cap.

They are easy to use and has no serious health risk. They can help protect against sexually transmitted infections. You just use when you have sex. The advantage over the male condom is that you can put in the vagina before sex anytime.

You have to learn how to use them correctly. Some women have bladder infections after using a diaphragm. The spermicide and rubber can be messy and can irritate.

Although the diaphragm and cap can protect against some sexually transmitted infections, do not protect against HIV infection. Women with HIV or AIDS (or who are at high risk of HIV infection) are generally not recommended to use a diaphragm or cap.

A doctor or nurse will examine and advise on the size and shape that suits you. It will show you how to insert and remove the diaphragm or cap. It will also show how to use the spermicide. This should be used every time you use your diaphragm or cap. You need to be sure that you can put in correctly on your cervix, to know how to use and how to use spermicide.

You may be given a 'practical' diaphragm or cap for the doctor or nurse. This is for you to practice at home and off putting. This is not to be used for contraception. In a follow-up visit to the doctor or nurse to check that all is well, and then give you a real-contraceptive use.

Some useful points on diaphragms and caps:

  • You can insert a diaphragm or cap at any time before sex. However, you need to use more spermicide if you have sex more than three hours after you put it in.
  • Should be left in place for at least six hours after the last sex.
  • Use additional spermicide if she has sex before removing.
  • Do not leave more than 30 hours in total. This is to avoid the possibility of toxic shock syndrome. This is a very rare but serious blood poisoning caused by the toxin-producing bacteria.
  • Do not have a bathroom with a diaphragm or cap in place. Water can wash the spermicide or move the top of his position. The showers are fine.

They should not be used:

  • If the vaginal muscles are not strong enough to keep the diaphragm or cap in place.
  • If you have an unusual shape or position of your cervix. The doctor or nurse will advise you about this when you examine for correct fitting.
  • If you are allergic or sensitive to rubber or spermicide.
  • If you have repeated urine infections, may not be advisable.
  • If you have ever had toxic shock syndrome.
  • Wash with mild soap and warm water after each use. Rinse thoroughly with water.
  • Dry with care and keep it in the box.
  • Never use detergents, boiling water, disinfectants, etc., which can damage the rubber.
  • Check it for damage, tears, etc, before using. Hold to light to verify that there are no holes.
  • Depending on how often it is used, you may need to be replaced every year or so.
  • Size – you may need a different size if you win or lose more than 3 kg of weight, or having a baby. A doctor or nurse will have to examine you to re-evaluate its size.
  • Lubricants – Do not use oil-based products such as Vaseline ®, body oils, lotions, etc., during sex. They can damage rubber. If you want to use a lubricant then use KY Jelly ® or spermicide extra.
  • Infection – Do not use if you have a vaginal infection, such as candidiasis. Wait until the infection clears.

Your doctor or nurse can give you a prescription for emergency contraception to be beforehand. This can be useful – for example, if you were to take the diaphragm before six hours after intercourse.

See separate leaflet called emergency contraception for details.

Your GP and practice nurse are a good source of information if you have questions.

The FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association) also provides information and advice.
Helpline: 0845 122 8690 England, Northern Ireland 0845 122 8687 or visit their website www.fpa.org.uk