The cervical cap is a barrier method of birth control. A cervical cap, which is made of rubber, fits tightly over the opening to the uterus (the cervix). It is used with a spermicide. You can insert the cap ahead of time or just before sex. To work best, the cap should be left in place for 6 hours after sex. Do not leave it in for more than 48 hours total. If you have sex more than one time while the cap is in place, you'll need to add more spermicide and check the position of the cap. To do this, put a small amount of spermicide on your finger, then insert your finger into your vagina to reach the cap. Make sure the cap is still in place. Don't remove the cap.
The cap requires a prescription from a doctor. Getting a cervical cap may require two visits to a doctor: one visit to fit the device, and a return visit with the cap already in place to be certain the woman is using it correctly.
Effectiveness in preventing pregnancy
The cervical cap is less effective for women who have had a vaginal birth. It is a better choice for women who have not had a vaginal delivery.
The difference in cervical cap failure rates for women who have borne children vaginally and those who have not may be due to changes in the cervix after vaginal delivery.
Effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
The cervical cap does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including infection with HIV. The use of spermicides with nonoxynol-9 may increase your risk of getting HIV/AIDS. So be sure to use a condom for STI protection unless you know that you and your partner are infection-free.
Advantages of cervical cap
It does not affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
It is used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
It is safe to use while breastfeeding.
It is less expensive than hormonal methods of birth control.
Disadvantages of cervical cap
Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other disadvantages of barrier methods include the following:
The cervical cap cannot be used during a woman's period.
Some women experience odor problems if the cervical cap is left in place longer than 24 hours.
The cervical cap can be difficult to place properly or to remove.
Use of the cervical cap can irritate the cervix. The cervical cap should not be used by women who currently have a vaginal or cervical infection or who have an abnormal Pap smear and the cause is not known. Use of the cervical cap may increase the risk of an abnormal Pap smear, requiring more frequent Pap test follow-up.
The cervical cap is less effective in preventing pregnancy after a woman has had a vaginal delivery.
Some people are embarrassed to use this method or feel the method may interrupt foreplay or intercourse.
A couple must be comfortable with using the cap and be prepared to use it every time they have sex.
Be sure to check the cap for any cracks, holes, or other damage that would reduce its effectiveness. Avoid using any petroleum-based vaginal creams, oils, or ointments. These can damage the rubber. But water-based personal lubricants, such as Astroglide and K-Y Jelly, are safe to use.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah A. Marshall, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRebecca Sue Uranga, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology