Choosing your Birth Control- Part 2

condoms and a cervical cap

In our last post, we discussed hormonal birth control  and all the risks and benefits that are associated with those methods.

Today, we will begin discussing the barrier methods of birth control which include the diaphragm, cervical cap, sponge, spermicide, and condoms. Barrier methods work by preventing the sperm from meeting the egg.

Some of these methods can be used alone, and others will need to be used in combination with each other to prevent pregnancy.

Spermicide

Spermicides come in many different forms. Creams, gels, films, and suppositories are all forms of spermicide that stop sperm in their tracks. But not dead in their tracks, which is why using Spermicide with another form of birth control is more effective at preventing pregnancy. The chemicals in spermicide prevent the sperm from swimming to the egg. In other words, it stops them from moving by removing their tails which propel them towards the egg. 

Spermicides also create a film or barrier on the cervix to prevent the sperm from entering the cervix in search of an egg.

One of the risks when using spermicide alone is that it does not prevent against sexually transmitted infections. So, unless you are in a monogamous relationship, you should also be using barrier methods to prevent contracting an STI.

Two wrapped condomsCondoms

The most common and readily available barrier method are condoms. Condoms can be bought over the counter and are the only method of birth control that can also prevent sexually transmitted infections. Some condoms include spermicide, but not all. The potential disadvantages of using condoms is possible allergy, especially with latex condoms. If you have a history of latex allergy, choosing a non-latex polyurethane condom is a good alternative. While lambskin condoms are available, they do not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. On another note- condoms are very stretchy and can accommodate a variety of sizes, choosing not to wear one due to discomfort is not always accurate. 

Diaphragms, Cervical Caps and Sponges, oh my!

All three methods have the benefit of being methods that do not involve the use of hormones.

Diaphragms and cervical caps are small devices typically made out of rubber or soft silicone. Both are inserted into the vagina before intercourse and must be used with spermicide to prevent pregnancy. They can also be reused after a through cleaning, yay for reducing your carbon footprint! 

The contraceptive sponge is made from soft plastic and is a one-time use form of contraception.

Because these methods are inserted deep into the vagina it is recommended that they not be used until the 6 week post-birth checkup and you have been cleared for sex by your medical care provider. This is due to the placenta sized wound that is healing inside of your uterus. 

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a shallow bowl or saucer-shaped cup that is made of silicone. It is placed inside the vagina, covering the cervix before sexual intercourse. It must be used with spermicide in order to prevent pregnancy should be placed up to two hours before sex. If intercourse begins more than two hours after insertion, it is necessary to reapply spermicide to prevent pregnancy. The diaphragm should be left inside the vagina for at least 6 hours after intercourse and can be worn up to 24 hours. If you have sex more than one time after the initial application, additional spermicide should be applied inside the vagina.

Diaphragms are available at a pharmacy, but your healthcare provider must determine the correct size and write a prescription in order for you to obtain one. Your healthcare provider or nurse will also teach your how to insert and remove it due to their high learning curve.

After each use the diaphragm should be washed with warm, soapy water and left to air dry. Optimal storage is in a clean, dry area, out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat.

If you have been previously fitted for a diaphragm before pregnancy, it is necessary to have your provider check the fit after you have given birth. For some individuals a new size may be necessary.

The Cervical Cap

The cervical cap is made out of soft silicone. Unlike the diaphragm, the cervical cap is shaped like a sailor’s hat. It is placed deep inside the vagina, covering the cervix. Like the diaphragm, the cervical cap can be left in place up to two days but is considered less effective than the diaphragm in preventing pregnancy. The cervical cap is also considered less effective if you have given birth. For this reason, some providers may recommend a diaphragm instead. If you have sex more than one time after the initial insertion, additional spermicide should be applied inside the vagina and the cap must be left in place for a least six hours after intercourse. After each use the cervical cap should be washed with warm, soapy water and left to air dry. Optimal storage is in a clean, dry area, out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat as well.

While cervical caps are available at a pharmacy, your healthcare provider must determine the correct size and write a prescription in order for you to obtain one.

The “Sponge”

The contraceptive sponge is a small, round sponge that is made from soft plastic. Like the diaphragm and cervical cap, the sponge is inserted deep into the vagina, covering the cervix and the use of spermicide is necessary to prevent pregnancy. Unlike the diaphragm and cervical cap, the contraceptive sponge is a one-time use method and is discarded after each use. The contraceptive sponge can be inserted up to 24 hours before intercourse and should be left in place for 6 hours after. Unlike the diaphragm and cervical cap, once the sponge is in place you may have sex as many times as you’d like with no need to replace it or use additional spermicide.

To use, remove the sponge from the wrapper and wet with tap water. Squeeze the sponge until suds form to activate the spermicide and insert the sponge while it is wet and foamy. Much like a cervical cap or diaphragm, the sponge is folded and inserted deep into the vagina and covers the cervix once in place.

The sponge does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

The sponge does not require a prescription and can be purchased online and found at most drugstores.

If you found this installment helpful, please share with someone or leave us a comment, we love to hear your feedback!

Stay tuned for Part Three…

The next post in this series will discuss the IUD, and why it may be the right choice for you. 

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