A Guide to Barrier Contraception

Barrier contraception can be a safe and convenient option for preventing pregnancy, without the risk of side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives. Male and female condoms are also the only contraceptives that can protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How Do Barrier Contraceptives Work?

Barrier contraception works by blocking the path that sperm would usually take to get to the egg. The sperm will be blocked before it passes through the cervix. If the sperm can’t reach the egg, then you can’t get pregnant.

The most important point about barrier contraception is that you will need to remember to use it and ensure that it is correctly fitted every time you have sex. How effective the contraception is will depend largely on how well you are using it.

Types of Barrier Contraception

Each type of barrier contraception is fitted in a different way in order to block the sperm. It’s important to find one that feels right for you.

Male Condom

Male condoms are thin latex (rubber) contraceptives that are worn over the penis.

Male condoms:

  • Should be put on just before sex and removed right afterwards
  • Must be worn correctly and the right size to reduce the risk of tearing or slipping off
  • Can only be used once
  • Should never be used with oil-based lubricants, which can damage the latex
  • Are available as latex-free products if either partner has an allergy
  • Can protect both partners against many STIs when used correctly
  • Are 98% effective against pregnancy with perfect use
  • Are about 82% effective for typical users

Female Condom

Female condoms are made from a very thin, soft plastic and are worn inside the vagina to capture the semen.

Female condoms:

  • Can be fitted any time before sex and removed immediately afterwards
  • Must be fitted correctly to be effective
  • Can be used with both oil-based and water-based lubricants
  • Can only be used once
  • Are 95% effective with perfect use
  • Are about 79% effective for the typical user

Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a flexible silicone dome that is placed inside the vagina before sex. You will need to see a doctor to get fitted for a diaphragm of the right size.

Diaphragms:

  • Can be fitted up at any time before sex, so there’s no need to pause in the middle
  • Should be left in place for at least 6 hours after sex to be effective
  • Won’t protect you against STIs
  • Are 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly with a spermicide
  • Are 71-88% effective with typical use
  • Can increase the risk of cystitis if fitted incorrectly
  • Must be washed carefully after every use
  • Can take some time to get used to using

Ask a doctor for contraception advice if you’re not sure which option is right for you.

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