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Barrier Methods of Birth Control

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Barrier methods of birth control prevent fertilization by creating 
a physical barrier between sperm and egg cells. A form of 
chemical contraceptive is known as spermicides that kill sperm. 
These are often used with barrier methods of contraception to 
increase the effectiveness.

Unlike hormonal contraceptives, barrier methods of contraception
generally do not have any side effects. Some forms of barrier 
contraception like contraceptive sponges and condoms may be 
obtained without a prescription.

The most common forms of barrier contraception are:

Male condom

A male condom is a sheath or covering which is closed at one end and fits over a man's penis.

Condoms are usually made of latex or polyurethane.

Latex condoms: Latex condoms can only be used with water based lubricants as oil based lubricants likes Vaseline or cold cream break down the latex.

Polyurethane condoms: Polyurethane condoms on the other hand are made from a type of plastic for people who are allergic to latex. These are thinner than latex condoms and increases sensitivity. However, they are more expensive than latex condoms and slightly less flexible. Polyurethane condoms can be used with both oil and water based lubricants.

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Female condom

A female condom is a vaginal sheath that is used by a woman and 
fits inside the vagina. Only one female condom, the FC2 is approved 
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However, a number of 
others are sold across the world.


Diaphragm is a cervical barrier type of birth control made of soft latex 
or silicone dome. It has a spring molded into the rim, which creates 
a seal against the walls of the vagina. The diaphragm covers the cervix 
and prevents sperm from entering the uterus through the external orifice 
of the uterus, called the external os or ostium of uterus.

Usually it is used with spermicide, which increases the effectiveness 
of the diaphragm. Diaphragms are available in different sizes. 
A fitting appointment with a health care professional determines the size 
a woman should wear.

Cervical cap

Cervical cap is a small, firm latex or silicone cup that fits over the cervix 
and blocks sperm from entering the uterus through the os. It adheres 
to the cervix by suction and holds the gel close to the cervix. FemCap is 
the only cervical cap that is currently approved by the FDA. The cap is 
used by inserting in the cervix with spermicide before intercourse. 
The cap is kept in place for at least eight hours after intercourse. 
Usually, cervical caps are approved to be worn up to 48 hours in the 
US and up to 72 hours in Europe

Contraceptive sponge

The contraceptive sponge is a barrier method of contraception that 
uses a spermicide to prevent conception. It is a soft saucer-shaped 
device made from polyurethane foam that fits against the cervix. 
It has a soft loop on the other side that can be grasped for removal. 
The three major brands of contraceptive sponge are Pharmatex, 
Protectaid and Today.

The sponge works in three ways:

  • It blocks the cervix and prevents the semen from entering the uterus
  • The sponge absorbs the semen
  • The sponge contains spermicide that kills sperm

However, sponges provide no protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Apart from male and female condoms that can provide protection against infection with sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), most methods of barrier contraception are not effective in preventing STDs.

Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: April 08, 2012

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