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Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms are a method of contraception and are dome shaped devices (either latex or silicone) that are inserted into the vagina before sex. They cover the cervix so that sperm can’t get into the womb.  You need to use spermicides (they kill sperm) with them.

A trained doctor or nurse will fit them on the first occasion and teach you how to use them. They come in different sizes and the doctor or nurse will find one suitable for you. 

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Key Facts

  • When used correctly, they are 92-96% effective
  • You can put them in several hours before sex
  • They protect against pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To protect against STIs you will need to use  an additional method of contraception  such as condoms
  • Diaphragms are made of thin, soft latex or silicone and have a flexible rim. Cervical caps are smaller and are made silicone (they used to be made of latex but newer caps are now made of silicone)

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Who can use diaphragms and caps? 

Most women are able to use a diaphragm. However, they may not be suitable for you if you: 

  • have an unusually shaped or positioned cervix (entrance to the womb), or if you cannot reach your cervix  
  • have weakened vaginal muscles (possibly as a result of giving birth) that cannot hold a diaphragm in place 
  • have ever had toxic shock syndrome 
  • have repeated urinary tract infections 
  • currently have a vaginal infection (wait until your infection clears before using a diaphragm or cap)  

Research shows that spermicides which contain the chemical nonoxynol-9 do not protect against STIs and may even increase your risk of getting an infection.

A diaphragm may be less effective if:

  • it is damaged – for example, it is torn or has holes  
  • it is not the right size for you 
  • you use it without spermicide  
  • you remove it too soon (less than six hours after the last time you had sex) 
  • you use oil-based products, such as baby lotion, bath oils, moisturiser or some vaginal medicines (for example, pessaries) with latex diaphragms – these can damage the latex 

If any of these things happen, or you have had sex without contraception, you may need to use emergency contraception.

After having a baby

If you have had a baby you may need a different size diaphragm or cap. It is recommended that you wait 6 weeks after having a baby before using a diaphragm or cap. 

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After a miscarriage or abortion

You can use a diaphragm or cap after a miscarriage or abortion.  Check with a doctor or nurse as you may need a different size.  

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Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages

  • They can be put in before sex but you must use extra spermicide if you have put it in more than 3 hours before
  • They are not affected by any medicines
  • They don’t affect your menstrual cycle

Disadvantages

  • They can take some time getting used to
  • They aren’t’ as effective as some other contraceptive methods
  • Some people may be sensitive to latex or the chemical used in spermicide

Free and confidential advice and support

Contact a sexual health adviser


The Passionate about Sexual Health (PaSH) Partnership) is a collaboration between BHA for Equality, George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation. The PaSH Partnership will deliver a comprehensive programme of interventions to meet the changing needs of people newly diagnosed with HIV, living longer term with HIV or at greatest risk of acquiring HIV.

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