Cervical Cap

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 9, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Patricia Geraghty MSN, FNP-BC, WHNP on July 9, 2014

Birth Control: Cervical Cap

Barrier methods to prevent pregnancy, such as condoms or cervical caps, have been around for centuries. The cervical cap covers the cervix and prevents semen from entering the uterus. A version of the cervical cap has been used since the late 1800s. The modern-day cervical cap was approved by the FDA in 1988. Various brands have been available since then. Currently, FemCap is the only available cervical cap in the United States.

What Is a Cervical Cap?

The cervical cap is a reusable dome-shaped cap made from non-allergic[PG2] enic silicone rubber. It is inserted into the vagina to cover the cervix during sex. The cervical cap is similar to the diaphragm. However, it is slightly smaller and fits more tightly over the cervix.

How Does the Cervical Cap Work?

The cervical cap prevents pregnancy by covering the cervix. It keeps sperm from entering the uterus and fallopian tubes. If sperm cannot enter the fallopian tubes to fertilize the egg, pregnancy cannot occur.

The cervical cap must be used with spermicide for maximum effectiveness. The spermicide stops sperm from moving. It is a second mode of defense against pregnancy.

How Do I Use a Cervical Cap?

You must have a prescription to get a cervical cap. This is because the cervical cap needs to be fitted. Visit your doctor or healthcare clinic to make sure the cervical cap is the right method of birth control option for you.

To insert the cervical cap:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Put spermicide in the dome of the cap and spread a thin layer on the rim of the cap.
  3. Put a small additional amount of spermicide in the folded area between the rim and the dome.
  4. Separate your labia with one hand.
  5. With the other hand, squeeze the brim of the cervical cap.
  6. Insert the cervical cap into your vagina, dome side down.
  7. Push the cap back towards the rectum and then up towards the cervix.
  8. Use your fingers to make certain the cervix is completely covered.

Before you have sex, make certain the cervical cap is still in place. If you have sex multiple times, you do not need to remove the cap. However, you should insert more spermicide. You should also check to make sure the cap is still in position.

The cervical cap must stay in place for at least six hours following intercourse. Do not remove the cap before then. Doing so greatly lowers the effectiveness. The spermicide has to have time to kill any sperm before you uncover your cervix. Do not leave the cap in for more than 48 hours. It can increase your risk of bacterial infection.

To remove the cap:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Squat down, and insert your fingers into your vagina.
  3. Grip the removal cap, and rotate the cap as you push the dome to release the suction.
  4. Pull the cap out.
  5. Wash the cap with soap and water.
  6. Let the cap air dry.

Cervical Cap Effectiveness

The efficacy of the cervical cap depends on two things. The first is whether you use it correctly. The second is whether you’ve ever been pregnant.

According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate for the cervical cap is 14 percent for women who have never been pregnant. There is a significant loss in the efficacy of cervical caps in women who have been pregnant. According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate increases to 29 percent in women who have had a vaginal birth.

You can make the cap more effective by always using it exactly as prescribed. It is also important to regularly check your cap for small holes and other damage. A damaged cap should be replaced immediately. However, discoloration is not a problem.

Weak spots may be easier to see if you hold the cap up to a light.

Benefits of the Cervical Cap

Although it is not the most effective form of birth control, the cervical cap is very convenient. Benefits of the cap include:

  • the ability to insert it in advance without interrupting intimacy
  • being able to use it multiple times
  • cost
  • no side effects from hormones
  • some small amount of protection against gonorrhea and chlamydia

Disadvantages of the Cervical Cap

The cervical cap also has the following disadvantages:

  • it is not the most effective form of birth control
  • it does not protect against most sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • it is easy to use incorrectly
  • it can slide, or be pushed out of place, during intercourse
  • t can be uncomfortable for the woman or her sexual partner
  • it cannot be used during menstruation
  • requires the use of spermicide, which may cause irritation in either partner

The cap also requires a woman to insert her fingers into her vagina. This is not just necessary when inserting the cap. Women also need to check that the cap is in place before sex. Women who do not like this should use other forms of contraception.

Risks of Using the Cervical Cap

Most women find the cervical cap safe and easy to use. However, in rare cases it can cause serious side effects. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • burning during urination
  • pain while the cap is in place
  • blood inside the cap when you remove it
  • genital itching or irritation
  • redness or swelling
  • unusual or foul smelling discharge 

In addition, women at high risk for STIs should consider another method of contraception. Most spermicides used with the cap contain nonoxynol-9 (N-9). N-9 can increase your susceptibility to HIV and other STIs. Risk is particularly high when N-9 is used multiple times a day.

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