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  1. A diaphragm is a type of contraception, or birth control.
  2. It’s a dome-shaped device worn by women that blocks sperm from entering the uterus.
  3. You need a physical examination and prescription from your doctor to get a diaphragm.

A diaphragm is a type of contraception, or birth control. It’s a dome-shaped device made out of latex or silicone, with a flexible rim. You can insert it into your vagina to help prevent pregnancy. It provides a physical barrier that blocks sperm from passing through your cervix into your uterus. It’s been used as a birth control method in the United States since the early 1900s. It was very popular before the introduction of birth control pills.

A diaphragm is larger than a cervical cap, another type of contraceptive device. A cervical cap is a small silicone cup that helps prevent pregnancy by covering the opening to your uterus.

How does a diaphragm work?

When it’s inserted properly, a diaphragm blocks sperm from traveling through your cervix during sex. You should use your diaphragm in conjunction with spermicide, a substance that helps to stop and kill sperm. If sperm can’t reach your uterus and fallopian tubes, it can’t fertilize any of your eggs. If none of your eggs are fertilized, pregnancy can’t occur. 

How do I use a diaphragm?

If you’re interested in getting a diaphragm, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help you decide if it’s the right birth control choice for you.

Your doctor will need to conduct a pelvic exam to learn what size of diaphragm fits you best. They will also need to give you a prescription for your diaphragm.  

You can insert your diaphragm up to six hours before intercourse. Follow these steps to insert it:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Put spermicide in the cup of your diaphragm, and spread some more around the rim.
  3. With one hand, separate your vaginal lips. With the other hand, fold your diaphragm in half, keeping the spermicide in the inside pocket.
  4. Push your diaphragm as far up and back into your vagina as possible. Then tuck the interior rim of your diaphragm behind your pubic bone.
  5. Let your diaphragm unfold inside of your vagina. Make sure it’s covering your cervix.

Don’t remove your diaphragm until at least six hours after you have sex. This will give the spermicide time to immobilize any remaining sperm. Don’t leave your diaphragm in for longer than 24 hours.

How reliable are diaphragms?
According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate of diaphragms is 6 percent for women who always use it as directed and 12 percent for women who don’t always use it properly.

If you have sex more than once in a 24-hour period, add more spermicide to your diaphragm before intercourse. You should also check to make sure your diaphragm is still in place before having sex again.

To remove your diaphragm:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Hook the rim of your diaphragm with a finger to break the seal.
  3. Pull your diaphragm down and out.
  4. Wash your diaphragm with soap and water
  5. Let it air dry.

Never use oil-based lubricants with your diaphragm, as they can damage the silicone. It’s also important to check your diaphragm for damage on a regular basis. It may be easier to see damage if you hold your diaphragm up to a light. Use a different method of birth control if your diaphragm has any weak spots, wrinkles, or holes.

How effective is a diaphragm?

The effectiveness of a diaphragm depends on whether you use it correctly. According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate is 6 percent for women who always use it as directed and 12 percent for women who don’t always use it properly. That means about six to 12 women out of 100 of who use a diaphragm as their sole method of birth control get pregnant each year.

You can increase the effectiveness of your diaphragm by checking its placement before intercourse and always using spermicide with it. A properly sized diaphragm is also important for effectiveness. You may need to get a new diaphragm if you:

  • have a baby
  • have a miscarriage
  • gain or lose 20 percent or more of your body weight

If your partner uses a condom or pulls out before ejaculating it will further reduce your risk of accidental pregnancy.

What are the benefits of using a diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a convenient birth control choice for many women, and it has a number of advantages. For example, it:

  • is easier to insert than a cervical cap
  • is unlikely to be felt by you or your partner during sex
  • can be inserted hours before sex, so you don’t need to interrupt foreplay
  • can be carried around discretely in a purse or bag
  • doesn’t interfere with your natural hormones
  • can be used while you’re breastfeeding

The takeaway

A diaphragm is a convenient and effective birth control option for many women. Most women can use one without problems. Serious side effects are rare, but some women develop urinary tract infections, vaginal irritation, or other adverse reactions after using a diaphragm with spermicide. Your doctor can help you understand the potential risks and benefits of this birth control option.

While a diaphragm can help prevent pregnancy, it won’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV. To help stop the spread of STIs, use condoms during intercourse.

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