Font Size

Birth Control Barrier Methods (cont.)

Female Condom

The female condom (brand name: Reality) is a polyurethane sheath intended for a single use, it is similar to the male condom. It contains two flexible rings and measures 7.8 cm in diameter and 17 cm in length. They may be purchased at a pharmacy without a prescription. The ring at the closed end of the sheath serves as an insertion mechanism and internal anchor that is placed inside a woman's vagina just before sex. The other ring forms the external edge of the device and remains outside of the canal after insertion. The female condom prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier to the passage of semen into the vagina. A male condom should not be used simultaneously because of the possibility of adherence leading to slippage or displacement of one or both of the devices. When choosing between the male and female condom, it should be noted that the male condom has a lower failure rate.

  • How effective: Early tests show a pregnancy rate of 15% at the end of 6 months. In August, 2002, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed a higher failure rate of 21 pregnancies per 100 women per year. The proportion of women using this method of contraception in the United States is less than 1%.
  • Advantages: The female condom provides some protection to the labia and the base of the penis during intercourse. Although it may provide some protection, it is not as effective as a latex male condom in preventing STDs. The sheath is coated on the inside with a silicone-based lubricant. It does not deteriorate with oil-based lubricants. It can be inserted as long as 8 hours before intercourse.
  • Disadvantages: The lubricant does not contain spermicide (a substance that kills sperm). The device is difficult to place in the vagina. The inner ring may cause discomfort. Some users consider the female condom awkward. If left in the vagina for a long period of time, the female condom may facilitate a urinary tract infection (UTI).


The diaphragm is a shallow latex cup with a spring mechanism in its rim to hold it in place in the vagina. Diaphragms are manufactured in various sizes. You need a pelvic examination and measurement of the diagonal length of your vaginal canal so your health care provider can determine the correct diaphragm size. You insert the diaphragm with spermicide before sex. The spermicidal cream or jelly is applied to the inside of the dome, which then covers your cervix. Your doctor will show you how to insert it and how to know it is in place. It prevents pregnancy by acting as a barrier to the passage of semen into the cervix. Once in position, the diaphragm provides effective contraception for 6 hours. After that time, if you have not removed the diaphragm, you will add fresh spermicide with an applicator. After intercourse, the diaphragm must be left in place for at least 6 hours after sex but not more than 24 hours.

  • How effective: Efficacy of the diaphragm depends on the age of the user, experience with its use, continuity of use, and the use of spermicide. The typical failure rate during the first year of use is estimated to be 20%.
  • Advantages: The diaphragm does not use hormones. The woman is in control of her birth control. The diaphragm may be placed by the woman in anticipation of intercourse.
  • Disadvantages: Prolonged usage during multiple acts of intercourse may increase the risk of UTI. Retention of the diphragm for more than 24 hours is not recommended because of the possible risk of toxic shock syndrome. The diaphragm requires professional fitting. Poorly fitted diaphragms may cause vaginal erosions. Diaphragms have a high failure rate. Use of a diaphragm requires brief formal training. The diaphragm must be washed and dried properly following removal from the vagina. This method does not consistently protect against STDs.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/5/2016
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

Must Read Articles Related to Birth Control Barrier Methods

Hormonal Methods of Birth Control
Birth Control Hormonal Methods

Hormonal types and of options for ...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Birth Control Barrier Methods:

Birth Control Barrier Methods - Patient Experience

Tell us what barrier method of birth control you used. Was it effective?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Contraception »

The practice of contraception is as old as human existence.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary