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Your health care provider can help you decide which form of contraception is best for you. Always keep in mind that the risk of an STI (sexually transmitted infection) exists even when a contraceptive barrier method is used.
A male condom is a thin sheath that is worn over the penis during sex. Condoms prevent pregnancy by catching and stopping sperm from reaching the uterus. They also help to protect against STIs. Some condoms come with a sperm-killing substance (spermicide) on them.
Male condoms are made of latex, rubber, or a type of plastic called polyurethane. Condoms that are made of latex and polyurethane provide the best protection against many STIs, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Male condoms can only be worn once and should never be doubled. They should not be used with oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly, lotions, or oils because these lubricants make them less effective. They can be used with water-based lubricants available from your health care provider and over the counter. Water-based lubricants do not contain silicone, wax, or oil.
A female condom is a soft, loose-fitting sheath that is put into the vagina before sex. It is held in place by two closed inner rings, one at the cervix—which is the lowest part of the uterus—and the other at the vaginal opening. Female condoms prevent pregnancy by catching sperm and blocking its passage to the uterus. They also help to protect against STIs.
A female condom is intended for one-time use only. It can be inserted as many as 8 hours before sex. You should not use a female condom while your partner uses a male condom because the condoms can stick to each other and break.
A diaphragm is a soft latex or silicone dome-shaped barrier that is placed in the vagina with sperm-killing (spermicidal) jelly before sex. It covers the lowest part of the uterus (cervix), which opens into the vagina. A diaphragm kills sperm and blocks the passage of sperm into the cervix. This method does not protect against STIs (sexually transmitted infections). This barrier method requires a prescription and must be fitted by a health care provider.
A diaphragm can be inserted up to 2 hours before sex. If it is inserted more than 2 hours before sex, the spermicide must be applied again. A diaphragm should be left in the vagina for 6–8 hours after sex. Before sex can occur again during these 6–8 hours, spermicide must be reapplied. A diaphragm should not be left in place for longer than 24 hours. If you lose or gain a certain amount of weight, you may need to be refitted by your health care provider. A diaphragm should not be used during your menstrual period.
A cervical cap is a round soft, latex or plastic cup that is put in the vagina and fits over the cervix. It stays in place using suction. A cervical cap should be used with a spermicide. It provides continuous protection as long as it is in place, regardless of how many times you have sex. It does not protect against STIs.
Cervical caps may be inserted as long as 6 hours before sexual activity. They must be left in place for at least 6 hours after sex and can be left in place for as long as 48 hours. A cervical cap must be fitted by a health care provider. If you lose or gain a certain amount of weight, your health care provider may need to refit the cap. A cervical cap should not be used during your menstrual period.
A sponge is a soft, circular piece of polyurethane foam that has spermicide in it. It is made wet with clean water and then placed into the vagina and over the cervix before sex. The foam is designed to trap and absorb sperm before it enters the cervix while the spermicide kills or immobilizes sperm. A sponge offers an immediate and continuous presence of spermicide throughout a 24-hour period no matter how many times you have sex. It does not protect against STIs.
A sponge should be left in place for at least 6 hours after sex. It should not be left in for more than 24 hours, and it cannot be reused. It has a loop to grab for removal. This barrier method can be purchased over the counter. You may use it if you are breastfeeding. A sponge should not be used during your menstrual period.
Spermicides are chemicals that kill or block sperm from entering the cervix and uterus. They are inserted into the vagina with an applicator before sex. Spermicides do not protect against STIs.
Spermicides come as creams, jellies, suppositories, foam, film, or tablets. Suppositories, film, and tablets should be inserted 10–30 minutes before sex so they can dissolve. To be effective, a new spermicide must be inserted every time you have sex.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.
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