Method Monday: Old-School Barrier Birth Control
Happy Method Monday! In honor of back to school, we decided to go back in time to look at some vintage methods that are still in use (mostly) today. Since they share many characteristics, the cervical cap, the diaphragm, and the sponge will share the spotlight this week.
The best thing about these methods is that they’re totally hormone-free, which is important to some women for health reasons or because of personal preference. The not-so-great thing? These methods aren’t as effective as methods like the implant, the IUD, the shot, the pill, the patch, or the ring. The non-hormonal ParaGard IUD, which is made out of copper and plastic and lasts for up to 12 years (!), might be a better option if you don’t want hormones and are looking for super-effective birth control.
But back to the old-school barriers…
They’ve got a lot in common:
- The diaphragm, the sponge, and the cervical cap work more or less the same way. You can get more detail about each method on Bedsider, but in a nutshell all three of these methods work with spermicide to block sperm from entering the uterus. For all three, you have to be comfortable with sticking your finger up there and possibly even doing some adjusting. This can take some getting used to, so these methods might be tricky if you’re drunk or in a hurry.
- You should use them with spermicide and a condom to increase their effectiveness. If you’re not using a condom, make sure you and your partner have both been tested since spermicide can increase your risk for STIs including HIV. Veronica, a diaphragm user, backs it up with a condom just to make sure.
- Your partner shouldn’t be able to feel them. While he may not be able to feel these methods during sex, you do have to insert them before sex (and take them out after), so your partner will probably eventually notice that the method is there. That being said, if you want something inconspicuous, any of these methods can be inserted hours before sex and stay put for 24-48 hours (depending on the method).
- You have to leave them in place for at least 6 hours after sex to help ensure that the spermicide has done its thing.
- There are side effects. These methods don’t cause the side effects sometimes associated with hormonal methods (or offer the health benefits), but they can sometimes cause vaginal irritation or UTIs (urinary tract infections). The biggest possible side effect? Pregnancy, since these methods are less effective on their own than hormonal methods or the non-hormonal IUD.
- You shouldn’t use them when you have your period. If you’re planning on having sex while Aunt Flo is in town, you should use condoms or a different method during that time of the month.
There are a few differences too:
- The diaphragm may reduce the risk of a few nasty STIs (gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia), but it’s nothing compared to the protection of a condom. If you’re worried about STIs or want a back-up birth control method, condoms are definitely the way to go.
- You should reapply spermicide if you inserted the diaphragm or the cervical cap a long time before sex. Same goes if you are using these methods for multiple rounds. You don’t have to worry about this with the sponge since the spermicide is already in there.
- You can get the sponge without a prescription—it’s even available online. The cervical cap and the diaphragm, on the other hand, need to be fitted by a doctor.
- The diaphragm is getting an upgrade. There is a new diaphragm, called Silks, making its way to the U.S. market. Silks is designed to be easier to put in and take out and may potentially be used to prevent HIV as well as pregnancy.
Liking the sound of these old-school options? Show your support by “liking” your favorites on our Facebook Method Explorer and/or tell us about your experience in the comments!
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