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The most common form of barrier method of contraception in the male condom. The male condom is a latex barrier that is placed on the penis before insertion into the vagina, catching sperm upon ejaculation. The condom is easily purchased in pharmacies and other stores, costs little, and is fairly simple to use. Some agencies and doctors’ offices distribute free condoms. When a condom is used correctly, it has a high percentage of effectiveness. However, it’s easy to apply a condom incorrectly and allow leakage and even breakage. If latex allergies could prevent you from using a condom, you may seek out an alternative method of barrier birth control such as non-latex condoms. Unlike other forms of contraception, the condom will be effective in preventing STDs. As a woman, you should never leave it up to the man to provide a condom. If you are sexually active, carry your own condoms with you. If a man refuses to wear a condom, or complains about a “loss of sensation,” you shouldn’t have sex with him. Contraception is a mutual responsibility for both partners.

Some women prefer to use the female condom. This is another form of barrier contraception that can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies. The female condom is a plastic pouch that fits inside your vagina. It has a soft ring on each end. The outer ring stays on the outside of the vagina and partly covers the labia (lips). The inner ring fits on the inside of the vagina, somewhat like a diaphragm, to hold the condom in place. When used correctly, the female condom is highly effective in protecting against STDs and pregnancy. However, the female condom is difficult to insert, may irritate your sensitive vagina, and can slip inside of the vagina during intercourse if not secured. Because of a prevalence of misuse, the female condom has a low rate of effectiveness.

Some women use spermicide to protect against pregnancy. Spermicide will not protect you against STDs. In fact, spermicide also has a low effectiveness in protecting against pregnancy. It is best to use spermicide along with another form of barrier method, as added security. Spermicide comes in many forms—jellies, creams and suppositories—and is applied deep into the vagina shortly before intercourse. Spermicide paralyzes sperm and tries to prevent them from joining the egg. In addition to being ineffective, spermicides are also messy and can irritate the sex organs of both you and your partner.

The diaphragm is a barrier method of contraception available by prescription and through a special fitting from your ob/gyn. The diaphragm is a thin rubber “dome” with a flexible rim that is inserted in the vagina and fits over the cervix. The diaphragm is held in place by your vaginal muscles. Diaphragms are designed to hold spermicide and must remain in place for 6-8 hours after intercourse in order to optimize effectiveness. The diaphragm cannot be inserted more than 2 hours before intercourse because the spermicide only lasts for 2 hours. The diaphragm needs to be cleaned and handled with care. The diaphragm may lead to certain infections, including urinary tract infections. Your fit needs to be carefully monitored by your doctor to ensure effectiveness. The diaphragm does not protect against STDs, and is not highly effective in preventing pregnancy either. If you have intercourse more than once, do not remove the diaphragm, just add more spermicide.

The cervical cap is a latex, thimble-shaped apparatus that is inserted into the vagina and fits over the cervix. The cervical cap is intended to block sperm from entering the uterus. It should be left in place after intercourse for 8 hours, to ensure effectiveness. Cervical caps are not highly effective in preventing pregnancy and will not protect against STDs. The cervical cap is not for everyone. If you have already given birth, the effectiveness of the cervical cap as a method of birth control is greatly reduced.

It’s very important that you do not share your prescription barrier methods, such as the cervical cap and the diaphragm, with other women. They need to be fitted to your particular size in order to be effective, plus this can pass around unwanted bacteria and is generally unclean.

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