Barrier Methods

Barrier Methods work by placing a short-term physical or chemical wall between egg and sperm. They can be awkward at first, but get much easier and more natural with practice. If you use them every time according to the instructions, they can be very effective.

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Male Condom

What is it? A thin covering that you unroll over the hard penis. Made of latex, polyurethane or animal membrane.

How to use: Put on before any genital contact. At withdrawal, hold the rim in place at the base of the penis so it doesn’t slip off.

Health Impacts: Condoms protect against HIV/STI, except for the condom made of animal membrane. Some people are allergic to latex (rubber); polyurethane condoms are a good alternative for them.

Note: May decrease sensation for men. Increased moisture from personal lubricants or from sexual arousal makes condoms less likely to break. To maintain arousal and encourage continued use, be creative and playful.

Access: Easy to buy in a pharmacy or online. Inexpensive. Can be found for free.

Effectiveness: 82%-98%

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Spermicide

What is it? Spermicidal chemical comes in several forms; you can choose foam, gel, cream, film, suppository or sponge. Put into your vagina before sex. It works by immobilizing or killing sperm. Most types work for 1 hour; a sponge works for 24 hours.

How to use: Put in your vagina carefully following the package instructions. Most types need to be in at least 10 minutes before intercourse, but the sponge starts working immediately.

Health impacts: Bad taste can interfere with oral sex unless you gently wipe it off with a damp cloth first. If you usually have intercourse more than once a day, spermicide is not recommended because Nonoxynol9 can weaken cell membranes allowing transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections from male to female.

Note: Neither you nor your partner should notice the spermicide unless you have an allergy or irritation. Sponge is less effective for women who have given birth.

Access: Easy to buy in a pharmacy or online.

Effectiveness: 72%-91%

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Cervical Cap

What is it? A small, soft silicone cup holding spermicide. Designed to fit snugly over cervical opening. Keeps working for almost 2 days, which is longer than other barrier methods.

How to use: Put about a teaspoon of gel or cream spermicide in the cap, slide it deep into your vagina, and then check with a finger to be sure it is covering your cervix. You can keep it in and be protected from pregnancy for 42 hours. Keep at least 6 hours after sex.

Health Impacts: Some women are allergic to spermicide. Less effective if you have given birth. You need to get re-fitted after giving birth.

Note:Neither you nor your partner should feel it. If you do, see your health provider.

Access: Clinic visit needed. Not all providers know how to fit it.

Effectiveness: 77%

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Female Condom

What is it? A soft, loose pouch that you put inside your vagina. Flexible rings at each end hold it in place. Sperm get trapped in the pouch. You can put it in up to 8 hours before sex. Made of nitrile.

How to use: The small ring goes deep inside and the larger ring stays outside partially covering your vaginal lips. As intercourse begins, holding the outer ring in place ensures the penis goes into the pouch.

Health Impacts: Also protects against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. You can use it if you are allergic to latex.

Note: The pouch can make a rustling sound during movement. This can be lessened by using extra lubricant. Men usually feel no reduction in sensation.

Access: Available at many pharmacies, clinics and online.

Effectiveness: 79% to 95%

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Diaphragm

What is it? A soft silicone dome with a flexible rim that holds spermicide. The spermicide kills or immobilizes sperm and the diaphragm holds spermicide in place over the cervix. Keeps working for 2 hours.

How to use: Put about a tablespoon of spermicide in the diaphragm, slide it into your vagina, and then check with a finger to be sure it is covering your cervix. Protection from pregnancy lasts for 2 hours. For subsequent intercourse, add more spermicide to vagina without removing diaphragm. Needs to stay in at least 6 hours after sex.

Health impacts: Some women are allergic to or become irritated by spermicide. Get re-fitted if you gain or lose more than 15 pounds.

Note: Neither you nor your partner should feel it. Some increased risk of bladder infection.

Access: Clinic visit needed. Not all providers know how to fit it.

Effectiveness: 88%-94%