WHAT IS IT?
A cervical cap is a type of barrier method of contraception used by persons with a cervix/uterus during sexual intercourse to prevent unintended pregnancy.
Cervical caps are similar to, but much smaller than, diaphragms. Like the name suggests, a cervical cap, acts as a silicone cap/cover that fits directly on the cervix to block the entrance of sperm into the cervix (the opening into the uterus) so that the sperm cannot reach the egg.
Like the diaphragm, cervical caps should always be used with spermicide cream or jelly to enhance its ability to block and kill sperm before they enter the uterus.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The cervical cap works in two ways:
- The cervical cap acts as a physical barrier between sperm and the opening of the uterus (the cervix).
- The cervical cap should always be used with a gel that immobilizes or kills sperm (spermicide) to enhance its effectiveness. The cervical cap can inhibit sperm motility and lower sperm survival as the gel forms a physical cellulose barrier in front of the cervix and lowers the pH of the vaginal fluid.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?
Effectiveness of the cervical cap varies based on whether or not a person has given birth. Pregnancy and delivery can increase the size of the cervix and the cervical cap may not fit as well over a large cervix.
With typical use:
- 13-16% of people who have not given birth may become pregnant
- 23-32% of people who have given birth may become pregnant
According to the most recent studies, with typical use the cervical cap (FemCap) was less effective at preventing pregnancy than the diaphragm.
WHEN SHOULD I USE IT?
The cervical cap can be used as a barrier method of contraception but should always be used with spermicide. The cervical cap does not protect against STIs.
You should not use the cervical cap when you have any kind of cervical bleeding (i.e. your period) as it could increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). You should also not use a cervical cap if you are prone to vaginal irritation and/or yeast infections.
HOW DO I USE IT PROPERLY?
The cervical cap is a deep silicone cap that fits against the cervix, so you should be comfortable with touching your vagina in order to use a cervical cap.
1) Insertion: The silicone cervical cap can be inserted into the vagina up to 2 hours before having sex. You should also apply spermicide gel during first insertion if you plan to have sex in the next 2 hours. You should not use a cervical cap during your period. Once inserted give it a little tug to make sure it has a good seal and stays in place.
2) Spermicide Gel: The gel should be reapplied using an applicator for each repeated act of intercourse or after 2 hours has passed. It is very important that the cervical cap is always used with a spermicidal jelly or cream. The spermicide should kill any sperm that may slip over the rim. Unfortunately, spermicidal jelly is no longer being made in Canada, so it is difficult to find it in stores. We highly recommend that you do not use spermicidal foam, as the Nonoxynol-9 concentration is very high and may cause irritation.
3) Removal: To remove the cap simply reach up and break the seal, then pull the cap out. The cervical cap should be left in the vagina for at least 6-8 hours after intercourse but should not remain in the vagina for more than 24 hours total (to lower risk of toxic shock syndrome). If you’re having trouble removing the cap on your own you may need a partner’s help.
4) Caring for your Cervical Cap: Cervical caps can be purchased online or from a pharmacy with a prescription. Cervical caps are reusable, but should be replaced every year.
However, unlike the diaphragm, no measurement or fitting are needed for the FemCap. There are only 3 sizes:
- Small if you have never been pregnant
- Medium if you have had a miscarriage, abortion, or delivered by Cesarean section
- Large if you have had a vaginal delivery
The FemCap comes with an instructional DVD. You are encouraged to watch the DVD and practice insertion and removal on your own. After becoming comfortable with insertion and removal, it is recommended that you visit your doctor and ensure that the FemCap is placed properly over your cervix.
ADVANTAGES VS DISADVANTAGES OF USING CERVICAL CAPS:
- The cervical cap does not contain any hormones
- Can be used by persons who are breastfeeding
- Offers privacy and control because it can be inserted before intercourse
- When placed appropriately, the cervical cap is often not felt by either partner during sex.
- Higher failure rate compared to other types of contraception, including the diaphragm.
- Can increase risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
- Can increase risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Must be used with spermicidal cream or gel (i.e. Contragel).
- Must be available at the time of, or inserted prior to sex.
- Requires proper insertion technique which can be difficult for some people.
- Does not protect against STIs
- Cannot be used by people who are allergic or sensitive to silicone and/or spermicide.
- Cannot be used during menstruation.