HOW does a cervical cap WORK? Using gentle suction, this small plastic cap completely covers the cervix (the opening to the uterus) and prevents sperm from getting in, fertilizing an egg, and causing pregnancy. Like a diaphragm, the cervical cap holds contraceptive cream or jelly which contains a spermicide. Spermicides are chemicals that kill sperm, certain bacteria, and some viruses. When used in this way, cervical caps give extra protection against pregnancy. You can buy a spermicide in a drug store or a supermarket without a doctor's prescription. Only products with the words "spermicide" or "non-oxynol 9" on the label give you this protection. Certain other creams and jellies are only used for extra lubrication (to make the walls of the vagina more slippery). Lubricants do not prevent pregnancy or STDs/HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).
HOW IS a cervical cap USED? The cervical cap is inserted with the fingers into the vagina. It fits in place over the cervix. A medical examination is needed to make sure the cervical cap is the right size. (This is very important and the reason you can't borrow a friend's cervical cap and expect to get good protection.) A new application of spermicide is not needed before each act of intercourse. Like the diaphragm, the cervical cap must be left in place for at least 6 hours after intercourse (to make sure the spermicide has killed all the sperm in the vagina). The cervical cap should not be left in for more than 48 hours as you might get an infection. Once a cervical cap is taken out, it must be washed and properly stored until you need to insert it again.
Benefits to using a cervical cap: The cervical cap will provide continuous protection for up to 48 hours without additional spermicide jelly or cream. Properly cared for, the cervical cap can be used for several years. Cream or jelly can be bought in a drugstore without a doctor's prescription.
Concerns connected to using a cervical cap: Some women cannot be properly fitted with a cervical cap. It may be difficult to learn to insert and take out the cap. Occasionally a man or woman is allergic to a brand of cream or jelly (burning or itching). (This can be solved by changing brands.) If this happens, change to a different method of birth control.
A cervical cap does not provide reliable protection against STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases).
Effectiveness: This depends on how carefully the woman uses it. Using a cervical cap along with a spermicide is 82%-94% effective. The high number results from using it exactly according to directions every single time. The low number (mostly due to an improperly inserted, or improperly fitted cervical cap) means that in a year, for every 100 women using a cervical cap along with a spermicide, 18 will become pregnant. Without spermicide, the effectiveness rate is much lower.
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last updated January 30, 2008
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