Barrier Contraceptives

Barrier methods work by stopping sperm from entering the vagina and provide a physical barrier between the sperm and the egg.                                            

(Fun Fact-A pretty simple concept and one that has been used for millennia – cave paintings in France show a man using a condom during sexual intercourse date from 12-15,000 years ago)

Spermicides, a form of chemical contraceptive that work by killing sperm, are often combined with barrier methods of contraception for greater effectiveness.

There are three main barrier methods of contraception.

These methods include:·         

  • Male condoms Male condoms are a fine rubber covering that is rolled on to the penis before sex. Polyurethane condoms are available for people who are allergic to rubber.
  • Female condoms Female condoms are a polyurethane cylinder with one open        end. It is held in place by a ring on either side. The closed end of the female condom covers the cervix and the open end is positioned at the entrance of the vagina. When female condoms are used correctly and every time, they are 90% effective in preventing pregnancy and also protect against STDs.         
  • Diaphragms A diaphragm is a dome-shaped device made of silicone that is put into the woman’s vagina. It must be put in place before sex and left in for at least six hours afterwards.

Unlike other methods of birth control, barrier methods are used only when you have sexual intercourse.

Be sure to read the instructions before using a barrier method. It is very important that you use a barrier method correctly every time you have sex.

Sexually transmitted infection protection.

Male or female condoms are the only birth control methods that protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). To help protect yourself and your partner from  Sexually transmitted infection, be sure to use a condom every time you have sex.

Barrier Is a good choice if-

  • You want an option that does not require hormones or insertion of an intrauterine device.
  • You want an option that does not restrict when you have sexual intercourse, such as natural family planning.
  • You are planning to become pregnant soon and prefer a method you can stop using anytime you want.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You have heavy menstrual periods. A diaphragm may be used for birth control during a menstrual period and can contain the menstrual blood as long as it is not left in for longer than 6 hours at a time.
  • You and your partner find it easy to use the method every time you have sex.



A condom can tear when it is too tight or fall off when it is too loose. If this should happen while you are having intercourse, use emergency contraception. If you are worried about exposure to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), get tested.

Diaphragm or cervical cap

Using a diaphragm with spermicide may increase your risk of urinary tract infections.

Leaving a diaphragm or cervical cap in for longer than 24 hours increases your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome.

Advantages of all barrier methods

Barrier methods of birth control:

  • Do not affect a woman’s or man’s future fertility.
  • Are only used at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • Are safe for a woman to use while she is breastfeeding.
  • Do not affect other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Are less expensive than hormonal methods of birth control, and some are available without a prescription.

Condoms and diaphragms may reduce the risk of cervical cancer, which is caused by a sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Condoms also are the best method for reducing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Disadvantages of all barrier methods

Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. If you are considering using a barrier method for birth control, think through what the emotional and financial costs of an unintended pregnancy would be if the method fails.

To prevent pregnancy with a barrier method, you and your partner must be comfortable with using it and be prepared to use it every time you have sex. For some couples, barrier methods are not a good choice because one or both partners:

  • Find it embarrassing to use.
  • Do not want a barrier method to interrupt foreplay or intercourse.


If you have a possible risk of giving or getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and you want to effectively prevent pregnancy, combine condoms with a more reliable method of birth control, such as the hormone pills, ring, patch or shot or an intrauterine device (IUD).

If you think that your barrier method has failed or has been used incorrectly, you can use emergency contraception to help prevent pregnancy. Douching after intercourse does not prevent sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes, where fertilization takes place. It may also increase your chance of getting a pelvic infection.

We will discuss details about other methods of contraception in upcoming articles.

-Dr Prerna Gaur



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