Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Barrier Methods of Birth Control
Barrier methods of
birth control block sperm from entering the
uterus. Using a
spermicide with a barrier method gives you the best
possible barrier method protection.
Barrier methods include the diaphragm, cervical cap, male condom, and female condom and spermicidal foam, sponges, and
film. 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.
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 STI infection, be sure to use a condom every
time you have sex.
of birth control:
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.
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:
Some people develop allergies to spermicides. But using
spermicide is advised with diaphragms or cervical caps. So if
you can't use spermicide, you will need to find a different form of birth
For people who have an allergy to latex, polyurethane
condoms are available. Latex condoms are slightly more dependable than
Follow the directions for your choice
of barrier method. After sexual intercourse:
Condoms are necessary when you need
to protect yourself or your partner from sexually transmitted infection (STI) or
when you do not know that you are both infection-free.
Latex or polyurethane male condoms give you and your partner the most effective
possible protection from STIs, including infection with HIV. Natural membrane
(sheepskin) condoms do not protect you against all STIs.
methods of birth control, such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, or
condom, are a good choice if:
Barrier methods of birth control
vary in how effective they are in preventing pregnancy.footnote 1, footnote 2 They also vary in how effective
they are at preventing STIs.
18 (spermicide further lowers
this failure rate)
Diaphragm with spermicide
Not effective if used alone; may actually
increase risk of getting HIV/AIDS
Sponge with spermicide
12 (no past vaginal
24 (past vaginal childbirth)
Cervical cap with spermicide
16 (no past vaginal
32 (past vaginal childbirth)
*Failure rate equals the number of pregnancies that occur out of 100 women in the first year of use.
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
emergency contraception. If you are worried about
exposure to a sexually transmitted infection (STI), get tested.
Using a diaphragm with
spermicide may increase your risk of
urinary tract infections.
diaphragm or cervical cap in for longer than 24 hours increases your chances of
toxic shock syndrome.
Some people are allergic to
nonoxynol-9, which is the active ingredient in most spermicides. They can
develop sores in the vagina or on the penis, which make it more likely that HIV
can be transmitted from an infected partner during sex.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that nonoxynol-9 in vaginal
contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the vagina or rectum.
This also increases the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected
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, implant, or shot or an intrauterine device (IUD).
think that your barrier method has failed or has been used incorrectly, you can
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.
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
Trussell J, Guthrie KA (2011). Choosing a contraceptive: Efficacy, safety, and personal considerations. In RA Hatcher et al., eds., Contraceptive Technology, 20th ed., pp. 45–74. Atlanta: Ardent Media.
Abramowicz M (2010). Choice of contraceptives. Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 8(100): 89–96.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRebecca Sue Uranga, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as ofJune 30, 2016
Current as of:
June 30, 2016
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Rebecca Sue Uranga, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.