Diaphragms are a method of contraception and are dome-shaped devices (of either latex or silicone) that fit into the vagina and over the cervix. Cervical caps are also a method of contraception, but are smaller and need to be put directly onto the cervix (these are made of silicone).
Diaphragms and caps must be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse on the first occasion. This method of contraception may not be available at your local clinic, so it is best to contact the clinic to discuss first, and then you can be signposted to another local service if they are not able to provide it.
Here are some key facts:
Pregnancy happens when sperm reaches an egg and fertilises it. Both the diaphragm and the cap are barrier methods which work by stopping sperm from entering the womb by covering the cervix. It is recommended that you also use a spermicide with the diaphragm/cap. The spermicide is a gel which contains chemicals that kill the sperm.
Although diaphragms and caps protect against pregnancy, they don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To be protected against STIs, condoms should be used in addition to diaphragms and caps.
You only need to use diaphragms and caps when you have sex, and you must leave then in for at least six hours afterwards.
If they are used correctly, diaphragms and caps are 92-96% effective when used with spermicide. This means that between four and eight women out of every 100 who use a diaphragm or cap as contraception will become pregnant within a year. This is less effective than other methods of contraception – if you are thinking about using a diaphragm or cap as your only method of protection against pregnancy you may wish to speak with a doctor or nurse about the other methods that are available.
This method of contraception may not be available at your local clinic. It is best to contact your local clinic to discuss first and then you can be signposted to a local service which is able to accommodate your needs.
Diaphragms and caps are available free of charge from contraception and sexual health clinics, such as:
Diaphragms and caps may be less readily available at Brook services. It is best to contact us in advance to discuss first and if needs be, we can signpost you to a local service which is able to accommodate your needs.
When you go to get the diaphragm or cap, you will be asked a few questions about your medical and family history. This is to work out if the diaphragm or cap is most suitable for you, or if another form of contraception would be more suitable. A doctor or nurse will examine you and recommend the size or shape to suit you. They will also show you how to insert the diaphragm or cap, how to use spermicide and also how to take the diaphragm or cap out.
When you first start using diaphragms or caps you may be fitted with a temporary ‘practice’ diaphragm or cap by your doctor or nurse so that you can learn how to use it and see how it feels. You will not be protected from pregnancy during this time and will also need to use additional contraception such as condoms. When you go back to get it checked you should wear the diaphragm or cap so that the doctor or nurse can check it is the right size.
Once you have had the diaphragm or cap fitted, you will only need to go back to the doctor or nurse to replace it (most people can use the same one for a year) or if you have any questions or concerns. You may also need to get a different size diaphragm or cap fitted if you gain or lose more than 3kg (7lb) in weight, or if you have a baby, miscarriage or abortion.
Diaphragms and caps are suitable for most women. But some women can be sensitive to the silicone, or sensitive or allergic to the spermicides. There may be other reasons why the diaphragm or cap is not the most appropriate method of contraception for you. The doctor or nurse will discuss this with you to make sure that this is the most appropriate method of contraception for you.
Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy.
Diaphragms and caps come with instructions on how to use them, and a doctor or nurse will also show you how to use them. You put the spermicide on the diaphragm or cap and then place them inside the vagina to cover the cervix each time you have sex. You can put the diaphragm in a little time before you have sex but if you put it in more than three hours before you will need to use extra spermicide. You should avoid using diaphragms or caps during your period because of the possible risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Putting diaphragms in:
Different types of diaphragm are used in a similar way, and you should follow the instructions that come with the diaphragm and how the doctor or nurse has instructed you to use it. Some general instructions are:
Putting caps in:
Different types of caps are used in a similar way, and you should follow the instructions that come with the cap and how the doctor or nurse has instructed you to use it. Some general instructions are:
How to take out diaphragms or caps:
You must leave all types of diaphragm or cap in place for at least six hours after the last time you had sex. You can leave it for longer, but not for more than the recommended maximum time (30 hours for latex types, and 48 hours for the silicone cap, including the minimum six hours). However you should check the leaflet that came with your diaphragm or cap for recommended duration times.
Take the diaphragm or cap out by gently hooking your finger under the rim, loop or strap and then pulling downwards.
You should follow the instructions in the packet on how to look after your diaphragm or cap, some general points are below:
Any medication can have some side effects and a very small number of women may develop complications, but discussing you and your family’s medical history with the doctor or nurse will help reduce the risk of negative side effects.
For most women the benefits will outweigh the possible risks. Thing to watch out for include:
You may need a different size diaphragm or cap after you have had a baby. It is also recommended to wait at least six weeks after having a baby before using a diaphragm or cap. Find out about other methods of contraception.
You can use a diaphragm or cap after a miscarriage or abortion, however you may need a different size so will need to check with a doctor or nurse.