Healthy lives for young people
Contraception

Diaphragms and caps

Diaphragms are dome-shaped devices (of either latex or silicone) that fit into the vagina and over the cervix. Cervical caps are smaller and need to be put directly onto the cervix (made of silicone).

Quick guide

How they work

Both the diaphragm and the cap (with spermicide) work by stopping sperm from entering the womb by covering the cervix. Read more

Pros & cons

They can be put in before sex
They are not affected by any medicines that you take in tablet/oral form
They don’t protect you against STIs
They aren’t as effective as other methods of contraception

Read more

Where to get them

Diaphragms and caps must be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse on the first occasion. You can get diaphragms and caps from Brook services, contraception clinics, GUM clinics and some GP surgeries. Use our find a service tool to find places near you. Read more

How they work

Both the diaphragm and the cap work by stopping sperm from entering the womb by covering the cervix. You also need to use a spermicide with the diaphragm/cap. Spermicide gel contains chemicals that kill sperm.

You only need to use diaphragms and caps when you have sex, and you must leave then in for at least six hours afterwards.

Pros & cons

Pros

  • They can be put in before sex (but you will need to add extra spermicide if you have sex more than three hours after putting it in)
  • They are not affected by any medicines that you take in tablet/oral form
  • They don’t disturb your menstrual cycle
  • They are between 92-96% effective when used correctly

Cons

  • They don’t protect you against STIs
  • They can take a little getting used to before you’re confident using them
  • Some people may be sensitive to latex or the chemical used in spermicide
  • They aren’t as effective as other methods of contraception
  • Some women can develop the bladder infection cystitis when using diaphragms or caps
  • It is recommended that you do not use the diaphragm/cap during your period, so you will need to use an alternative method of contraception at this time

Where to get them

Diaphragms and caps must be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse on the first occasion. They may not be available at your local clinic, so it is best to contact the clinic to check first.

You can get diaphragms and caps from Brook services, contraception clinics, GUM clinics and some GP surgeries. Use our find a service tool to find places near 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.

What happens at the appointment

When you go to get the diaphragm or cap, an appointment will typically include:

  • A few questions about your medical and family history, to work out what would suit you best
  • A doctor or nurse will examine you and recommend the size or shape to suit you
  • They will show you:
    • how to insert the diaphragm or cap
    • how to use spermicide
    • how to take the diaphragm or cap out

Initially you may be fitted with a temporary ‘practice’ diaphragm or cap so that you can learn how to use it and see how it feels. During this time you will not be protected from pregnancy  so will need to use additional contraception such as condoms. When you go back 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). 

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.

How to use diaphragms and caps

You can put the diaphragm in 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:

  1. Find a position that’s comfortable for you, and with clean hands, put a small amount of spermicide on the upper surface of the diaphragm (some women find that putting a little spermicide on the rim makes the diaphragm easier to put in)
  2. Put your index finger on top of the diaphragm and squeeze it between your thumb and other fingers.
  3. Slide the diaphragm into your vagina upwards and backwards
  4. Always check that your cervix is covered (it feels like a lump bit like the end of your nose). If your cervix is not covered, take the diaphragm out by hooking your finger under the rim or loop (if there is one) and pulling downwards and try again
  5. You can insert a diaphragm up to three hours before you have sex, after this time you will need to take it out and put more spermicide on it

Putting caps in:

  1. Fill one-third of the cap with spermicide, but don’t put any spermicide around the rim as this will stop the cap from staying in place. The silicone cap also has a groove between the dome and the rim and some spermicide should be placed there too
  2. Find a position that’s comfortable for you and squeeze the sides of the cap together, holding it between your thumb and first two fingers.
  3. Slide the cap into your vagina upwards and backwards
  4. The cap must fit neatly over your cervix and it stays in place by suction. Always check that your cervix is covered. Depending on the type of cap, you may need to add extra spermicide after it has been put in
  5. You can insert a cap up to three hours before you have sex – after this time, you will need to take it out and put some more spermicide on it

How to take out diaphragms or caps:

You can leave it for longer, but not for more than the recommended maximum time (including the minimum six hours):

  • 30 hours for latex types
  • 48 hours for the silicone cap

Warning

You must leave all types of diaphragm or cap in place for at least six hours after the last time you had sex.

How to look after diaphragms and caps

DOS

  • Wash it in warm water using mild, unperfumed soap, rinse thoroughly and dry it carefully
  • Store it in its container in a cool, dry place.
  • Check it regularly for tears or holes
  • Be careful with fingernails or jewellery

DON’TS

  • Don’t boil diaphragms or caps
  • Don’t use disinfectant, detergent or talcum powder
  • Don’t use any oil-based product with latex types as it will damage the latex.
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